Americans will finally be able to apply for federal financial aid on their phones.
The Department of Education has created an app that students can use to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA.
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A beta version of the app will go live on August 15 and officials expect it to be fully functional by October 1, when students can begin applying for financial aid for the 2019-2020 school year. The app is called My Student Aid.
For years, many students and their families have found the form daunting and policymakers on both sides of the aisle have called to simplify the application process.
"Usually, the only thing families have heard about the FAFSA is that it's really hard. It gives them anxiety and trepidation before they even start," said Jacqueline Moreno, managing director of college access initiatives at the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.
But students could be leaving money on the table if they fail to submit the form. Low-income students and those from military families may be eligible for grant money they won't have to pay back, and nearly everyone who fills out the form is allowed to take out a low-interest federal loan, regardless of their family's financial situation.
"We are hopeful the mobile app will drive up the completion rate," A. Wayne Johnson, the head of strategy and transformation at Federal Student Aid, told CNN.
FAFSA.gov has also been redesigned so that it will fit the screen of a mobile device. Both the website and app will implement "skip logic" so that students and parents see only the questions that apply to them.
In recent years, other changes have made it easier to complete the form, which asks for financial information like a family's income and assets. Families can now base their answers on the previous year's tax return and can start the application earlier in the year. The online form can also automatically transfer information from their tax return into the FAFSA.
"It's truly not that complex of a form, but people get overwhelmed," Moreno said.
She believes the mobile app will be helpful to families that primarily use a phone to access the internet.
Making the FAFSA mobile is the first step the Department of Education is taking to simplify the financial aid process. The beta version cost about $1.2 million to develop, it said.
Eventually, the app may also be a place where students can check their account balances, accept or decline a loan, and compare the price and graduation outcomes at different colleges. The app won't yet offer a financial literacy component, helping students understand how much money they'll owe after taking out a loan, but that may come at some point next year.
But the Department of Education will need Congress's help to make more substantial changes to the FAFSA itself. Both Republicans and Democrats have called for reducing the number of questions on the form.
More information about the FAFSA process can be found at StudentAid.gov.
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