For the first time, the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) is available prior to January 1st. Starting in 2016 and going forward, the FAFSA will be made available on October 1st for the following year. How the FAFSA and Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) will work together will also be different than it has been in the past. This new change in the FAFSA process has been called “Prior Prior” or “Early FAFSA.”
With this change, a family will submit the FAFSA after using the DRT process. The DRT process allows families to easily import their IRS income tax return information and transfer the data directly into their FAFSA from the IRS website. It then notifies the college that the information submitted on the FAFSA is the same information that was submitted to the IRS. This is an important step since colleges must have this information verified before funds can be disbursed. This is a reversal in the process from previous years, and the income used for the FAFSA will end up being 12 or more months old since the tax return used in conjunction with the DRT is the last submitted return. For example, the tax return information used to complete the DRT for the 2017 school year will be for tax year 2015.
For many families, this timing change will eliminate some of the confusion regarding the income part of the FAFSA submission. The DRT process verifies only the income information for the college’s financial aid office and prevents fraud. It should be used for both the parent(s) and student income information if a tax return was submitted. The other FAFSA information should be as of the day of the submission such as financial asset information. It is recommended to have your last submitted tax return in front of you when completing the DRT as the information down to abbreviations and middle initials need to match exactly.
Click here for a great video that walks you through these changes.