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The FAFSA launches October 1. Here's what you need to know.

Piggy Bank
Tax Credits / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

I know, I know. School just started and here we are already talking about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The FAFSA application period used to start January 1. But for the 2017-2018 academic year, it launches three months sooner on October 1, 2016. 

Here are some things you need to know if you decide to sit down at the computer this weekend to start your application:

1. The earlier FAFSA availability date is designed to give students and parents more time to meet the deadlines and to explore and understand their financial aid options. Students will be able to submit their FAFSA as early as October 1 every year going forward.

2. Students will use prior-prior year (PPY) tax and income data. From now on, the FAFSA will ask for income and tax information two years prior to the academic year. So when you fill out the 2017-2018 application, you'll use 2015 tax information, making it simpler to automatically import your information using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. That means no more estimating or going back to make changes after you file taxes.

3.  Don't procrastinate. It might be tempting to put the application off until later, even with the earlier start date. But while the federal deadline remains the same and state and school deadlines vary, a lot of grant money is awarded on a first- come first-served basis. You can check state deadlines here. School deadlines should be listed on their websites. Even if you haven't applied to a school yet, you can stilllist iton your FAFSA. But keep in mind that early award estimates from schools may change, since many colleges don't set their costs until early in the year. 

4. Get an FSA IDas soon as possible. In 2015, FAFSA switched from using a four-digit PIN to a more secure FSA ID. It's a username and password that allows you to log in to your online Federal Student Aid accounts without providing sensitive information. It also serves as your signature for your aid application. Every student and parent needs to create their own FSA ID.

College is expensive. Even if you think your family may not qualify for financial aid, it certainly doesn't hurt to fill out the application to see if you do. It could save you thousands of dollars.

You can fill out the FAFSA online at

Need help? Visit or call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

Read a fact sheet about the changes to FAFSA here and watch quick FAFSA overview below:

Paulette is a blogger for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously interned as a reporter in the Michigan Radio newsroom.
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