This could be the year that changes the timeline for financial aid, but it doesn’t change the basic money decisions that students and their parents will have to make. It might just move them up earlier in the year. The FAFSA for 2017-18 will be available October 1, which means that well-prepared high school seniors might actually know their acceptance and financial aid status by year-end, depending on their selected colleges.
The intent of the early FAFSA was that students applying for early action and early decision admissions would be able to compare financial aid offers from the various colleges. This might or might not ring true in the first year of this change. Some colleges have moved up their deadlines to be in accordance with the spirit of the change, while others have not adjusted their timeframes. If you are applying for admission to the class of 2021 here are some smart financial choices you can make:
• Choose to file the FAFSA as early as possible: Check your colleges’ financial aid deadlines to make sure you meet them, but it is still best to file the FAFSA as soon as possible. At the very least it gets that part of the application process out of the way. At the most, it makes sure that you are considered for all of the potential financial aid that is available, since some elements are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Even if you have not yet finalized your college list, get this done. You can go back and add colleges as needed.
• Make sure you maximize “free” financial aid: There are certain forms of financial aid, such as grants and scholarships, which do not have to be repaid. So it makes sense that you want to maximize these amounts. The first step is to file the FAFSA. It is used for federal, state, and institutional aid, as well as some scholarships, and can be part of the student loan consideration process. Be sure that you are always looking for private and corporate scholarships as well, to bolster your financial reserves.
• Carefully consider your student loan options: The first path to take when borrowing money is usually to access federal student loans, which can be a pretty straightforward process. If you need more money, though, it can be a bit more challenging to assess your private student loan options. Lenders like Discover Student Loans offer a variety of loans with very competitive interest rate and repayment plans. Research your options carefully and only borrow what you need.
Get more information on student loans in my book, Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro. It helps determine how much money to borrow, educates readers on using debt wisely, discusses the entire financial aid process, and talks about good money habits to instill in children as they are growing up. Order it now, and start getting your student ready to apply to college and learn about student loans.