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Are you confused by the recent changes to the FAFSA for the upcoming 2017-2018 academic year? Of course you are, otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this post! And you are not alone. I’ve already spoken to a number of people voicing their bewilderment over these changes. Don’t worry, we will get you all squared away and you’ll be an expert on “Prior-Prior Year” by the time you are finished reading here today!
DO I EVEN KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT?
But first, let me introduce myself! Welcome to my blog, Frugal Nesting. I typically write about parenting young children, budgeting, and family life. However, I am also a financial aid professional. I’ve been working in finance for 14 years and 11 of those years have been in higher education.
Since I get so many questions about financial aid on a daily basis I figured I could take those questions and use my platform as a blogger to get answers out to the folks who need it. This is particularly useful if it’s hard to get in touch with a real person at your school or you are intimidated by reaching out directly.
Now please note that each school is different and every student has a unique situation, so always check with your school, tax preparer, and/or applicable state/federal sources before making financial aid decisions.*
Ok, on to the good stuff! Now historically, you couldn’t begin filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) until January 1st for the upcoming school year. And part of the process was answering questions about your income and, often, your tax return for the year that just ended. For example, we are just now wrapping up the 2016-2017 academic year. The 2016-2017 FAFSA became available on 01/01/2016 and asks questions about 2015 income and tax returns. Got that? Ok!
So if you are the parent of a rising sophomore, junior, or senior in college then you probably worked your way through all of that and might have even been feeling somewhat confident that you now know what to expect for next year. I mean it’s not your first rodeo anymore, right?!?!
Or this might actually be your first rodeo, but you’ve talked to friends & family who gave you all the pep talks to get you ready for this whole new world of sending your love off to college.
Or maybe you are a student moving forward into grad school and doing this all on your own for the first time, but you were paying attention when your parents did it all through undergrad, so no sweat…
STOP THE SHOW. Throw all of that out the window, because the game has changed. Starting this upcoming 2017-2018 academic year there are two very important changes being made to the FAFSA. Enter this whole prior-prior year mumbo-jumbo. I will go into the specifics below, but let me explain the reasoning behind it first. This will help it all make more sense to you instead of just being a bunch of random numbers, dates, and jargon.
One thing that has always driven families crazy is having to file their FAFSA before their taxes have been completed. They often must do this to meet priority state and/or school deadlines to ensure that they are considered for all of the available financial aid programs that they may be eligible for. This is because many programs have limited funding and preference goes to those who file early. This typically leaves families in a quandary.
Do they choose to file early and simply estimate their income and tax data. Or do they wait and file with exact figures, but risk missing out on potential aid opportunities. Neither of those situations are ideal. Particularly if a family later goes in to update their tax data to actual figures resulting in a change to their eligibility and reduction in aid.
The financial aid community has been grappling with this conundrum for years and we are now seeing the solution rolling out right before our eyes. So you are lucky enough to be here to witness this unique time in financial aid. This Prior-Prior Year snapshot might help as we move forward:
2016-2017 ⇒ The Old Way
2017-2018 ⇒ Transition Year
2018-2019 ⇒ The New Way
One important thing for you to know is that this year, the 2017-2018 academic year is a transition year. So if things seem a little wonky it’s because they are.
PRIOR-PRIOR YEAR (PPY)
The thing that will likely confuse you more than anything is the fact that you are again using the same 2015 tax returns that you used to complete the FAFSA last year. Yes, I said that correctly…you will use the 2015 tax returns again.
That typically leads to a slew of additional questions. Like: What if my situation today looks nothing like what my 2015 taxes show? Can’t the FAFSA just copy my information from the 2016-2017 application so I don’t have to do it again? Etc.
- If the information you provide on the FAFSA, using your 2015 tax return data, is significantly different than your situation now then contact the financial aid office at your school to discuss your options.
- No, the FAFSA cannot copy your 2016-2017 FAFSA. However, if conflicting information is found then it will need to be resolved. Your school will contact you for more information to resolve a situation like this.
So here are the “need-to-know” details. The two main things that are changing are the WHEN and the WHAT. The WHEN is in reference to the timing regarding when you can begin filing your FAFSA. And the WHAT is in reference to what tax year is being used to complete the FAFSA. I have detailed examples below to help you wrap your head around this.
- WHEN \\ Filing Timeline: The FAFSA used to become available on January 1st, but that is no longer the case. The FAFSA can now be completed as early as October 1st of the previous year.
2016-2017 FAFSA ⇒ 01/01/2016 – 06/30/2017 | Filing Window
2017-2018 FAFSA ⇒ 10/01/2016 – 06/30/2017 | Filing Window
- WHAT \\ Base Tax Year: The FAFSA used to use the income and tax information from the year that just ended. Now you will use what they are calling “Prior-Prior Year” income & tax information.
2016-2017 FAFSA ⇒ 2015 Tax Return
2017-2018 FAFSA ⇒ 2015 Tax Return
2018-2019 FAFSA ⇒ 2016 Tax Return
THAT’S ALL FOLKS
We have now gone over all of the information that your family needs to know regarding the recent changes to the FAFSA. So now, when you hear the term “Prior-Prior Year” or PPY you can surprise people with all you now know about this transition! Please make sure to always research scholarship programs carefully before providing your personal information (particularly social security number) and be a responsible student borrower when it comes to any student loans. Please feel free to contact me with questions on Prior-Prior Year FAFSA changes. And I also recommend watching this webinar on scholarships that my friend, Jocelyn from The Scholarship System, regularly offers free of charge!
And if you are looking for a way to consolidate existing student loans, then you may want to consider SoFi! Check out their post on 4 Smart Student Loan Repayment Strategies for New Grads and read a quote from one of their happy customers below:
“SoFi has helped by saving me so much money since refinancing. I will be debt-free in half the time with $50K extra in my pocket. Can’t beat that!” – Erika, Texas
* Disclaimer: All information provided has been gleaned from my years of experience and publicly available information. All opinions are my own. The information I provide is not on behalf of any school, organization or business outside of Frugal Nesting.