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Being a student means living with deadlines. Assignments, papers, college applications — if you miss the due date, you can run into serious trouble.

While you might be able to get an extension to finish a project, applying for financial aid doesn’t work that way. If you need help paying for your kid’s college education, you need to turn in your paperwork on time or risk losing out on funding.

There are numerous ways to pay for college, and in an ideal situation, parents have been planning for this since their child was little, perhaps even since the day he or she was born. For students hoping to attend college this fall, it’s a bit late to be figuring out the money situation, but for parents of high school students who have procrastinated on saving for college, there are a few deadlines that you will need to remember to make sure you can make your kid’s higher education dream a reality.

Student loans can be an incredibly helpful tool if you borrow an affordable amount of money, but borrowing money takes planning, too. If you want to reduce the amount of debt you or your child incurs, make sure you have these deadlines on your radar.

1. FAFSA Application Due Date

If you want federal student loans, you must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which can be filed after Jan. 1 of the student’s senior year in high school. If the student is starting school between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, the deadline is June 30, 2015.

State and school deadlines are an entirely different matter, which is why you should file your FAFSA as soon as possible. For freshmen starting in the fall of 2014, many of the state deadlines have already passed, with some as early as February and other states awarding aid on a first-come, first-served basis. Check with schools about their individual deadlines.

Elizabeth Keuffel, the president of the New Hampshire Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and director of financial aid at St. Anselm College, recommends filing your FAFSA in January, even if you haven’t filed your taxes yet. After you finish your tax return, you’ll be able to update the estimates submitted with your FAFSA.

“If you’re early, you don’t miss anything,” Keuffel said. “That’s the piece about the timeline stuff — there are schools that will run out of money.”

2. Scholarship Deadlines

There are thousands of college scholarships out there, many of which are extremely competitive. Deadlines are all over the calendar, but many scholarship applications need to be submitted in the fall.

“Start searching for scholarships as soon as possible,” said Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher of Edvisors Network. A lot of people wait until the spring semester of senior year to decide how to pay for college, by which time most scholarship deadlines have passed, Kantrowitz said. The fewer scholarships and grants your child receives, the more you or your child will have to pay out of pocket, either upfront or later in student loans.

3. College Commitment Deadlines

The May 1 commitment deadline is why it’s a bad idea to wait until spring to get your finances in order for college payments. If you’re scrambling to crunch numbers and decide which college is the best financial and educational decision, you may find yourself in a situation where you don’t fully understand the financial impact of your choice, or you have to make multiple non-refundable deposits so your student doesn’t lose his or her spot while you decide.

Making more than one deposit isn’t necessarily a bad idea. It may be worth the cost if the extra time allows you to confidently choose a school that will meet your student’s career goals and your budget.

“The main drawback is you will lose the deposit at one of those schools,” Kantrowitz said. On the other hand: “If you don’t know what you want to do, you may switch majors or transfer schools, which adds to cost.” Still, you should plan on making a decision before the May 1 deadline.

Funding a college education is no small task, but it can be made easier if you plan ahead. If you drop the ball on scholarships and federal student loans, private student loans may be an option, but that often requires a co-signer. Before applying for loans, make sure borrowing to pay for college is the right choice for your family.

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