FAFSA Frequently Asked Questions

What is Early FAFSA?

The 2017–18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) season will begin earlier than previous FAFSA application cycles. Beginning on Oct. 1, 2016, students will be able to fill out the FAFSA for the 2017–18 school year. (In the past, you had to wait until January 1). The earlier submission date will be a permanent change, enabling you to complete and submit a FAFSA as early as October 1 every year. If you file the FAFSA earlier, you’ll have an earlier indication of how much your family is expected to contribute, which will help with budgeting for the upcoming school year.

What is Prior Prior Year?

In addition to changing the FAFSA launch date, the requirements for reporting income information are also changing. Currently, FAFSA applicants provide income information from the “prior tax year.” For example, 2016–17 applicants must report 2015 income information. Beginning with the 2017–18 FAFSA, applicants will provide income information from one tax year earlier—the “prior-prior” year. This means that the 2017–18 FAFSA will collect 2015 income information. As a result of this change, more students and families will be able to complete their FAFSA using income information imported electronically from the IRS, using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), rather than submitting applications with income estimates that may need correcting, or worse, waiting until the previous year’s tax return has been filed.

Can I choose which year’s tax information to provide on the FAFSA?

No. The Department of Education has determined which year’s tax information is provided for each academic year. The following table provides a summary of key dates as we transition to using the early FAFSA submission timeframe and earlier tax information.

FAFSA chart

What if I didn’t file taxes in 2015? Do I complete the FAFSA with 2016 tax information?

No. If you didn’t file taxes in 2015, you’ll complete the FAFSA with “non-filer” information for 2015. If you received income in 2015 but did not file taxes, you’ll also be asked to submit a copy of your W-2 forms from 2015.

What if my family’s 2016 income is less than the 2015 income provided two years in a row?

Any time that a family’s financial situation has changed from the base year information provided on the FAFSA, you can submit an appeal. Our Special Circumstance Form is available for download. We highly recommend speaking with your financial aid officer about your specific circumstances prior to submitting the form or any additional documentation. The staff in the Office of Student Financial Planning can help you determine what documentation will need to be submitted.

If I provide 2015 tax information 2 years in a row, does that mean my financial aid award will be the same 2 years in a row?

That depends. In most cases, financial aid awards based on the same income information will be very similar from one year to the next. However, there are other factors that may cause your financial aid to be different in future years.

Since 2015 tax information is being used 2 years in a row, won’t my FAFSA be the same 2 years in a row?

No. There are other data elements that may have changed or need to be reported on a yearly basis. Please review this guide to which year's information should be used for each section of the FAFSA.

Do I use 2015 tax information 2 years in a row?

YES! If you completed your FAFSA in 2016-2017, you used your 2015 federal tax income information. In order to make the change from prior year to prior prior year, 2015 tax information is being used 2 years in a row for filing the FAFSA.

As many of the students and families completing the FAFSA for 2017-2018 will have filed their taxes for 2015, using the data retrieval process to complete the income sections of the FAFSA is highly recommended. 

The IRS tax return processing times and the availability of the IRS DRT reflected in this chart are merely guides to help tax filers estimate when they will be able to retrieve their IRS tax return information using the IRS DRT.

early fafsa

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