By Cecilia Clark

An influx of college financial aid applications this year means that money could run out for students who don’t file early.

Due to financial strain caused by Covid-19, nearly 40% of families that didn’t previously plan to apply for federal financial aid now expect to do so, according to a recently released survey from Discover Student Loans.

The federal government, states, colleges and other organizations use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to award financial aid. You must complete the FAFSA to be considered for financial aid.

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You have 21 months to submit the FAFSA for any given academic year. For the 2021-22 school year, the FAFSA opens Oct. 1, 2020, and closes June 30, 2022. But that doesn’t mean you should wait.

“There is no downside to applying early, but a lot of risk in applying late,” says Manny Chagas, vice president and head of marketing and product at Discover Student Loans.

Here’s why you should file the FAFSA now.

Better Shot at More Free Money

The sooner you submit the FAFSA, the greater your chances are of getting free aid you don’t have to repay, such as grants or scholarships.

Federal Pell Grant money likely won’t run out, but other need-based aid, including that awarded through your school and state, is limited and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Jack Murphy, financial aid counselor at the University of Northern Iowa, named the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and his school’s tuition assistance grant as examples.

The Federal Work-Study Program also has limited funds, so you’ll want to file the FAFSA early to take advantage of it.

More Time to Appeal a Financial Aid Decision