FAFSA filing season is underway. Here’s what you should know about recent changes

If you’re prepping to fill out to the FAFSA this fall, the good news is you’re likely to feel less hassled and crunched for time than you would have been in previous years.

Start with the fact that instead of a grueling list of 108 questions, the new form for the 2023-2024 filing season has been slashed to no more than 36 questions. The specific numbers will be based on filers’ financial situation.

In addition to the shorter format, Congress passed legislation last December that includes a series of other major changes that take effect with the new FAFSA – all designed to improve the system and increase the chances for more students to receive financial aid.

For most families, paying for college starts with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA. The 2023-2024 funding season kicked off on Oct. 1, and runs through June 30, 2024. (To start the process, log on to studentaid.gov.)

States and colleges also set their own deadlines for receiving the FAFSA, so know your deadlines.

While families have plenty of time to tackle the form, don’t procrastinate because colleges typically dole out loans, scholarships, grants and work study money on a first-come, first-serve basis.

<p>While families have plenty of time to tackle the FAFSA form, don't procrastinate because colleges typically dole out loans, scholarships, grants and work study money on a first-come, first-serve basis, writes Steve Rosen.</p>

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While families have plenty of time to tackle the FAFSA form, don't procrastinate because colleges typically dole out loans, scholarships, grants and work study money on a first-come, first-serve basis, writes Steve Rosen.

Among the changes to the FAFSA for 2023-2024:

— Say good-bye to the Expected Family Contribution, and say hello to the Student Aid Index. Broadly, the name change is more than semantics. It aims to better reflect calculations of your income and other financial assets that determine what the government believes you can pay toward a year of college costs, especially for students from low-income families who might need Pell grants and other financial aid the most.

— The so-called “income protection allowance” has been changed for both students and parents. The allowance now shields a greater percentage of a student’s and or parent’s income from being counted when the federal government determines how much may be put toward paying for college.

— Male students no longer need to register for the Selective Service before age 26 to receive financial aid. In addition federal aid eligibility has been restored for students with drug-related convictions.

— Students who lived in foster care or experienced periods of homelessness can expect an easier application process.

— With the updated FAFSA form, users filling out information can select their role in the application process from a few different options — parent, preparer, or student. Being able to select a role before filing the FAFSA has the potential to allow for a more user-friendly interface that can help reduce the number of mistakes,” Sallie Mae, the financial services company, said in a FAFSA analysis.

Finally, get organized. Sallie Mae recommends that students and parents gather Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank and investment statements, 2021 tax returns and W-2 forms. Nitro College, www.nitrocollege.com, offers an interactive step-by-step guide for filing the FAFSA, along with answers to tough questions.

Double-check your work before submitting the FAFSA. According to Sallie Mae, entering incorrect social security or driver’s license numbers or forgetting to sign the application are some of the most common errors that can delay processing your application.

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