The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available online for 2014-15. Most colleges encourage high school seniors and their parents to fill out and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible, since financial aid awards may be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Several changes have recently been made to federal financial aid forms and processes. We talked with university financial aid professionals and here’s what they’ve noticed about changes in this year’s FAFSA and trends in financial aid.
1. Submitting the FAFSA early is important. You can file the FAFSA anytime on or after January 1. Check with your intended college to find out its deadlines and to learn your state’s FAFSA deadlines. “Many states and schools have made their [FAFSA] deadlines earlier as funding for financial aid programs has decreased. This makes it important to file the FAFSA early,” says Nick Mulvey, dean of admissions at Carthage College (WI).
When filling out the FAFSA, you’ll need income and tax information available (including tax returns, W2 forms, social security numbers, family and student asset information).
“We recommend that if a family is able to file their taxes early electronically, that they file their FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool,” says Vicki Hendrickson, director of student financial services at The University of Tulsa.
It takes about three weeks after filing taxes electronically before you can use the IRS Data Retrieval. “It simplifies filing the FAFSA and reduces the family’s chances of being selected for verification,” Hendrickson adds.
2. FAFSA parent information has changed. According to Patrick Bonones, director of financial aid at Agnes Scott College (GA), a new change in completing the FAFSA for 2014-15 is the definition of parent. “Students should read the instructions carefully when determining the parent(s) whose information is to be used on the FAFSA,” Bonones recommends.
For the first time this year, families will be required to provide income information for both parents regardless of marital status if the parents live in the same household, says Mulvey of Carthage College. “The 2014-15 FAFSA will provide a new option for students to list their parents’ marital status as ‘unmarried and both parents living together.’ This year’s FAFSA also will use terms like ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’ instead of gender-specific terms like ‘mother’ and ‘father,” Mulvey adds.
3. Congress made new rules for setting student loan interest rates. Federal student loan interest rates are now tied to the financial markets. “They are ‘fixed-variable’ rate loans, where the interest rate for each year’s loan will be established each year in June,” says Mulvey. “While the rate is fixed for that particular loan, next year’s loan could potentially have a different rate, which would also be fixed for the life of that loan.”
Find information on current federal student loan interest rates on the Federal Student Aid website.
4. More focus on loan borrowers’ accountability. Scott Thum, director of financial aid at Indiana Tech, says a big trend he’s seeing in financial aid is accountability. “In the last few years, there has been an increased focus on a student’s Satisfactory Academic Progress, a decreased timeframe to receive Pell [grants] … and monitoring of successful completion of credit hours.”
Thum says these safety checks are in place to ensure that legitimate students can receive aid and students who struggle academically have an appeal process to keep their aid.
For details on available federal financial aid, check the Federal Student Aid website and the FAFSA website. Additionally, check with your school to see what type of college scholarships are available to help you pay for college.
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