Major financial aid changes bring good news for families

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - As a new school year starts, parents of high school students are already thinking ahead to college.

Planning can be stressful, but a new Department of Education rule is giving students extra time to get their finances in order. It's one of the biggest changes in year regarding the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, process.

Families will see the benefit from those changes in just over a month, as they can now begin applying for financial aid as early as October 1.

The new application date is a major change from years past, when the application process didn't start until January of the student's senior year of high school. The old application required income and tax information from the previous year, that wouldn't be available until months later, when tax season ended in April.

Now, instead of using information from the previous year, the FAFSA will focus on income and tax data from two years prior-- meaning families will have everything they need to start the financial aid process in October when the applications open up.

Experts say this could lead to changes with college and university schedules, as they could start awarding financial aid earlier.

"There are some changes that the colleges and universities will face, but I believe the families will be served well," says Tommy Blair, the Director of Financial Aid for Roanoke College. "The information is available and they're able to get on it earlier, that's got to be good."

Eventually we could see the universities making decisions about costs and tuition rates earlier as well. Those numbers could be released in the fall instead of waiting for the spring semester.

All of these changes would give students and their families more time to prepare financially for college tuition.