The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, allows students to obtain grants and loans from the federal government, the state and your school for the sole purpose of college expenses. These loans and grants are primarily targeted at students who are considered low- or middle-income. The FAFSA is a standardized way to collect information such as your dependency status and annual earnings to determine whether you are eligible for grants that do not need to be paid back, low-interest loans that you pay back after graduation or any work-study programs offered by your school.

Once a Year, Between the Months of January and June

The FAFSA is supposed to be completed once each year. The first year you will need to fill out a full FAFSA, which can be a time-consuming process. But the good news is that you can fill out a renewal FAFSA in subsequent years, saving you a considerable amount of time. The FAFSA always becomes available on Jan. 1 and is due June 30, which means that you have six full months to complete the FAFSA before the federal filing deadline. But there are a couple of good reasons why you should finish your FAFSA earlier than June 30.

The main reason to complete your FAFSA as early as possible is because there is only so much federal money available for those who need it. The longer you wait to fill out the FAFSA, the less chance you have of getting money from the government to help with your expenses.

The second reason for filing your FAFSA early is that your state and even your school can have scholarships available for low- and middle-income students. In certain cases, students are eligible for academic or athletic scholarships through the school without ever having touched a FAFSA. However, you can be sure that these students will have to fill out a FAFSA before receiving any disbursements. Completing the FAFSA tends to be a requirement for most financial aid programs, regardless of whether the money is coming from the federal government, the state or your school. Colleges often set their own FAFSA deadlines that fall well before the federal due date of June 30 so speak with the financial aid department at your school to ensure that you file on time.