Early decision (ED) is binding; you must attend any college that accepts your ED application.If you want to compare financial aid awards, ED is not the application pathway for you except under limited circumstances. Early Action (EA) is not binding. You can apply early and get notified earlier about whether you have been admitted. EA is great if you have completed everything early, talked to your teachers and counselor in September or early October about getting recommendations. It is not good to hastily write an essay, just to apply early. Submitting a sloppy application is not going to help you be admitted or enhance your financial aid award even if you are admitted. EA allows you to wait to decide what college to attend until you have all your financial aid awards, so you can compare your costs. There are six schools that I know who offer Restricted Early Action (REA): Georgetown, Harvard, Notre Dame, Princeton, Stanford and Yale. Please read their websites carefully. Generally, you can not apply to another school ED if you are applying to their school REA. They also sometimes restrict other EA applications.
For more information about EA and ED, listen to this 15 minute audio with two very experienced and knowlegeable counselors: www.scpr.org/programs/airtalk/2016/12/22/53975/congratulations-on-your-acceptance-we-debate-early/