Make Ends Meet: FAFSA changes

Make Ends Meet: FAFSA changes
Published: Oct. 30, 2023 at 10:32 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Any family hoping to apply for state aid for their college-bound high school graduate would usually be wrapped up with the procedure by now.

The October application date is no longer. A new law changed not only the application date but the Free Application for Federal Student Aid itself.

It’s a lot of changes, but it sounds like it’s a lot less to do. Jennifer Finetti is with ScholarshipOwl, a personalized scholarship matching service and management tool. As Director of Outreach and Advocacy, Finetti works with students, preparing them to be financially ready for college. She is now making sure families are aware of the substantial changes in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

“The FAFSA opens in December for this year, and this would be for students who are applying in the fall,” explained Finetti.

Most families are preparing for the holidays, but if you have a college student in your home, you should also be preparing to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA. This is the key to unlocking college grants, state aid, work-study and federal student loans.

”It takes the average student 20 years to pay off their student debt, which is an incredibly long amount of time,” exclaimed Finetti.

The FAFSA Simplification Act brought with it a lot of changes and a pretty significant simplification to the process.

“The process has been overhauled,” explained Finetti. “Use to be the FAFSA has 108 questions. Now they have streamlined it down to thirty-six questions, so it’s going to be much easier and simpler for families to complete.”

Many are wondering how they chopped the application length so significantly and why it took so long to do it. Federal financial aid has not seen a change like this in decades. Finetti said they were able to cut the number of questions simply by allowing families’ tax returns to speak for themselves.

“The way they have done that is by requiring that families transfer financial information directly from the IRS tax data into the FAFSA,” stressed Finetti.

All the individual questions about finances are no longer needed since your tax information is downloaded with the application. The EFC or the Expected Family Contribution, which is a measure of how much a student and his or her family can be expected to contribute to the cost of their college education during a given year, has also been replaced on the FAFSA.

“The new FAFSA has dropped the EFC to something called the student aid index number or SAI,” explained Finetti. “Now your SAI can actually be a negative number. If you receive a negative anywhere in the range of a negative number to a zero that means you will likely qualify for a full Pell Grant. Your SAI number is calculated by the government. Just like the EFC it is intended to represent your family’s financial strength and the amount you can pay for college. The higher your SAI number the less likely you are to qualify,” explained Finetti.

The FAFSA Simplification Act also removed the requirement of Selective Service registration.

Drug convictions will also no longer affect your chances of qualifying. It added questions about an applicant’s sex, race, and ethnicity.

This has no effect on federal student aid eligibility. The information will be used for data and statistical purposes only.

”Families who are most in need are the ones who are going to be prioritized for federal grants,” stressed Finetti.

Another tremendous change, the FAFSA will no longer provide a discount for multiple children in college at the same time. A little warning, all the dates and deadlines are not in. You will need to pay close attention to what is due and when.

There may be at least three different deadlines you need to keep track of when you are filing the FAFSA. There is a federal deadline, a state deadline and an institutional deadline.