By Tamara KrauseGetting ready to go to college next year? If so, the FAFSA (otherwise known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) should be your new best friend. Why? This single form is your golden ticket to free money for college, like Pell Grants, work-study opportunities, and even scholarships from the colleges on your admissions list. Neglecting to fill out this form is like throwing money in the toilet, and we know you’d never do that. Even if you think mom and pops have the cake to cover all your expenses, it’s not smart to skip the FAFSA. Unexpected things happen, and you could find yourself needing some help down the line. Follow these quick steps to get yourself FAFSA ready. 1. Get an FSA ID Don’t let this happen to you, file early! PSA brought to you by Debt.com. Just as your ATM PIN unlocks money in your bank account, the FSA ID will give you access to the government’s bank vault … well, sorta. You’ll need one for yourself and one for your parent (whichever one is helping to complete the form) if you’re filing as a dependent applicant. Just go online and apply. Your FSA ID will expire every 18 months, so it’s important to change it every year. 2. Gather your documents Probably a good idea to get a paperclip, Sheldon. Courtesy of Blogspot. To avoid missing any college financial aid deadlines, have your parents dig through their files to find the following documents right now: This year’s bank statement Investment records Social Security numbers (for you and your parents) It’s also not a bad idea to have a copy of last year’s IRS tax forms handy, just in case your parents plan to file late this year. They can use these forms to estimate their income and complete the FAFSA early. Just be sure they go back in after filing their taxes and amend your FAFSA form. Note: The 2016-17 academic year will be the last year you will have to amend tax information on your FAFSA. For the 2017-18 school year and beyond, the FAFSA will be available on Oct. 1, and you’ll be able to use tax information from the previous tax year — which should already be completed. 4. Know your status No shame, George. Courtesy of Buzzfeed.com. Do you have a job and live separately from your parents? You may still be considered a dependent student (especially if you’re under the age of 24) and will need to include your parents’ income on your FAFSA, even if they don’t contribute a dime to your well-being. To avoid delays in getting your financial aid, do yourself a favor and review the differences between independent and dependent status for the FAFSA. Knowing which one you are will save you from some serious headaches down the line. One more thing There’s one more thing you need to know: NEVER pay for the FAFSA. There’s a reason why it’s called the FREE Application for Student Federal Aid … because it’s completely FREE. The only place you should go to submit your FAFSA is the Federal Student Aid website. If you end up on another website that asks you to pay to complete the form, don’t do it. Period! Want to learn more about the FAFSA? Visit StudentAid.ed.gov.