The 2018-19 FAFSA Is Now Available: What You Need to Know to Get Money for College

free application for federal student aid

The 2018-19 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better know as the FAFSA, became available today.

If you’re in college now or starting college next year, filling out this form is the only way to get federal student aid. It’s also a great way to get additional money from your state and school.

More than $2.7 billion in federal aid money went unclaimed last year. Complete the FAFSA now to grab your piece of the pie.

What to know about the 2018-19 FAFSA changes

The FAFSA is used by the government and colleges to determine your eligibility for financial aid. (If you’d like to learn more about the basics, check out our ultimate FAFSA FAQ.)

The 2018-19 FAFSA, which came out today, is for anyone who will be in college between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019.

If you’ve filled out the FAFSA before, you might notice a few changes to the process.

It’s available earlier

You used to have to wait until January to fill out the FAFSA, but the form is now available on October 1, which means you have more time to compare aid packages and negotiate with financial aid offices.

It also means you need to get yourself into gear and apply. Keep reading to see why you shouldn’t wait.

You’ll use last year’s income

In previous years, you had to estimate your income. For this year’s FAFSA, you’ll use data from your 2016 tax return.

If your 2017 income is significantly different, the Department of Education suggested you should contact the schools you’re applying to and explain what changed.

You can’t see numbers submitted through the IRS tool

For the past several years, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool has allowed you to automatically import your income directly into the FAFSA.

Although you still can use the tool, security concerns mean you’ll no longer be able to see or edit the numbers you submit. Instead, you’ll see a note that says “transferred from the IRS” in applicable fields.

If you did your taxes correctly, it shouldn’t be a problem. But if you’d like to double-check which numbers were on your tax return, you can use this IRS tool to get a transcript.

3 steps for filling out your FAFSA

The FAFSA is the only way to get federal financial aid.

Even if you think your family’s income is too high, you should fill out the FAFSA. You might qualify for a merit grant or scholarship, and you’ll need it to obtain federal student loans.

Here’s how to get started.

1. Create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID

The student and parent each will need to create an FSA ID. After you create an ID, it might be three days before you can use it, so don’t wait.

2. Collect your documents

Then it’s time to gather everything you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA: W2s, bank statements, Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, and 2016 tax returns.

3. Fill out the FAFSA

Log in to FAFSA.gov with your FSA ID to fill out the form. Or try Frank, a new tool that helps you complete your FAFSA for free.

When you fill out the FAFSA, don’t panic if you aren’t sure which schools you’re applying to. Include up to 10 schools you’re considering; you can add or remove them later.

Why you should complete your FAFSA now

The technical deadline for filling out the 2018-19 FAFSA is June 2019, but you should fill out your FAFSA as soon as you can.

That’s because, although it won’t affect your federal grants, it likely will affect how much you receive from your state and college. If you fill out your form early, more money will be available — and you’ll have a better chance of snagging it.

Some states even award aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. Check your state’s FAFSA deadlines here. If you see “as soon as possible after October 1, 2017,” you need to hurry.

Then check the website of each college you’re applying to. If it lists a “priority deadline,” the Department of Education explained, you’ll need to “get your FAFSA form in by that date to be considered for the most money.”

Not convinced yet? Read this statement from financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz, as told to Student Loan Hero: “Students who file the FAFSA within the first three months (October, November, and December) tend to receive more than twice as much grant funding, on average, as students who file the FAFSA later.”

Unlike student loans, grants don’t need to be paid back. So to secure your future, get your FAFSA in ASAP.

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