HOUSTON (KTRK) --If you plan to go to college next year, you need to know about a few big changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
You can now submit the FAFSA beginning today, rather than January 1. Every US college student needs to fill out the form in order to be eligible for any need-based financial aid. That includes federal grants and loans, scholarships from the state and school, as well as college work-study jobs.
October 1 isn't a deadline, but according to Consumer Reports, the new date makes it easier for those heading to college for the first time next fall to factor in cost as they begin to apply to schools.
"Choosing a college is about social fit, academic fit, and financial fit. This lets students and their families think about the financial aspect at the beginning of the process," says Abigail Seldin, vice president of innovation and product management for nonprofit education company ECMC, which offers a free college-cost search tool called College Abacus.
There's one more change this year in reference to the information on your federal tax return. Now you can use tax information from two years prior to the academic year in which you plan to attend school. So if you're applying for financial aid for the 2017-2018 school year, you can now use 2015 tax data. This new policy is referred to as "prior-prior year" and should make it easier to answer the questions.
One thing that's as true this year as last: You should file the FAFSA as soon as possible. Some states, colleges, and scholarship programs give out money on a first-come, first-served basis. Even some federal aid, such as on-campus work study, is based on when you apply.