FAFSA, the Free Application for Financial Aid, and CSS, the College Scholarship Service, registration for 2022-23 opened on Oct. 1.

It’s an exciting — and scary — time for people who have children finishing up high school ready to pursue their higher education. More importantly, it’s also insanely expensive to pay for the pursuit of knowledge. This is why FAFSA and CSS can take some debt off the backs of incoming college students and their parents. There are plenty of grants available through FAFSA that don’t need repayment.

It’s so important to file early. Did you know that the earlier you file, the more money you can get? Someone can get twice as much financial aid if they file in the first three months of the open enrollment than if you filed later. This makes it even more important to file soon and take advantage of it.

Consider the following:

  • Act ASAP: States often set their financial aid deadlines well before the federal deadline, cutting off submissions in February or March. That’s why people have been saying, “The early FAFSA gets the bigger award.”
  • Weighted assets: The FAFSA doesn’t count all your assets at face value. For parents, assets are valued at 6% of their worth. For students, assets are valued at 20% of their worth.
  • Supporting evidence: If your situation has changed and your family contribution is unrealistic — or if you have no family — you may submit supplemental documentation to prove extenuating circumstances.
  • Prepare your taxes early: FAFSA is based on your tax return. Considering that states have FAFSA deadlines as early as February, tax returns are needed to be on top of all documents. Many payroll companies post W-2s online a week before you get the physical copy.

Unfortunately, FAFSA doesn’t cover everything, and that’s not unusual.

It’s normal to have to take out loans that must be paid back. But that doesn’t mean that a student’s or their parents’ financial future is in ruins because of it.

Qualifying for extra financial aid or loans and deciding not to accept them is OK. You can return them to FAFSA and it won’t count toward what you owe.

Having all documents ready to file will make the process go smoother and quicker, and having everything ready before filing is a key component to filing.

Judy Heft is the CEO/founder of Judith Heft & Associates, a financial and lifestyle concierge celebrating 25 years in business helping people stay financially organized. She is a certified money coach and the author of “How to Be Smart, Successful and Organized with Your Money.” For more information visit www.judithheft.com.