If you’re planning to attend college soon, you’ve no doubt heard about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is your connection to everything that pertains to financial aid. Consider it your starting point to getting the money you need for college. And understand that some important changes to the FAFSA are now in effect that make the financial aid application process easier.

The FAFSA submission date is earlier

Until now, the earliest you could submit your FAFSA was January 1. Now, beginning with the 2017-18 academic year, you can submit your FAFSA for 2017 on Oct. 1, 2016. This is not the deadline for FAFSA. But because some aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, it is best to submit your FAFSA as soon after Oct. 1 as possible.

  • If you plan to attend college from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017, submit the 2016-17 FAFSA from Jan. 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. Use income and tax information from 2015.
  • If you plan to attend college from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018, submit the 2017-18 FAFSA from Oct. 1, 2016 through June 30, 2018. Use income and tax information from 2015.
  • If you plan to attend college from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019, submit the 2018-19 FAFSA from Oct. 1, 2017 through June 30, 2019. Use income and tax information from 2016.

Use the previous year's tax information

With the FAFSA for 2017, you will use income information reported on your and your family’s 2015 tax return. Use this data even if you filed a FAFSA last year with the same information. This change is designed to capture the most accurate financial information because you will no longer have to estimate income and tax information.

Other changes to be aware of

The new Oct. 1 submission date means that many state aid programs have changed their deadlines to “as soon as possible after Oct. 1.” Always check state and school deadlines to make sure you file your applications on time.

How will these changes benefit you?

If you’re a student or the parent of a student, these changes will make completing the FAFSA easier. In addition, the earlier submission date more closely aligns with the college admissions process. That means schools may send their award letters earlier.

Before you apply

The FAFSA starting for the 2017-18 has some important changes. But before you dive into filling out the form, take a look at the 17 things you need to do before you start work on the FAFSA. Being prepared is a valuable tool in the financial aid process.

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