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Applying for financial aid is about to get easier, the Education Department says.
Starting in October, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be available on a new phone app, called myStudentAid. You can use the app on an android or iPhone.
Previously, the lengthy form was much easier to fill out from a desktop computer than on a tablet or phone, because it was designed for the former. You can begin the process on a computer and finish it on the app, or vice versa.
"The app itself is pretty snazzy," said Clare McCann, deputy director of higher education policy, at think tank New America and a former Education Department official. "This will be important for a lot of people who don't have regular access to computers."
The average person who filed the FAFSA in the 2015-2016 academic year received around $8,500 in federal aid.
Indeed, being able to access the FAFSA though an app is likely to increase the number of people who apply, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of SavingForCollege.com. More than 70 percent of undergraduate students filed the FAFSA in 2016, up from 45 percent in 1996. Despite the rise, millions of students who would have qualified for college grants still fail to file, Kantrowitz recently found.
Then he gave his review: "The mobile app was also much easier to use, even fun."
Most of the questions on the form remain the same, despite the new interface, Kantrowitz added. Make sure you have your Federal Student Aid ID handy when you go to use the app. You can create that on the Education Department's website, and it's what allows you to access your accounts.
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The FAFSA now requires your tax information from two years ago (so for the 2019-20 FAFSA award cycle, the tax information being requested is from tax year 2017).
Therefore, parents should utilize the handy IRS data retrieval tool whenever possible to avoid errors, said Elaine Griffin Rubin, senior contributor and communications specialist at Edvisors. That tool allows you to automatically import your tax return to the application.
"If the prior-prior year tax information isn't reflective of their current financial situation, the child or parent should make a point to contact the school where the student will, or would like to, attend," Griffin Rubin said. "They can ask to have a financial aid appeal completed."
The National College Access Network has gathered a list of tips for navigating the new FAFSA. They warn that parents logging in to add their signature should never click, "Start over," for example, "as that will erase all previous information entered by the student."
"Students and parents should file their FAFSA as close to Oct. 1 each year," Griffin Rubin said. "Some states offer financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so the sooner the better."