When it comes to the completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the early bird gets the worm (more money!). To ensure you receive the best financial aid package possible, complete the FAFSA as soon as you can after the application becomes available. For those planning to attend college during the 2016-17 academic year, that means now.

Students often delay completing the FAFSA because they think taxes must be filed before completing the form. Contrary to this common myth, it is possible to complete the FAFSA before taxes are filed, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.

Students applying for aid for the 2016-17 academic year without a 2015 tax return can complete a FAFSA with a previous year estimate, as long as they remember to correct this information after 2015 taxes are filed. To learn how to update the FAFSA after filing taxes, click here.

Why is it crucial to complete the FAFSA early? Research shows that students who complete the FAFSA during January, February or March receive twice as much state and institutional aid than those who wait until later to complete the form. Students who delay filing the FAFSA often lose out on aid because some aid programs award money on a first come, first served basis.

For example, Florida’s largest need-based financial aid program, the Florida Student Assistance Grant (FSAG) gives over $148 million to eligible students who complete the FAFSA each year.  But once that money runs out – it’s gone.  State figures show about 100,000 students miss out on a Florida Student Assistance Grant who would otherwise be eligible each year, but don’t receive the aid because the program isn’t fully funded to support all eligible students.  Eligible students who complete the FAFSA and other requirements first are first in line for the grant, which is worth an average of $1,100 each year.

The U.S. Department of Education blog and Twitter account (@FAFSA) are the most up to date and accurate resources for learning all things FAFSA. The blog often provides step-by-step guides for completing the FAFSA, shares helpful information on how to ease the FAFSA completion process and answers frequently asked questions.

And don’t forget – the Florida Prosperity Partnership provides free tax assistance to eligible families.  To learn more, visit www.FreeFLTaxSites.org.

Image credit: U.S. Department of Education

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