Heading to college this year? Then spend the first day of 2015 filling out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The application opened Thursday, sending students and parents to their computers in hopes of receiving government money to help with college costs.

FAFSA can seem complicated, difficult and long, but it's important to file. It can get you student loans, scholarships, grants or work-study designation. Below are five tips for maximizing your application.

1. Do It ASAP

The government doesn't have infinite funds to distribute. Money is given out on a first-come, first-serve basis, Sallie Mae spokeswoman Martha Holler told CNN Money. In order to get the best aid package, you should submit your application as early as possible.

In fact, families that submit their forms before March receive an average of double the grants that people who file later do, Edvisors.com publisher Mark Kantrowitz told the New York Times. The takeaway? Don't delay.

2. You Don't Need Your Taxes

Although FAFSA requires a lot of income information, there's no need to wait until you file your 2014 taxes to start it. Simply estimate the amounts based on your 2013 tax return, according to the United States Department of Education's blog. Later on, when you do file your taxes, you can update your data. There's even an automatic IRS importer tool that becomes available in February.

3. Don't Make Excuses

Filling out FAFSA can take anywhere from 21 minutes to 55 minutes, which is not too long for free money. And don't say that your family's too wealthy or your grades are too low. These are all myths about financial aid, according to the Department of Education. Don't leave money on the table.

Also, just because you filled out FAFSA in 2014 doesn't mean you're exempt this time around. A new application must be filed each year. If there's more than one college student in your family, you have to submit separate applications. You can do it online or via snail mail.

4. Deadlines Vary

The national deadline for filling out the FAFSA is June 30, 2016, but states and colleges have individual deadlines. In some cases, the deadline is for sending in FAFSA; in others, it means the application has to be processed by a certain date. You should check to make sure which definition your school/state goes by.

Below is a brief list of deadlines. If your state doesn't appear, contact your school's financial aid office. Assume all dates are 2015 unless specified otherwise:

  • Arkansas -- June 1
  • California -- March 2
  • Connecticut -- Feb. 15
  • Delaware: April 15
  • Washington, D.C. -- April 1
  • Florida -- May 15
  • Idaho -- March 1
  • Indiana -- March 10
  • Iowa -- July 1
  • Kansas -- April 1
  • Louisiana -- June 30, 2016
  • Maine -- May 1
  • Maryland -- March 1
  • Massachusetts -- May 1
  • Michigan -- March 1
  • Missouri -- April 1
  • Montana -- March 1
  • New Jersey -- June 1
  • New York -- June 30, 2016
  • North Dakota -- April 15
  • Oklahoma -- March 1
  • Rhode Island -- March 1
  • South Carolina -- June 30
  • Tennessee -- March 1

5. There Are Resources That Can Help

Don't get overwhelmed. Get help. Edvisors.com has a FAFSA guidebook you can buy for $9.95 or download here for free. The Department of Education has a video, showing you how to file FAFSA for free on the government website, but if you'd rather, there are paid services that can do it for you.