Just because the FAFSA is available earlier this year doesn’t mean you have to complete it now. Most school and state deadlines haven’t changed. For example, the Oregon schools still have their end of February/beginning of March deadlines. Why is that? The goal of making the FAFSA available earlier is enable families to understand their financial position in advance of (or alongside) the application process. Schools don’t generally need your FAFSA information until they get your application. But knowing your EFC in advance of the application process can potentially save a lot of heartbreak and poor decision-making.

Why might you fill out the FAFSA right away? Several reasons:

  • You’re considering early decision/early action.
  • You’re a candidate for a merit award of some sort and the school requires it to finalize your offer.
  • Nothing in your FAFSA could change as far as your aid eligibility– you’re either way above eligibility or your assets won’t count either because you’re below the asset protection allowance or eligible for the simplified formula. (See the formula guide here for those numbers.)
  • You are in a strong financial position (i.e., able to pay full tuition) and want schools to which you’re applying to know that.

Why might you wait?

  • You have opportunities to shift or spend down your assets such that you’d benefit in the formula. For example, you may need to wait until after Jan. 1 to make a 2017 retirement plan contribution which would remove assets from your EFC, or you may have a large expense coming up.
  • You are not a need-based aid candidate and are only applying for federal loans.

Remember, this year’s FAFSA uses 2015 income tax data, so opportunities to affect your income in the formula are largely gone at this point.