February is Financial Aid Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to discuss what’s what with financial aid. Applying for financial aid can be an overwhelming and stressful process, particularly when you’ve been given false or incomplete information. Therefore, debunking common financial aid myths can help you be more confident in approaching the process and make the most of your financial aid reward.

Myth 1: I’m Not Going to Get Anything Anyway, So I Shouldn’t Apply

You’ll never know if you’re going to receive financial aid unless you apply! The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) does not have an income maximum. So if you think your family will be reporting too much income, this may not necessarily be the case. The FAFSA takes a number of factors into account, including the size of the student’s school and what year they are . Income is certainly part of what is considered, but there is no magic number for how much income is too much. When you submit the FAFSA, you are applying for aid from the state and possibly even the university. In fact, some institutions will not consider students for scholarships unless they’ve submitted the FAFSA.

Taking the time to apply can pay off in the long run, because you could actually receive aid when you assumed you wouldn’t.

Even if you don’t qualify for need-based assistance, you may be eligible for other rewards, including federal work-study or low-interest loans.

Myth 2: The FAFSA Is Too Confusing

The FAFSA has gotten a bad rap for being incredibly difficult to fill out. And while it can certainly be a time-consuming and overwhelming process, FAFSA has taken steps over the past several years to simplify it. In addition, if you know what you’re getting into before you begin filling it out, you’ll likely have an easier time. Before you begin, know what documents you’ll need. These may vary depending on your situation, but W-2s or other proof of income will be required, as well as the parents’ and child’s Social Security numbers.

Additionally, the internet is full of FAFSA tutorials and help articles. Looking through some before beginning the process may be beneficial. If not, you can always turn to those available resources if you reach a part of the form that you’re unsure of. You can also contact a financial professional to help. Most importantly, set aside a few hours for the process. It is time-consuming, and feeling rushed could cause you to make a costly mistake.

Myth 3: Only Students With Good Grades Will Get Financial Aid

Most federal student aid programs do not take grades into account.

A good grade-point average could help you get into a more prestigious school or help you receive academic scholarships, but your transcript typically has no bearing on your federal student aid.

However, once you have begun receiving aid, most schools require that you remain in good academic standing throughout your schooling in order to continue to receive student aid.

Myth 4: I Should Wait Until I’m Accepted to College to Submit the FAFSA

You don’t have to! In fact, you can begin submitting your FAFSA as a senior in high school before you’ve even applied to any schools. You will just need to include one school you’re interested in. However, it’s advisable to include every school you’re planning on applying to. You can include up to 10 schools, and the colleges will not see what other schools you have listed. If you are not accepted or decide not to attend a school, the institution will just disregard your FAFSA information.

Many schools award aid on a first-come, first served basis, so the benefit of applying early is that schools will have more funds available the earlier you apply.

Each state and school typically has a different deadline, so be sure to know all the deadlines you’re aiming for.

Myth 5: I May Have to Pay a Fee to File the FAFSA

The word “free” is right there in the acronym. You should never be paying to fill out the FAFSA. You should only be filling out the form through the FAFSA website, which is operated by the federal government. If a website is requesting a payment to fill it out, you are not on the official site.

Myth 6: Once I Fill Out the FAFSA One Time , I’m Done

Unfortunately, this is not the case. You will need to fill out the FAFSA for every school year that you wish to be considered for aid. If you have submitted it before and not received aid, that does not mean you shouldn’t apply again. If your financial situation has changed, it’s definitely worth applying again. Also, remember that when you apply may make a difference. So if you applied later last time, try filing earlier this time around. It could pay off.

Applying for financial aid is undoubtedly a daunting process. But having the correct information can make a major difference in the amount of stress it causes.

Knowing what’s factual — and what’s not — can give you more confidence in approaching the application.

But the most important information to know about filing the FAFSA is this: You should definitely file, and you should do so as early as possible.

Additionally, you may not have known this, but sometimes financial aid packages can be negotiated on. You have to act fast if you want to make an appeal for a better package; actions should be taken before the FAFSA college deadline. An option available to you can be filing an appeal with the college you were accepted to; many institutions have a particular protocol on financial aid appeals, so make sure to follow their instructions. Be as specific as possible in your appeal form; don’t be broad. Really explain your financial hardship. You can also use your grades, sports, and any talents you may have as leverage. However, be sure to be courteous, professional, and polite when communicating with your potential college’s financial aid office.