Consumer Reports: Applying early for student loans

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Families can now apply for FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid right now. The date was moved up to October 1st. (WPVI)

We are in the midst of a big change for students going to college - the date for when you can start applying for federal student aid has been moved up.

Families can now apply for FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid right now. The date was moved up to October 1st.

That's three months earlier than before and Consumer Reports says it is important to get your application in as soon as possible.

Jeralyn Escamilla is a high school senior with big dreams. But she'll need loans to pay for college.

"I want to pursue a career in medicine, and those careers tend to be a little bit more than expensive," she said..

Being able to apply for financial aid earlier will help Jeralyn and her family make more informed decisions about college affordability.

Here's how it works: Submit the FAFSA form. You'll get a Student Aid Report that tells you what federal aid you qualify for, like Pell grants or work study.

Then enter that information into the net price calculator on any college's website or on to get a good idea of what a college will cost you before you apply.

It's important to apply for FAFSA as soon after the October first launch as possible.

"Many state, college and scholarship programs need your FAFSA to determine how much aid you're going to get and often it's on a first come first serve basis," said Donna Rosato, Money Editor at Consumer Reports.

Be aware if you're heading to college in 2017, your aid package will be based on your family's 2015 taxes. You can use the IRS data-retrieval tool on the FAFSA form to directly import your tax information.

"Don't worry if you don't know all the schools you want to apply to. List all the colleges you are considering to hold your place in line for financial aid. You can always add more schools later on," said Rosato.

Jeralyn plans to apply for FAFSA as soon as she can.

"So, the sooner I get in my paperwork the faster I get results for money and I can make a college choice," she said.

And remember you must reapply for FAFSA every year. The new application date also means getting earlier notice if your aid package changes.

Consumer Reports also advises to be very mindful when filling out all the forms. Missed signatures, or incorrect information can slow down the process and cost you thousands of dollars in aid.

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