Financial Aid Planning
A March 30, 2017 announcement from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) indicates that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) that allows students and families to transfer their federal tax data directly into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is currently unavailable, and is not expected to come back online before the start of the 2018-19 FAFSA processing cycle in October of 2017.
The FAFSA can still be completed electronically, but income and tax information will need to be entered manually (as was done before the IRS DRT became available). Applicants can complete the 2017-18 FAFSA using either a copy of their 2015 tax returns, data from their 2015 tax software, or information from their 2016-17 FAFSA if they have one on file.
If 2015 tax information is not readily available, applicants can file the FAFSA using estimated tax information and then order an IRS Tax Transcript (either online, by mail or phone), and then use that data to correct/update the FAFSA. Or, they may opt to wait until the IRS DRT becomes available again and use the tool to correct the FAFSA at that point.
Students with questions about FAFSA completion can contact their local ISACorps member, send a text message to the ISAC College Q & A service, or contact an ISAC Call Center Representative.
Completing the FAFSA®
The first step in the financial aid process is to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). This application, which is available to complete online (preferred method) or in paper format, will use income, assets and other factors to determine the amount you and your family are expected to contribute to your college expenses. You must submit the FAFSA in order to be considered for all federal financial aid programs (including student loans), most programs through your college and most state programs, including the State of Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant. Most of the questions are demographic-related and the rest of the answers come from your tax forms and/or those of your parents (if you’re a dependent student) or your spouse (if you are married). If you file the FAFSA online (FAFSA on the Web), you can list as many as ten different colleges that you may be attending and have information sent to them (only four colleges can be listed on the paper FAFSA). Your eligibility for financial aid will be determined by your and your family’s financial situation, and by filing your application on time.
Find out more about Completing the FAFSA.
If you will be applying for financial aid to attend college during an academic year that starts on or after July 1, 2017, please note that the FAFSA will be available to complete sooner than in prior years, allowing applicants to report earlier tax information. With the new schedule, the 2017-18 FAFSA will become available on October 1, 2016 (under the prior schedule, the application would not have been available until January 1, 2017). In addition, students (and parents, as necessary) will report their 2015 income information on the 2017-18 FAFSA (rather than their 2016 income information, which would have been required under the prior system). Further details are provided at the FAFSA Changes for 2017–18 page of the Federal Student Aid (FSA) website.
Attend a FAFSA Completion Workshop
For many students and families who have never completed a FAFSA, the form can seem a little overwhelming. In addition to the specific instructions on how to complete the FAFSA available on the Filling Out the FAFSA page of Federal Student Aid’s StudentAid.gov, the ISACorps provides free workshops across the state to help you complete the FAFSA. Check out the Outreach Event Calendar to find a workshop in your area and make sure you know what to bring to a FAFSA Completion Workshop.
Get One-on-One Assistance with Financial Aid
The ISACorps member in your region is available to meet with you and your family to help you learn more about your financial aid options and apply for aid. Our ISACorps members are trained to not only help you fill out the FAFSA, but also to help you identify scholarships and grants for which you might be eligible, explain student loans and financial aid packages, and help provide the information and resources so you can make informed financial decisions when it comes to paying for college.
Get in touch with the ISACorps member in your region.