How to beat the competition on scoring financial aid

Personal Finance

Experts say it’s typically (but not always) a good idea to apply for financial aid as early as possible.

“I always ask clients, when does everybody go out to dinner? Friday night, because they just got paid,” said certified financial planner T. Eric Reich, president of Reich Asset Management in Marmora, New Jersey. “Don’t think that colleges won’t be more generous on the front end, too.”

State and college deadlines to apply for aid vary, but many distribute funds on a first-come, first-served basis. A 2015 study found that students who file the FAFSA in the first three months have received more than double the grant money.

Even if you think you won’t qualify for need-based aid, it’s still worth filing the FAFSA, Castellano said. You’ll need it to apply for federal student loans and to be eligible for many colleges’ merit-based aid.

It’s also possible you’re wrong about your aid eligibility.

Students who don’t file the FAFSA forgo an average $9,741.05 in aid for that academic year, according to a study published in Research in Higher Education earlier this year. A new study from NerdWallet estimated that the high school class of 2017 left $2.3 billion in aid unclaimed, from not filing the FAFSA.

“You might get a nice surprise,” Castellano said.

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