This year, students will have the opportunity to jump start completing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

On Sept. 14, President Barack Obama announced significant changes to the FAFSA for the 2017-18 application cycle, including the ability for students to be able to file as early as Oct. 1, rather than beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. These changes will now be permanent. 

In addition to the early submission date, students will also use earlier income information. Beginning with the 2017-18 FAFSA, students will be required to report income information from an earlier tax year, according to studentaid.ed.gov. For example, on the 2017-18 FAFSA, students and parents will report their 2015 income information, rather than their 2016 income information.

The ability for students and families to file early is a positive change and will help prevent any difficulties, said John McPherson, assistant vice president of enrollment services.

“In the past, students and parents would have to wait until at least January 1 to file a FAFSA because the form required the prior tax year information,” McPherson said. “This created a dilemma for many families because they were always struggling to get their tax forms completed and file the FAFSA by the March 10 Indiana deadline. For example, the 2016-17 FAFSA was due by March 10, 2016, yet asked for 2015 tax data that was not due to the IRS until April 15, 2016.”

The early FAFSA changes all of that, he said.

“That 2015 tax data should already be on file at the IRS and should be readily accessible on Oct. 1 when the FAFSA process opens,” McPherson said. “Therefore, students and parents can go to fafsa.gov and complete the process much earlier.”

There are also other advantages to the new update including the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), which is used to collect existing tax data.

“When a student or parent gets to the income portion of the FAFSA, he or she can use the DRT to import existing IRS tax data directly into the FAFSA,” McPherson said. “This reduces the burden on the user, increases accuracy, and the imported IRS income information serves as an official document. Thus, the student or parent who uses the DRT won’t have to supply the financial aid office with official tax transcripts.”

McPherson encourages students to take advantage of the new process and not wait until March to file the FAFSA.

“This will greatly reduce their stress levels next spring,” he said.

If you’d like more details about the upcoming changes, you may read the fact sheet called College Students and Parents: What You Need to Know About the 2017­–18 FAFSA®