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75% of families don’t know this important date to get ‘free money’ for college

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College students and parents should mark their calendars for the opening of the enrollment period for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on October 1, 2022.

The opening date for the FAFSA filing season is missed by 75% of families who don't know when it is, according to Sallie Mae. And while there are many ways to pay for college, not applying for the federal student aid is essentially leaving “free money” on the table, according to the National Scholarship Providers Association.

The application gives students access to the nation’s largest source of financial aid to pay for college, according to the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA). Every eligible undergraduate and graduate student should apply for FAFSA to maximize their financial aid award—no matter their grades or family income, says Rick Castellano, spokesperson for Sallie Mae.

“Completing the FAFSA is one of the most important things families can do to get in line for scholarships, grants, federal financial aid, and even some state-based aid,” says Castellano.

Applications submitted this fall will award student aid for the 2023-2024 school year.

Parents or students can apply for the aid. Dependent students will need to provide their parents’ tax and financial information, and will need an FSA ID to get started.

If any of this information is no longer reflective of your current financial situation, you should reach out to the financial aid office for the school you plan to attend after submitting your FAFSA.

Federal financial aid can be awarded in the form of a grant or loan. Grants are financial awards that do not need to be repaid and are generally offered directly by states or institutions.

Loans may come from several different providers, but all must be repaid after graduation unless borrowers qualify for a federal forgiveness program. They typically have varied interest rates and repayment requirements, so it is important to thoroughly review all of the details prior to accepting this aid.

Students may also receive aid in the form of work-study programs that offer funding in exchange for working at an on-campus job. This typically does not need to be repaid, but normally is limited by institutions. Students should consider the demands of a rigorous course load on top of working a part-time job before accepting this aid.

Remember: As time runs out to apply—so does the money.

“Some of that aid is first come, first served, so families who wait long after October 1st to file could be missing out on an opportunity to make college more affordable,” says Castellano.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com