Posted Date: February 18, 2016
Jeff Baker, Director, Policy Liaison and Implementation, Federal Student Aid
Subject: Early FAFSA Electronic Announcement #2 - Preparing for 2017-2018 Early FAFSA and Prior-Prior Year
This Electronic Announcement is the second in what will be a series of announcements providing the community with important information about the development and implementation of the FAFSA® changes announced by President Obama on September 14, 2015 (see Early FAFSA Electronic Announcement #1).
Last fall the President announced two major changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. Traditionally the FAFSA filing cycle begins on January 1 of the year preceding the award/academic year (e.g., January 1, 2016, for the 2016-2017 award/academic year). Beginning with the 2017–2018 FAFSA cycle, the application will become available to students and their families three months earlier on October 1 (e.g., October 1, 2016, for the 2017-2018 award/academic year).
The second change announced by the President is that, again beginning with the 2017-2018 cycle, the FAFSA will collect income information from the tax/calendar year one year earlier than has been used in the past. Thus for the 2017-2018 FAFSA, students and families will provide income information from calendar year 2015 and not from calendar year 2016. Because of this, almost all tax return filers will be able to electronically transfer their tax information directly into their FAFSA by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT).
We believe that starting the FAFSA filing process on October 1 and using the earlier year's income information will simplify the application process and have a meaningful impact on college choice, access, persistence and completion for millions of students. For this reason, we ask your institution to consider making award notifications earlier, beginning with 2017–2018, to maximize the benefits of the President's Early FAFSA initiative by ensuring that families have a full financial aid picture and more time to compare and choose a college.
One of the concerns noted by financial aid administrators relates to the identification and resolution of potential "conflicting information" because of the use of the same 2015 income information for both the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 FAFSAs. While we are still considering how to address this issue so as to minimize burden on institutions, we believe that there are important actions that FAFSA applicants and their families can take to eliminate, or at least minimize, possible conflicts between the two FAFSA years. It is very important for applicants and parents who are eligible to do so use the DRT for their 2016-2017 FAFSAs, either when initially completing their FAFSA online or later by using the FAFSA online correction process. They should once again use the IRS DRT when completing their 2017-2018 FAFSAs. Using the IRS DRT for both FAFSA years will dramatically reduce the likelihood of there being conflicting information between the two years. Therefore, we urge all institutions, as well as state grant agencies, high school counselors, college access organizations and others to communicate early and often to applicants and their parents the importance of using the IRS DRT for both FAFSA cycles.
We have also heard that some institutions are concerned that their software providers may not have the information they need about the changes coming to the 2017-2018 FAFSA. We want to assure you that we have been working with, and will continue to work with, these entities to ensure that they are able to provide institutions with the software and other products that will be needed. In fact, over the past several months we have had a series of conference calls and software provider conferences where the entire content was about these new initiatives. In short, we believe that all of the providers have the information they need and, if they do not, they know how to contact us for additional information or to provide clarification on an issue.
We have developed an "Early FAFSA" mailbox as a way for the community to contribute thoughts, ideas, and concerns that they believe we should consider as we move forward on the implementation of the 2017-2018 Early FAFSA. The email address of the "Early FAFSA" mailbox is EarlyFAFSAFeedback@ed.gov. Although we will not be able to reply to individual messages, we will carefully review all messages received as we continue with our implementation of the Early FAFSA.
We appreciate your patience and cooperation as we work together to implement the exciting changes announced by the President and we look forward to working with institutions, third-party software providers, state grant agencies, high school and other counselors, and the many organizations that work to ensure that every eligible student has the opportunity to be considered for all financial aid for which they may be entitled.