PHEAA Alerts College-Bound Students to Major FAFSA Changes Beginning This Year

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Free Application for Federal Student Aid now available October 1

Harrisburg, PA (September 12, 2016)—PHEAA is advising college-bound students and their families to be aware of a significant date change to the application timeline for federal, state and other sources of student financial aid.

Beginning with the 2017-18 student aid application cycle, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be available to applicants 3 months earlier than in previous years. This means that students applying for admission for the 2017-18 school year can begin applying for financial aid as early as October 1, 2016. In prior years, the FAFSA did not become available until January 1.

The U.S. Department of Education made this date change to better align the financial aid application process with the actual college admissions timeline, which typically begins much earlier than January 1.

“The FAFSA is the most important application for every college-bound student to submit if they wish to be considered for financial aid,” said Representative William Adolph, PHEAA Board Chairman. “Not only is it required for federal student aid, such as the Pell Grant or federal student loans, it’s also used to determine eligibility for many kinds of scholarships and grants, including the Pennsylvania State Grant Program.”

The U.S. Department of Education also modified its rules to allow applicants to complete the 2017-18 FAFSA using more readily available financial information from the 2015 tax year. Previously, the FAFSA was available January 1 and required income data from the tax year that had recently ended. However, since most people are not able to access the necessary tax information, like wage statements, to file their tax returns in early January, they had to complete the FAFSA using estimated data, which often needed to be amended after they filed their tax returns later in the year.

A key benefit of being able to use 2015 tax return data when completing the 2017-18 FAFSA is that more applicants can use the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval Tool, which automatically fills in the online FAFSA form with the necessary tax information. This streamlines the process significantly and increases accuracy.

The online FAFSA has an embedded link that will allow applicants to use this tool easily and automatically.

“These changes make the application process much more convenient for Pennsylvania students and families – especially for those who are struggling to pay for the cost of a college education,” said Senator Wayne D. Fontana, PHEAA Board Vice Chairman. “It also allows them to receive notification of expected financial aid packages sooner, which helps them make more informed decisions regarding school choice and their overall college success plan.”

To further assist families with college and student financial aid planning, PHEAA developed MySmartBorrowing.org. This free online resource engages students and families to help them consider the many decisions that must be made while avoiding the pitfalls of unnecessary student loan debt.

For information on the higher education financial aid process, schedules for upcoming FAFSA Completion Sessions, reminders of financial aid deadlines, and information pertaining to planning for higher education, students can visit PHEAA.org or follow PHEAA on Facebook at Facebook.com/pheaa.aid. Additionally, video tutorials explaining the student aid process and types of aid available can be found at YouTube.com/PHEAAstudentAid.