The new and improved FAFSA is finally here! Before we jump into the key changes that start in 2024, let’s review what the FAFSA is and why you need to fill it out.
What Is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s a gateway to federal, state and institutional aid in the form of both free money (grants and scholarships), earned money (work-study), and money you have to pay back (loans).
Why You Need to Complete the FAFSA
Any college or university that receives federal aid requires students seeking need-based financial aid to complete the FAFSA. It calculates how much the federal government thinks a student and their family should be able to contribute toward their education. This figure plays an important part in how each college financial aid office assembles a student’s financial aid package.
How Is the New FAFSA Different
Among the key changes to the FAFSA in 2024 are:
Each of these changes contribute to the simplification of the FAFSA application as outlined below
The Student Aid Index
Once completed, the FAFSA provides what is now called a Student Aid Index. This is the amount of money the federal formula determines a family’s ability to pay. In prior years, this was referred to as the Expected Family Contribution. Despite the name change, this amount likely will remain one that families do not want to pay, but it is what the government determines your family should be able to pay based on your financial picture.
Another new term used by the FAFSA is Contributor. Contributors are the parties who play a role in the student’s finances. This change is probably most impactful in the case of divorced parents, because the FAFSA will no longer look to the custodial parent as the parent responsible for completing the FAFSA, but instead to the parent who contributes more financially to the student’s upbringing. Contributors may be defined as the student, the student’s spouse, the student’s parent(s), and the student’s parent(s)’ spouse(s).
The term Family Size has replaced Household Size, and will be automatically populated based on the number of dependents claimed on a Contributor’s tax form.
Another interesting change is the introduction of a role-based format. In this format, each Contributor is responsible for completing their own section of the application. Any Contributor can start the application and the last Contributor to complete their individual section will be prompted to submit the entire application. Note: no Contributor has access to another contributor’s section.
Digital Data Exchange (DDX)
Among the new key FAFSA streamlining tools is the Digital Data Exchange (DDX) which replaces the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). Each Contributor will be required to consent to the FAFSA accessing their IRS data through the DDX. Doing so reduces the number of financial questions Contributors need to manually answer, thereby also reducing manual input errors.
H3: FAFSA Financial Summary (FFS)
There is also a change to the title of the final FAFSA report. Formerly known as the Student Aid Index (SAI), this report is now titled the FAFSA Financial Summary or FFS.
When to Complete the FAFSA
Now that the new FAFSA is here, you should consider completing it as soon as possible. FAFSA completion deadlines vary from school to school. Reach out to each college on your list and aim to complete your FAFSA no later than the earliest of those colleges’ deadlines.
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