In 2015, the FAFSA began to be completed a year earlier, allowing for financial aid decisions to come out with rolling or early decisions. The form has been available October 1 each year since. This year, though, the Department of Education announced a few months ago that it would not open the FAFSA until December, which has been pushed back to the end of this month.
The reason for the delay is a large number of changes in the form. The Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act with major changes. Most of them are strong improvements. The number of questions is reduced from 108 to 46. Students can now list 20 colleges to receive financial information, up from 10 and more can be added after students receive the renamed FAFSA Submission Summary, previously the Student Aid Report.
Other changes will not be so obvious to those filling out the forms, but they are equally consequential. They include:
- No longer increasing aid eligibility when more than one child in a family attends college.
- Increasing the Asset Protection Allowance for parents by 20 percent, for students by 35%, and single parents by 60%. A family making less than 175% of the federal poverty level, and single parents making less than 225% of the federal poverty level, will now be able to receive the maximum award for a Pell Grant.
- Pell Grant eligibility is now linked to specific adjusted gross income and family size, allowing families to determine eligibility before completing the FAFSA.
- Untaxed income, such as foster care benefits, emergency assistance, worker’s compensation, or veterans’ education benefits, no longer needs to be reported.
- Certain types of untaxed income, like cash support and money paid on the student’s behalf, such as if a grandparent gives a gift to their grandchild to help with college, will no longer need to be reported on the FAFSA.
- Incarcerated students and parents are eligible for Pell Grants.
- Businesses and family farms are now included in a family’s assets.
- The Expected Family Contribution has been replaced by the Student Aid Index.
- The parent who provides the most support, rather than the one with whom the student mostly lives, completes the FAFSA.
- Students may now receive up to a -1500 Pell Index which may allow some students to get aid beyond the cost of attendance.
- Pell eligibility is restored where colleges have closed or misled students
- The law mandates the use of the IRS Direct Data Exchange when available.
- There are no longer questions about selective service or drug convictions.
- Applicants may be exempt from reporting assets if they receive federal means-tested benefits or their parents’ adjusted gross income is under $60,000.
- Some students enrolled less than half-time may be eligible for benefits.
- Colleges must post how students access professional judgment requests from financial aid administrators for special or unusual circumstances.
- Guidance is given on dependency overrides, such as human trafficking, asylum requests, parental abandonment or estrangement, or parent or student incarceration.
- The FAFSA is available in 11 languages, up from just English and Spanish.
- All “contributors” are required to submit financial information, such as step-parents.
- Suspends verification (document submission) based on reported financial information.
- There is an Employment Expense Allotment of up to $4000.
Together, these should simplify the process and expand eligibility to the most needy. It is estimated that these changes will result in an additional 600,000 students becoming eligible for a Pell Grant and 1.5 million more students eligible for the maximum Pell Grant (which has not yet been set).
Together, these changes make for a greatly simplified process that dedicates greater resources to those who are most needy. These benefits are muted this year by colleges and applicants receiving financial data up to 3 months later than in previous years.
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