FAFSA implements changes, strives to achieve more expedient process

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid changed its application for the 2017-18 school year. FAFSA is available earlier and students can use the information from an earlier completed tax year. FAFSA requires students to report tax and income information from two years prior, known as the prior-prior year income. For the 2017-18 school year, students will report their information based on their 2015 tax report. FAFSA announced the decision to make these changes over the summer and put them into place during the month of October.

Students and families previously had to estimate figures for FAFSA based on the previous year—as FAFSA opened up as soon as the year ended—and many families had not filed taxes, according to Director of the Office of Financial Aid Susan Romano. Students and families can now use the International Revenue Service Data Retrieval to transfer information from their tax records to the FAFSA, since most families have filed the prior-prior year income taxes, according to Romano.

“Families won’t have to estimate; they can give us more accurate figures,” Romano said. “The other big thing is that more families will be able to use the income data retrieval tool, which is the tool on the FAFSA that allows students and parents to basically download information from the IRS website from their tax records right into the FAFSA.”

Such changes will most likely impact new students, rather than continuing students, Romano said.

“For continuing students, it’s not going to be that big of an adjustment, hopefully, but for new students it’s going to better align the financial aid process with the admission process,” Romano said.

Physics major sophomore Justin D’Souza believes such changes will allow filling out the FAFSA to be a quicker process, although he worries some difficulties could arise.

“I feel like the ability to use existing tax returns coupled with the earlier opening submission date will expedite the currently frustrating FAFSA application process and allow more students to get it out of the way before beginning college applications,” D’Souza said. “However, I worry that if families suffer large income drops during 2016, then it will result in more work to negotiate their current financial situation with colleges, since 2016 tax reports cannot be used.”

The changes to the FAFSA will allow the Office of Financial Aid to give aid awards to students without the interference of asking for income verification after families file their taxes, according to Romano. Because prior-prior year income tax reports are more accurate and readily available, such information allows less aid revisions and less last minute changes, Romano said.

“There have been several studies as to how accurate the data would be if we went and asked for income from two years prior and the studies show that the vast majority of a family’s income doesn’t change all that much from year to year,” Romano said.

For families whose income has changed drastically within the previous year, there are procedures in place to help them address that issue, according to Romano.

“Certainly, there’s going to be special circumstances and there’s going to be situations in which families’ incomes do change pretty dramatically,” Romano said. “We have ways of handling that through what we call ‘special condition review.’”

Even if students decide not to file earlier, the use of prior-prior year income still makes the process easier to complete for a majority of students, Romano said.

“We know that costs are a huge consideration when you’re making decisions about college, so this will hopefully give families the information they need to make those informed decisions,” Romano said. “As far as returning students, I think it’s just going to make things easier for them and give them more time to get it done, so that’s a huge advantage.”