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Monday, November 19, 2018

Campus

FAFSA moves up opening date to Oct. 1


Bruce Chao/The Cougar

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)’s opening date has officially been moved up from Jan. 1 to Oct. 1.

The Department of Education is implementing this change as the fall term begins for 2016. It is also now possible to use the tax information from the previous year in order to fill out the application.

These changes allow students to complete and submit their applications for grants, low-interest loans and work-study programs earlier than usual. They will also expedite the application-screening process.

“I think the biggest challenge will be in changing the culture, getting students to understand the availability and importance of filing the FAFSA earlier,” said Briget Jans, the executive director of Scholarships and Financial Aid (SFA) at UH.

Those applying for the 2017-2018 academic year can use their tax information from 2015 to complete the application. The tax info can be accessed directly from the Internal Revenue Service with the “Data Retrieval Tool” that should help avoid any inconsistencies or errors.

The deadlines for FAFSA vary from state to state. In Texas, the applications have to be submitted by March 15.

According to Jans, it is beneficial to submit early to get a quicker response and plan accordingly, even though Texas is not one of the states where applications are processed on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“The challenge we face in that it is human nature: many people procrastinate or haven’t really planned ahead,” Jans said. “Often people don’t complete forms or submit documents until they are faced with a deadline — so our processing times are impacted by that.”

Jans said that some other sources of aid might also move up their dates in response to these changes and advised students to stay informed about the deadlines. Jans also encourages students whose family financial situation changes substantially in the period between filing 2015 taxes and fall 2017 to contact SFA to work out any issues.

“About sixty-five percent of my tuition was covered by FAFSA,” said Yritzi Sanchez, a mechanical engineering senior.

Since FAFSA’s introduction in 1992, the process has been gradually improved and simplified. The online application was launched in 1997 and afterward added the ability to share data with IRS.

According to Arne Duncan, the former U.S. secretary of education, FAFSA gives out $150 billion in loans and grants every year.

In order to be eligible to receive Federal Aid, students have to be a citizen or eligible non-citizen of the U.S., have a valid Social Security number and have a high school diploma or a GED certificate. Another requirement is to be enrolled as a student while maintaining satisfactory academic progress and not having convictions for possession or sale of illegal drugs.

If male, students also have to be registered with selective service.

Mechanical engineering senior Victor Fraja had no issues applying for student aid throughout his academic career, but said that being able to use previous year’s tax information would make it more convenient.

“It might have helped a little bit, but I’ve been fine doing it like it was,” Fraja said.

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