The worst part of being a college student, besides dining hall food and always being broke, is finding financial aid. There’s nothing that will get you down in the dumps more than coming up with thousands of dollars for your education.

What’s slightly less painful is filing the free application for federal student aid, or FAFSA, each year. You can make FAFSA easy with a few key steps.

The hardest part about filing your FAFSA is usually convincing your parents to file their taxes right away. The actual application itself is not that difficult, and once you’ve done it for the first time, it’s a piece of cake.

Students whose parents are on an even salary have a pretty good idea about how much aid they’ll get the next year. Students who work or have parents who own their own business may have income that fluctuates a great deal every year. Regardless, these FAFSA facts will blow you away!

First, file as soon as you can.

It’s not just some myth that financial aid is first come, first served. There’s an option to estimate your household income based on last year’s taxes, so do that LITERALLY RIGHT NOW so you can make sure you get it taken care of right away. Then, once you and your parents file, remember to file a correction. While you’re at it, set a reminder for January 1 of next year.

Use that handy IRS Data Retrieval tool.

The data retrieval tool makes it easier for the IRS to confirm your income information, meaning you’re less likely to be sent verification forms. If you’ve never received a verification form, it’s a painful and lengthy application to prove your income.

It’s also a good idea to research your state’s filing deadlines.

There’s really no excuse to miss out on thousands of dollars because you don’t want to file your FAFSA before your state’s filing deadline. You can easily locate this information on the FAFSA website, FAFSA.gov.

While we’re on the topic of websites, don’t fall for a fake FAFSA website.

There are plenty of fake FAFSA sites out there ready to steal your identity, which frankly can be a bigger problem than having no money for college. The only legitimate FAFSA website out there is FAFSA.gov. That’s it. There’s no FAFSA.com or .net. The .gov, secure mark and ://https by the URL signifies that the website is safe and okay to input your personal information.

Last and easiest piece of advice: Don’t wait to apply for a pin number.

When you have the pin number, write it down and keep it somewhere safe. It can take weeks to get a pin during peak application season, but only a matter of minutes during the off-season. This is quite possibly the simplest part of the entire process, so hop to it!

Now, all you need is your 1040 (or other tax return document), bank statements detailing your family’s net worth, and you’re ready to file. Getting to this point is the hardest part. If you’re struggling, check to see if your college or local credit union offers free filing counseling. This could give you peace of mind before filling out such an important document.

Additional Resources

Learn more about financial aid and research resources and information on the U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Age webpage Financial Aid Tookit. There you can learn about types of aid, student eligibility, the FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and loan repayment. You can also filter resources by file type, audience, topic, and the time of year the resource is most relevant.