Renewal FAFSA: Why It’s Easier and Why You Should Complete It Now

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Just when you thought you were safe from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, it’s back in the form of the renewal FAFSA.

The infamously long, detailed financial aid form isn’t only for high school seniors. Each year, college students and their parents need to fill out a renewal FAFSA to qualify for financial aid. But there are some notable, encouraging differences between the initial and the renewal FAFSA.

“It’s not as tedious as it was before,” says Denise Scalzo, director of financial aid at Manhattan College.

The 2018-19 renewal FAFSA will be available Oct. 1, 2017. Here’s why it’s not as scary as it sounds — and why you’ll want to fill it out as soon as you can.

1. Some of your information will be pre-filled

When you log in to fafsa.gov with your Federal Student Aid ID, the system will recognize that you completed a FAFSA last year. Your name, contact information and other identifying information will be pre-filled on the renewal form, which saves applicants at least 10 minutes, Scalzo says.

It’s crucial to make sure the data imported is correct, though, says Jacquelynn Mol, assistant director of financial aid at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Because it’s based on your situation from the previous year, it won’t record address or school changes, for example.

“The FAFSA includes an assumed logic that can sometimes add incorrect information for the current FAFSA year,” she says. Catching an error now means you won’t have to correct it later, which could delay your financial aid award.

2. You can estimate your family’s income if you haven’t done your taxes

You and your parents must enter up-to-date financial information so your school can determine how much aid to give you. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool makes it easy by letting you import your income information from the correct tax return to your FAFSA.

Nerd note: Students can now file their FAFSA in October using tax information from two years prior. That means starting in October 2017, you can file your 2018-19 FAFSA with 2016 income tax data.

3. The earlier you file, the better your chances for financial aid

It’s ideal to file your renewal FAFSA as close to October 1 as possible. That’s because some types of financial aid are first-come, first-served, and they don’t carry over even if you received them last year.

“Self-help funds, like college work-study, run out fast,” Scalzo says.

Schools and states have their own financial aid deadlines, which are often earlier than the federal deadline of June 30, 2019 for the 2018-19 application.

Don’t forget that the renewal FAFSA can help you get aid no matter your family’s income. Even if you think you won’t qualify for need-based aid like the Pell Grant, the FAFSA could help you get scholarships from private organizations or merit aid from your school.

“Even if a student is not eligible for federal or state grant funding, the FAFSA may be used for institutional aid,” says Mol, referring to funds that come directly from a college or university.

If you’ve forgotten how to fill out the FAFSA (or blocked it out; we don’t blame you), use NerdWallet’s free resources and tools to remind you.

More from NerdWallet on the FAFSA:

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: bmcgurran@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @briannamcscribe.