The world of financial aid can be confusing, especially with all of those different deadlines – school, state, federal… But the Department of Education has been trying to make things easier. Here is how things are changing for the 2017 – ’18 school year:

No updating will be necessary, and given that your taxes should have been filed months earlier, you can pull your IRS tax information directly into the FAFSA.

The FAFSA will be available October 1, 2016 – three whole months earlier than before.

You will be able to use your and/or your parents’ 2015 tax return information, which will be accessible by a link provided on the FAFSA website.

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No updating will be necessary. Given that your taxes should have been filed months earlier, you can pull your IRS tax information directly into the FAFSA. Since you will be filing a FAFSA for every year you are in school and looking for aid, the earlier availability and the link to taxes that should already have been filed will make life much simpler going forward.

Don’t know what schools you’re applying to yet? No problem! You can list the schools you are considering – no commitment.

It used to be that the FAFSA forms for an upcoming academic year (beginning in the fall) became available on January 1 of a given year. If you hadn’t yet calculated your prior year’s taxes, you could fill out the form in January with tax information from your filing the previous April as an “estimate.” You could then revise your filing when you (and your parents) completed your taxes over the next three months.

In recent years, it has become possible to electronically link your FAFSA to your tax return.

This makes the process easier and faster – no manually copying all of those numbers from your tax form to your FAFSA yourself. If you waited until April 15 to file your taxes for the previous year and then did your FAFSA, you would still technically hit the Federal deadline. But you would have likely missed school-specific filing deadlines.

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The change was announced back in September 2015, but the Department of Education started a campaign on July 5 to remind people of the new dates. The change of the filing date is the last of three changes announced last September to be enacted. The other two both took effect for the 2016 – ’17 academic year.

The first change was a reduction in the level of parental assets that are “protected” or excluded from the Expected Family Contribution calculation. The exact amounts depend on the parents’ ages, but the drop is significant. This is not such great news for middle-class parents. The second change was that colleges receiving your FAFSA results no longer see all of the other schools you listed on your FAFSA application. This is good news for the student, for sure! It keeps them guessing about the competition.

For more information on FAFSA, check out the Federal Student Aid’s announcements page.