Albuquerque Journal

FAFSA explained


Although high school seniors still have most of their school year to go before graduation, it’s not too early to start thinking about how to pay for college.

That’s because the Free Applicatio­n for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) applicatio­ns can now be submitted as soon as Oct. 1, with an ultimate deadline of June 30, 2018, for students starting college in the 2018-19 school year.

“We moved up our priority date for filing in the last cycle in order to allow students more time to complete any additional requested requiremen­ts, and allow students more time to plan for the year,” says Brian Malone, director of the University of New Mexico Student Financial Aid Office.

This means students will use tax data from the 2016 filing rather than waiting to do taxes for 2017.

UNM was still finalizing its deadlines for FAFSA filing, Malone says.

“The FAFSA is the gateway to all federal financial aid, including grants, work study and loans,” he says. “In addition, state grants and work study eligibilit­y is also determined through the FAFSA. Completing the FAFSA is a great safety for students. Even if they do not think they qualify for grants, or are not interested in loans, having a FAFSA on file allows them to quicker access financial resources in the event that they run short of money for school.”

It is a good idea to file as soon as possible, however.

“We recommend they complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1, and before Jan. 5, 2018,” Malone says.

This has some implicatio­ns for applicants in that it means that tax informatio­n can go back to the 2016 filing rather than waiting to apply with the 2017 figures.

Federal Student Aid is a part of the U.S. Department of Education and is the country’s largest provider of student financial aid.

The office provides more than $120 billion in federal grants, loans, and workstudy funds each year to more than 13 million students paying for higher education or training at more than 6,000 college and career schools.

The office processes some 20 million FAFSA applicatio­ns annually. Go to fafsa.

The money is distribute­d through a process that takes into account a family’s adjusted gross income as verified through tax returns.

To help with that portion of the applicatio­n, the use of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is a handy way to secure accurate tax informatio­n, Malone says.

“Students should utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool when completing the FAFSA,” he says. “This tool allows students and parents to import their IRS tax informatio­n directly into the FAFSA. This can simplify the FAFSA process, and help reduce verificati­on after the FAFSA is filed.”

Award Notificati­on also will begin earlier, although some awards may be estimated until the state Legislatur­e finalizes funding amounts for the award year, usually by summer.

UNM expects to make awards by late February.

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