Financial Literacy

FAFSA Change Gives More Time to Enroll

With a rising number of students taking out loans for college, it has become crucial for families to get as much financial help as possible.

That’s why, starting next year, the FAFSA will be available three months ahead of its normal release date.

The FAFSA, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is one of the most important ways students can lower their costs for college. It’s the form the federal government uses to determine scholarships, loans and various forms of aid. Most colleges use the FAFSA to do the same.

Filling out a FAFSA and not filling one out can mean the difference between going to school for free and being in debt for tens of thousands of dollars.

According to the White House, about 2 million students who would be eligible for the Pell Grant never apply for the FAFSA. Countless others likely fail to enroll at all because they assume they wouldn’t receive any aid.

Officials are hoping that the extended time period to file will make it possible for more parents to complete the form. Currently, parents only have a brief window to fill out the form. In between raising kids, working and other commitments, many let the FAFSA slip through their fingers.

The changes will take place next year, so this year’s senior class will not be affected. If you or your child will be starting college in the fall of 2017, you’ll be eligible to submit the FAFSA in October of 2016. Most college applications are due November 1, so this timing is much more in sync with how universities determine admission and scholarship eligibility.

Before the updated timing, parents could only submit a FAFSA in January. If a student is starting college in the fall, that gives them a short window to complete the FAFSA, have their eligibility determined and decide which school makes the most sense financially.

Because parents have to use that year’s tax information, they often have to estimate income on the FAFSA, which may affect their child’s award eligibility.

Now officials are realizing that if they want to help solve the student loan problem, they have to break down the barriers that make it harder for parents. In addition to extending the filing window, the government has also shortened the time it takes to fill out the FAFSA to an average of 20 minutes – less than the amount of time it takes to watch one episode of your favorite sitcom.

For more about the FAFSA, contact the Federal Student Aid Center at 1-800-4FED-AID or click here for basic information for students.

Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Debt Free After Three.