FAFSA Series: On FAFSA Filing Anxiety – How Important is it to File Early?

But what are the advantages to applying early for financial aid? And just how early should you plan to file your FAFSA?

The early bird gets the worm, the sooner the better, better safe than sorry. Have these phrases come up for you lately in regards to filing student FAFSAs?

It’s not a surprise that this is the shared mentality among parents and advisors alike when it comes to filing for financial aid. We tend to prefer the fast, efficient, right now results, especially when it comes to dealing with our personal finances.

But what are the advantages to applying early for financial aid? And just how early should you plan to file your FAFSA?

I would like to first bust the myth that the sooner one applies for financial aid, the more money they will receive. This is false, for several reasons, which I will explain later.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that each college follows their own deadlines and procedures, and may even have several deadlines based upon a student’s admission status. So not only is every college’s process different, but each student may have his or her own unique timeline as well.

In general, the federal priority deadlines for (federal) FAFSA funds are March 1st (of the high school senior year for first-time students), and April 1st for returning students.

However, there are some benefits to filing earlier, which include: the advantage of using your most recently filed taxes (waiting can cause confusion about what tax and income information to use; see my post, The Financial Aid Year and Taxes, for further details), the potential to receive financial aid award packages sooner (or hear back from the college to take care of missing items before any deadlines), and the general peace-of-mind of checking that item off your to-do list.

There are several reasons, though, that you should not need to scramble to file for financial aid right away (when forms become available in October). First, most colleges will not process financial aid awards until they have sent acceptances to new incoming students. Secondly, and possibly the most important reason, each student’s financial situation is unique depending on costs of attendance, merit, and family contribution; so as long as the paperwork is completed by the deadline, students will be awarded all eligible financial aid. Lastly, many families worry that filing an extension on their taxes will prevent them from receiving financial aid, but actually it is almost always best to wait until final tax information is available, to ensure a smooth process.

So please, enjoy those first glimpses of fall to the fullest. Check your college deadlines and submit your paperwork on time, but feel free to worry less about someone else grabbing your piece of the financial aid (pumpkin) pie.

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