Students, Families Face Earlier Federal Financial Aid Application Deadline in 2016 by Joanie B. Stein, CPA

Posted on September 22, 2016 by Joanie Stein

Students planning to attend college for the 2017-2018 academic year may begin applying for federal financial assistance as early as October 1, 2016. In prior years, students were required to wait until after January 1 to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and subsequently wait until the Spring to determine their eligibility for federal and state grants, scholarships, loans and work-study programs. With the earlier start date, students will now have a better idea of what financial aid packages are available to them, if any, far in advance of their final enrollment decision.

By allowing families to file the FAFSA earlier, the Department of Education has also changed the information required for completing the form. Rather than relying on estimations of income based upon an individual’s not-yet-filed tax return from the most recent tax year, students and their families may instead rely on financial data contained in their already filed tax returns from the year prior. Therefore, a family applying for financial aid for the 2017-2018 tax year would be able to complete the FAFSA by looking at its federal tax returns from 2015. Should an applicant not have this information readily available, he or she may use the IRS’s online data retrieval tool to automatically fill in the necessary information.

The Department of Education urges all students to apply for financial aid at, regardless of their personal or family income. Not only is there no income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid, but failing to complete a FAFSA may prevent students from receiving academic scholarships from the college or university of their choice.

About the Author: Joanie B. Stein, CPA, is a senior manager with Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Tax Services practice, where she helps individuals and businesses implement sound tax-planning strategies. She can be reached at the CPA firm’s Miami office at (305) 379-7000 or at