You should fill out your FAFSA as early as possible. You can complete your FAFSA as early as January 1st of the academic year for which you're applying, through June 30th of the following year. That means you have 18 months to complete the form. However, the state and colleges will have much stricter deadlines, some as early as May for state and March for colleges. Make sure to apply as early as possible to make yourself eligible for the most amounts of scholarships, grants and aid.
Rates and Conditions
Each loan may have different rates and conditions for borrowing. Make sure you know the interest rate, how it's calculated (fixed versus variable) and the benefits each option offers. Be especially careful of loans that require you to make payments while in school.
Federal student loans and many private student loans include fees for origination. Some loans even include additional fees. Make sure you understand what fees are included in your loan and how that will affect your loan amount and repayment. When you're searching for loan options, look for those that have zero origination or other additional fees. Also look for loans with low non-sufficient funds and late fees just in case.
Repayment matters, especially if the loan requires you to make payments while you're still in school. Make sure you know what options are available to you and choose the option that is right for you. Full deferment (of principal and interest) is the safest option because payments are delayed until after graduation and grace periods. Payment of interest while you're in school means you'll pay a smaller amount while you're in school to help reduce your total debt, but can be difficult while attending class or trying to work. Some loans require you to make full payments immediately. These loans are the most difficult to manage so be careful when selecting your loan options. Remember, if you defer your full amount, you can still make voluntary payments to reduce your loan amount without fear of penalty or missing a payment.
Resources and links
For more information about the FAFSA, federal student loans, and other programs, please take a look at the links below: