This article is brought to you by Michele Logue, Park University’s Financial Literacy Counselor. Keep an eye out for more contributions from Michele in the months to come. 

On Sunday, October 1st, the 2018-2019 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) opened, noting the start of the financial aid season for the next school year. So why start that process now when the 2017-2018 academic year is barely underway?

There are three good reasons:

1. Deadlines: There are many state grants that rely on the completion of your FAFSA to determine your eligibility, and some are moving their deadline dates up. While surveys have shown that most universities have not changed their priority deadlines, some of the states have changed theirs. Keep in mind, that the earlier you submit your FAFSA with the university code on it (Park University is 0024498), the sooner that university is aware that you are interested in attending their school. This moves the student up the list for early application and earlier estimates of costs and funding from these prospective schools.

As an example of how deadlines have been affected, the Missouri Grant has changed from:

  • 2016-17: April 1, 2016 midnight, Central Time
  • 2017-18: February 1, 2017 for priority consideration.
    • Awards are made until funds are depleted.

2. Limited pool of funds: Some grant and scholarship funds have a limited pool of availability – distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis. If the scholarship you are applying for is dependent on your FAFSA information, for example: dependent on your EFC (Estimated Family Contribution), the sooner you have your FAFSA and your scholarship application completed, the better your chances are for obtaining the sought-after funding.

3. Beat the rush: Avoid the lines of last-minute applicants and get your financial aid in place prior to the start of the academic year – translating into less stress. By opening up the FAFSA and thus the application process for universities, students and parents have more time to get all of the aid options lined up. It also allows more time to get through the added hurdles of being selected by the FAFSA for verification or compliance requirements. If the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is used, the time needed for clearing these issues is considerably shorter.

With the opening of the 2018-2019 FAFSA comes the return of IRS Data Retrieval Tool. There are added security features this year which is good news for students and parents who are concerned with adding wage and tax information to the application. Because the FAFSA is now requiring the tax information from two years prior, students and parents no longer have to wait until this year’s taxes are filed. This FAFSA process includes a “blind submission” meaning that the income and tax information that transfers in from the IRS are blocked with a note that the data has transferred. The tool is still considered to be the best way to streamline the process.

How does a three-month bump in the submission of your FAFSA benefit you? The concept is that this gives students and parents added time to comparison shop financial aid offers from universities. It gives students and parents more time to make a plan to pay for college. It allows students and parents the ability to have more time to weigh out their choices, to find the most affordable options and to make the best-informed decision.

Remember, it is never a mistake to fill out the FAFSA; it is free and provides the opportunity for both federal and state aid for postsecondary school. So fill out that application now and get ahead of the masses next August: www.fafsa.ed.gov