Important fact:

  • Filing season for the 2018-19 FAFSA begins Sunday.
  • An study found that students who file for aid in the first three months have received more than double the grant money of those filing later.
  • 86 percent of families filed the FAFSA last year, according to Sallie Mae.

First-time FAFSA filers can expect to spend 55 minutes on the form. Here’s how to get ready:

1) Wrap up your taxes

The 2018-19 FAFSA uses income data from your 2016 tax return — the one filed this year. If you’re among those taxpayers taking full advantage of the six-month filing extension (with a deadline of Oct. 16, or Jan. 31, 2018, for recent hurricane victims), wrap up your return before turning to the FAFSA. It’s better to have hard numbers than estimates.

When you submit your FAFSA documents, you want them to be as complete and accurate and thorough as possible. If your tax returns aren’t all buttoned up, that’s going to be hard.

2) Prime your assets

Asset values are reported at the time you file the FAFSA, and there are still a few last-minute changes you can make that could boost your student’s chances at aid. One of the easiest: reducing cash balances you’d have to report by paying down debt or prepaying bills.

Pay it down and get rid of that cash.

Other FAFSA prep strategies require more advance planning; consult a financial advisor and accountant before making any big changes. The right strategies can also vary by where your student is applying — the CSS Profile factors in some assets and income differently than the FAFSA.

3) Gather your paperwork

Make sure you have all the materials you’re going to need.

Those include Social Security numbers (for parents and the student), your family’s latest financial statements, records of untaxed income (like child support) and driver’s license numbers. Have your most recent tax return on hand, too, although families filing the FAFSA online can import much of that information using the IRS data retrieval tool.

(The Department of Education has said the data retrieval tool — which the IRS took offline in March due to security concerns — will be available again in time for the FAFSA filing season open, with additional security precautions in place.)

The student and parent also need FSA IDs. First-timers can use their ID immediately after registering to “sign” an online FAFSA form, according to Department of Education. For other tasks, you may need to wait up to three days for your ID to be usable in the system.