Is the new FAFSA as frightening as we imagine?

Ghouls and goblins aren’t the only thing lurking around the corner this season. Big changes are coming to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and they may be just as frightening!

The FAFSA Simplification Act has resulted in many changes meant to make it easier for students to file. The application is being streamlined to reduce the number of questions from 108 down to 46, and depending on a student’s answers, some questions may not be asked at all. How this simplification will change the landscape of federal student aid remains to be seen and is giving some the shivers.

One of the most significant changes will be a transition from the previously used Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to the Student Aid Index (SAI). Those already attending college are familiar with the EFC, and some are convinced it doesn’t quite hit the mark on what families can afford. The SAI will result from a different evaluation, one that changes who and what contributes to a family’s ability to pay for college.

One change affects which parent or parents file the FAFSA. For example, if a student’s parents are divorced and not remarried, the parent whose information is included on the FAFSA will be the parent who provided the most financial support, not the one the student lived with more, as it has been in past years.

Applicants will now be required to use the Direct Data Exchange with the IRS to pull their tax information into the application. This mechanism is different from the optional Data Retrieval Tool previously available to applicants. The number of people in the household will no longer be a consideration in determining the SAI, though the question will still exist. There is also the possibility that the SAI could be minus-1,500, whereas the EFC didn’t go below zero.

The way these results are used to determine a student’s aid offer has always been a bit shadowy, but these changes will require financial aid offices to rethink how they determine awards and interpret a family’s ability to pay. The new application is anticipated to be live sometime in December, later than previous years when the FAFSA became available October 1.

Income information will come from a family’s 2022 tax return. If the current financial situation is different from what was reported then, students and families may consider appealing their financial aid application. Administrators can exercise professional judgment that may impact eligibility, so families shouldn’t feel they have no recourse.

The impact of these momentous changes remains to be seen and will be like emptying your bag of Halloween candy to see what you get. For me, I’m just hoping for more candy bars than black licorice or toothbrushes!

Jennifer Harpham is a client services manager with My College Planning Team, . A financial aid professional with more than 30 years of experience, Jennifer is passionately committed to helping students and their families afford the dream of a college education. She is an active member of both national and state financial aid associations. Jennifer holds an MBA from the University of Findlay and a bachelor’s in business administration from Mount Vernon Nazarene University.