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If you’re a student applying to college this year, possibly the most important thing you must do is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — more commonly known as the FAFSA.

You might be wondering why filling out the FAFSA is so important, especially considering that, at first glance, it looks intimidatingly long and complicated. Well, because not filling out the FAFSA is like saying “No thank you, I’d rather not receive any financial help to pay for college, even though I don’t need to do much more than fill out this form.”

Filling out the FAFSA may be time consuming, but it’s certainly worth the effort when you think of the alternative: drowning in student debt. The average college graduate today leaves college with $35,000 in student loan debt — likely not a statistic you want to apply to you. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal aid as well as financial aid from your state, colleges and other scholarship programs, so filling it out is essential.

Before you fill out the form, you’ll need to gather your latest tax returns, bank statements, and investment records. You’ll also need a FAFSA ID, which takes about three days to get after you apply — don’t worry, we’ll tell you how to apply for one!

We recommend that you gather all the documents you need, and try to get the FAFSA done in one go. You should also try and fill out the form online (even though there are paper versions available). This is because the online form will read your answers and only show you questions that pertain to you, thereby reducing the chance for you to make any mistakes.

We promise you, filling out the FAFSA isn’t nearly as hard as it may seem, especially when you’ve got this guide to walk you through each step of the process.

Ariha Setalvad <ariha@credible.com> is a Credible staff writer. Follow us on Twitter at @Credible.