Sen. Gratwick Announces that the FAFSA is Changing
As Maine students settle into their school routines, Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, wants them and their families know about a recent change in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process.
Instead of waiting until January 1 to file the FASFA, families can now file beginning on October 1, 2016. In addition, they will be able to file using an older tax information.
The FAFSA is the form that families must submit when applying for federal grants, Pell Grants, loans, and work-study funds to cover college costs for their students. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Education, which provides more than $150 billion in student aid each year.
In the past, students have had to wait until January 1 for these forms. In consequence high school seniors often received their financial aid notification far along in their college decision-making process, potentially causing them to choose a college hastily or take on more debt than needed.
“Completing and submitting the FAFSA is the single most important thing a family can do to get assistance paying for college, and it’s one of the best ways to minimize student loan borrowing,” said Martha Johnston, Director of Education for the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME). “Too often, we see students who don’t complete the FAFSA or submit it late and miss critical deadlines and they often miss out on potential grants,” she added.
Maine students left $11.5 million in Pell Grants on the table for the 2014-2015 academic year, according to NerdWallet. 68 percent of Maine students graduate with debt with an average of $31,000 per student.
Helping Maine Families Find Money for Higher Education
Why is this change important?
- The financial aid timeline is now aligned with the college admissions more closely.
- There’s no longer a need to estimate income for the preceding year. For the 2017-2018 academic year, students and their families can report 2015 tax income information. This means that they will have accurate tax information when they first file FAFSA. In fact, students can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool within FAFSA to transfer 2015 income information from the IRS directly into FAFSA. Based on the old timeline, families were required to use the prior year’s tax information. Because a tax return for that year had often not yet been filed, families had to estimate income in order to not miss deadlines. They would then have to go back into FAFSA and update income information when it became available.
- There will be more time to understand financial aid options: The hope is that students will know how much aid they’ve qualified for sooner and have more time to evaluate their options. Earlier notification will help families make more informed decisions about college and how to pay for it.
- It removes some of the pressure families feel about financial aid. In the past this has been compressed into a 4-month period between the January 1 and college acceptance deadlines on or around May 1.
Sen. Gratwick is also pleased to announce a local help session on October 26 at 6:00 p.m. at the United Technologies Center. Families can speak with FAME representatives and get help completing FAFSA. For the complete list of FAFSA Help Sessions, please visit here. FAME also offers families ongoing support online at FAMEmaine.com/FAFSA.
“I hope students and families are able to attend this help session,” said Sen. Gratwick. “FAME representatives are an excellent resource in the complicated process of applying for financial aid.”
Johnston concluded: “We encourage students to file the FAFSA as early as they can because some schools award aid on a first-come, first-served basis. There’s really no downside to filing early. Also students need to pay attention to financial aid deadlines. Many Maine schools have not yet announced their financial aid deadlines but they may be earlier than in the past because of this change.”
About the Finance Authority of Maine [FAME]:
FAME is a quasi-independent state agency that provides innovative financial solutions to help Maine people and businesses pursue educational and business opportunities. FAME helps to lead the creation of good paying jobs for Maine citizens by working at the nexus between economic and workforce development. To learn more about FAME, please visit www.famemaine.com.