Students seeking to cut college costs by applying for financial aid should act fast. While states and colleges urge students to prepare afederal student aid application (FAFSA) early, this year seven states are cautioning students to prepare 'as close to January 1 st as possible' because aid funds may be depleted faster than in previous years.

While financial aid is largely awarded on a first come, first served basis, the states of Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington are telling students that aid – especially need-based grants – will go quickly because state funds are limited because of the economic recession of the past three years. State grant aid for undergraduate students hasdropped about 2 percent from five years ago, according to the National Association of State Student Grant Aid Administrators. The downward trend is expected to continue.

"Speed and accuracy are essential when preparing a FAFSA," said Brad Baker, president of Student Financial Aid Services, Inc., which has prepared FAFSAs for more than one million students. "More students – especially first-time FAFSA applicants – are seeking professional assistance to deal with the form's complexity and to beat state and college deadlines. The aid process is competitive and it pays to submit early."

Other states with early deadlines are Oregon Feb. 1 st, Connecticut Feb. 15 th; Rhode Island, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Idaho March 1 st; and California March 2 nd. Besides state deadlines, students also must have their FAFSAs processed before the deadlines at each college they have applied to.

Students complete the FAFSA on the U.S. Department of Education's website at no cost, or trust a professional, fee-based FAFSA preparation for assistance, just like getting help with income taxes. Using a professional, fee-based service can help students prepare their aid application on time and accurately.

Northwest Lending Group