student loans

4 tips for maximizing your FAFSA

With the exception of applications for admission, there is one document more important than any other when it comes to college: the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It unlocks the door to student loans, grants and other aid. Today, I have four tips for maximizing your aid eligibility. I'm Jean Chatzky, and this is Bankrate Bottom Line.

File early -- and often. The FAFSA must be submitted each year to receive aid and can be filed as early as Jan. 1. The federal deadline is June 30, but some states and colleges have an earlier cut-off, and some aid is awarded on a first come, first served basis. So, don't delay.

Don't assume you won't qualify. Most people should file the FAFSA, even if you think you have too much income. Certain factors -- like having multiple children in school -- can bump up your eligibility, and even unsubsidized federal loans, which are not based on financial need, require filling out the forms.

Proofread. Errors, even small ones, can delay the processing of your application and impact your eligibility.

Play with the numbers. The Department of Education's FAFSA4Caster -- which you'll find at FAFSA.ed.gov -- can help you estimate your eligibility and run different scenarios.

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