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File the FAFSA Now for More Financial Aid in the 2018-19 School Year

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[QUESTION]My son is a senior in high school, and we'll be applying to colleges this fall. When can I hand in my federal financial aid application, and what information do I need to fill it out?

[ANSWER]The timeline for filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA) changed last year. You can submit your application as early as October 1 (you no longer need to wait until January 1, as you did prior to last year). For the current FAFSA, which helps determine financial aid for the 2018-19 school year, you'll use your 2016 income and tax information.

SEE ALSO: Test Your Knowledge of College Financial Aid

You may have until June 30 to submit your FAFSA, but the sooner you apply the better because some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Some states and schools have earlier deadlines -- check with the financial aid office of the schools you're considering. Also, find out whether the schools require you to submit the CSS Profile, which is an additional financial aid application required by about 400 major colleges. See the CSS Profile page for more information and a list of participating colleges.

Even if you don't think you'll qualify for financial aid, it's still worthwhile to fill out the forms. Some schools have boosted their income levels for aid significantly, and the application may open the door to other types of aid, too, such as scholarships from some colleges.

Go to FAFSA.gov to apply. You and your son will both need to get a Federal Student Aid ID; see the Department of Education's Student Aid site for more information about creating an FSA ID. To find out more about the documents you need and the steps to take, see the Filling Out the FAFSA Form information page.

Now that the FAFSA uses the earlier tax returns, you don't need to wait until the end of the calendar year to submit your forms. But there's also more of a chance that your financial situation has changed. If you've stopped working or had other changes in your income since 2016, contact the financial aid office at the schools where you're applying to explain the change in income and to learn about the appeals process or to have your file reviewed again with new information.

Also, the FAFSA will ask you to list up to 10 colleges when you submit the form. You and your son may not have decided where he's applying yet, but you don't need to wait to make a final decision before handing in the form. You can list the schools you're considering now, but then log back into your account at FAFSA.gov to make changes to the list.

See the Department of Education's blog with information about filling out the FAFSA form.

SEE ALSO: 7 Hidden Costs of College

Copyright 2017 The Kiplinger Washington Editors

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