Fill Out This Student Financial Aid Form Early or Risk Missing Out on Thousands

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If you need help covering college costs, completing the "FAFSA" should be at the top of your priority list, especially in states that dole out that aid on a first-come, first-served basis. Here's what you need to know.

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, is far from fun. But putting it off could be a costly mistake.

“FAFSA procrastination can cost you literally thousands of dollars in missed scholarships or grants,” Money reports.

With student loan debt in the United States surpassing a whopping $1.2 trillion in 2015 and students’ average debt at graduation about $30,000, most college students these days simply can’t afford to miss out on scholarship or grant opportunities.

So, when should you file your FAFSA? It’s recommended that you file as early as possible. Need-based scholarships and grants, like the Pell Grant, are awarded first-come, first-served. But some states also give out other aid on a first-come, first-served basis, and money can run out quickly.

There are three deadlines for applying for financial aid. Click here to see the federal deadline and your state’s deadline. Your college may also have an aid deadline, so contact your school’s financial aid office.

According to Money, student financial aid in these states is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis: Alaska, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont and Washington.

These states also have early FAFSA filing deadlines:

You can start filing your FAFSA for the 2016-2017 academic year now, even if your 2015 taxes haven’t been filed yet. You simply use estimated financial data, which can be updated later with actual numbers if necessary.

Filing before March 1 increases your chance of qualifying for scholarships from state agencies, schools and foundations.

Beginning this year, students can file a FAFSA as early as Oct. 1 for the 2017-2018 academic year, instead of Jan. 1, using tax information from 2015.

Check out “5 Ways to Dramatically Reduce the Cost of College.”

Do you have experience filing a FAFSA? How early do you typically file? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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