New rules for FAFSA filing will allow use of older tax data, which means financial aid offers will arrive sooner.
New rules for FAFSA filing will allow use of older tax data, which means financial aid offers will arrive sooner. - 

With the new year beginning Friday comes a new Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. That’s the dreaded form college students and their parents have to fill out to in order to get financial aid. But there are some changes coming in 2016 that should make the process a little less painful.

The FAFSA has long had a timing problem. The new form comes out each year on January 1, but requires information from the federal tax return that most people will be filing much later.

“This meant that families couldn’t find out about financial aid until quite often well after they’d heard about admissions,” said Susan Dynarski, a professor at the University of Michigan.

Starting in October 2016, families will be able apply for aid three months earlier. They’ll also be able to use tax data from the previous year and import it online from the IRS.

David Levy, editor of Edvisors.com, said it means financial aid offers will arrive much sooner.

“That’s going to, we think, help students and families to make more informed decisions about which colleges to attend,” he said.

During this transition year, Levy said people should fill out the FAFSA with estimated tax data as early as they can. Students who file between January and March tend to get twice as much grant aid, he said, as those who wait until after April.

Follow Amy Scott at @amyreports