By Alaina Giesbrecht*
At least a couple of times each day, I am asked by students and families why completing the FAFSA is different for the 2017-2018 academic year than it has been in the past. What is different? How does this impact me and my family? First, the timeline. The 2017-2018 FAFSA opened on October 1, 2016 at fafsa.gov. The earlier submission date will be a permanent change – you will no longer need to wait to complete the FAFSA in January. The earlier you file, the earlier you will know how much your family is expected to contribute, which will help with budgeting for the upcoming school year. Now that the FAFSA opens in October instead of January, the priority filing window has shifted from January 1 – March 1, to October 1 – December 1. Students should file their FAFSA early to get the best aid options. File as early as you can! You do not have to wait until your current year taxes are filed, because the Federal Department of Education has moved to a model where tax information from two years prior to the academic year will be used when completing the FAFSA instead of tax information from the year immediately prior. For example, for the 2016-2017 academic year, 2015 tax information was used on the FAFSA – the tax information was from one year prior to the 2016-2017 academic year. For the 2017-2018 academic year, 2015 tax information will be used again, because 2015 tax information is from two years prior to the 2017-2018 academic year. There has been a lot of confusion around using 2015 tax information again. This is a transition year, and transitions are often a little painful. Just remember: 2016 tax information will not be used until completing the 2018-2019 FAFSA. But wait – what if I lost my job in 2016? Can’t I just use 2016 tax information on the 2017-2018 FAFSA, since that is a more accurate representation of my family’s financial situation? No! 2016 tax information will never be used when completing the 2017-2018 FAFSA. However, there is a process called Professional Judgment, through which students and families may request that the Financial Aid Office, in compliance with Federal guidelines, review certain data elements on the FAFSA related to income and assets to determine whether the student could potentially be eligible for additional financial assistance if the family’s situation has undergone a drastic change due to significant or total loss of income. In order to review a Professional Judgment request for 2017-2018, the Financial Aid Office must be able to confirm that we have a FAFSA for the 2017-2018 academic year on file. Therefore, even if you anticipate engaging in the Professional Judgment process, do not delay in completing your FAFSA! So, again – file early! Filing the FAFSA as early as possible gives students the best options for financial aid, and allows families time to engage in Professional Judgment, if necessary. For more information, or to have a Professional Judgment request emailed directly to a UNCG email address, please contact the Financial Aid Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 334-5702.
*Alaina Giesbrecht is part of the UNCG Financial Aid Counselors Team, providing outstanding service via phone, email and in office visits.