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Kids and Money: Crunch time for filing for financial aid - especially from your home state [The Kansas City Star :: BC-PFP-KIDSANDMONEY:KC]

The next two months will mark an important stretch for families seeking college loans, scholarships and grants.

Not only is it crunch time for filing the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, but states and many colleges have their own deadlines and may also require additional forms to be filled out.

The U.S. Department of Education, under new guidelines, opened FAFSA filing Oct. 1, three months earlier than past requirements. Technically, you have until June 30, 2018 to submit the FAFSA for the next school year.

Some states use data you supply on the FAFSA to award their aid, but other states require you to complete supplemental forms that are processed by their higher education agencies.

For families that have not yet completed the financial aid paperwork, keep in mind that many states award their money on a first-come, first-served basis. With the FAFSA opening earlier this year, grant and scholarship dollars could run out faster, experts say.

To maximize available loans, scholarships and grant dollars and avoid pitfalls, here are some things you need to know.

If you haven't completed the FAFSA and this is your first time, there is a drill to follow. Besides going online to the U.S. Department of Education's fafsa.ed.gov website for a federal student aid ID, families will need to have at the ready Social Security numbers, bank statements, tax returns, W-2 forms and other key financial statements.

FAFSA filers need to list at least one school on the forms that will receive your financial paperwork. Since some state aid is awarded based on the order in which schools are listed, financial aid experts at Sallie Mae suggest listing state schools first over any private schools.

If you're attending an out-of-state school, you may not qualify for state aid from your home state - although it still pays to check with the state to see if you do in case there is a reciprocal arrangement involving a specific academic program.

Some well-off families don't complete the FAFSA because they assume they won't receive any aid. But that's a mistake, according to financial aid experts.

They recommend that wealthy families file, especially if their financial resources are stretched because of having multiple children in college at the same time. Nearly every family is eligible for some form of financial aid, the experts at NerdWallet say.

Never pay a fee to complete the FAFSA by hiring a consultant.

FAFSA is not a one-and-done task. You must file a new form each year to remain eligible for financial aid. So, if you were confused by anything during the current filing season, consider it a learning experience that will make next year's effort easier.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Steve Rosen is assistant business editor at The Kansas City Star. To reach him, call 816-234-4879 or send email to srosen@kcstar.com.

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(c)2017 The Kansas City Star

Visit The Kansas City Star at www.kansascity.com

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