If you’re renting an apartment for the first time, filling out application after application can be confusing and costly. Each rental application is different, and knowing the “right answers” to certain questions can be difficult. Here’s what you should expect from the rental application process.

The application

Rental applications can usually be found online, especially if you’re applying to live in an apartment community. If the application is not online, contact the landlord directly or visit the leasing office to fill out the application. It’s necessary that you fill out an application as soon as you find an apartment you’re interested in, because most properties fill up quickly. Applications also ask for an expected move-in date, so plan this out before you begin any applications.

For each application, expect to include personal information. Some applications require a brief statement about yourself. As mentioned above, each rental application requires slightly different information. Most landlords require a simple rental application involving your past residences, references, and a credit check. In addition, verification of your monthly income is usually required.

If you’re applying in person, bring copies of all necessary documents to expedite the application process. You should bring a copy of your birth certificate, social security card, contact information for your references, and bank statements or pay stubs.

Application fee

Most applications require a fee in order to be submitted. Along with an application fee, you should expect to pay a processing fee and a security deposit (if you’re accepted). Some applications alone cost as much as $100, and a security deposit is typically one month’s rent. If possible, try to avoid broker fees, as they can make the process significantly more costly.

Before you begin applying for apartments, make sure you have some money in savings to put toward fees and a potential security deposit. Ask questions regarding fees if they’re unclear or not explicitly mentioned, and pay attention to which fees are refundable and which aren’t. Finally, ask which utilities are included in rent and which you’ll be responsible for, since this allows you to more accurately determine which apartments are within your price range.

Credit and background checks

Credit and background checks are commonly used to determine whether you’ll be a credible tenant. Most applications ask whether you agree to authorize a credit and background check, and sometimes this require fees. If you don’t have a credit history because you’re a first-time renter or straight out of college, ask a parent to co-sign. Co-signers essentially agree to pay rent if you’re unable to. If your credit history isn’t great or you have something questionable that may come up in your background check, it’s best to mention these to your landlord beforehand.

Signing the lease

If your rental application is approved, congrats! The next step is signing the lease for your new apartment. Different landlords offer leases with different lengths, ranging anywhere from three months to over a year. Everyone who moves in is required to sign the lease.

Although most leases are standard, you should read through it to ensure that you won’t be charged additional fees for things like pets, smoking, or late rent payments. Most importantly, remember that you need to see the apartment in person before you sign the lease. A lease is a legally binding document stating you’ll live there for the term agreed upon, so don’t jump into it without being 100 percent sure.

Renting your first grown-up apartment is both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience, but it’s a lot easier than you’d think. Once you’ve mastered the application process and signed the lease, you’re ready to begin moving into your new apartment.