5 Must DOs Before Repaying Your Student Loans

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Almost time to start paying back your student loans?  Contrary to popular belief, your student loan payments don’t have to stop you from living your life. You just have to weigh your options and find a strategy that works within your budget. Here are some steps to get you started.

1. Compare monthly payment amounts

The amount you pay each month toward your student loans will depend on the repayment plan you choose. If you take no action, you will be automatically enrolled in the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. If you don’t think you can afford that amount or you want a lower monthly payment, consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan, where your monthly payment could be as low as $0 per month. Just know that when you make payments based on your income your monthly payment amount may be lower, but you will likely pay more in total over a longer period of time.

Use our repayment calculator to compare the different repayment options.

repayment estimator output

Calculate

TIP: If you’re interested in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, you should apply for an income-driven repayment plan and submit an Employment Certification Form.

2. Decide whether to consolidate

If you borrowed federal student loans before 2011, you may need to consolidate any FFEL loans into the Direct Loan program before you can qualify for the better income-driven repayment plans or Public Service Loan Forgiveness. You may also want to consolidate if you have multiple loans and/or servicers and want a single monthly payment. The application takes about 10 minutes.

Consolidate my Loans

3. Choose an affordable repayment plan

If you decide to consolidate, you will choose a repayment plan from within the consolidation application. If you’d like to choose an income-driven plan, choose the Pay As You Earn Plan. It’s the best plan available, and if you don’t qualify for it, your servicer will put you on the next best income-driven repayment plan.

If you aren’t going to consolidate and you’d like to enroll in one of the income-driven repayment plans, learn how to choose the right income-driven repayment plan and apply here. The application takes about 10 minutes.

Choose recommended option in IDR app

Apply for an income-driven repayment plan

If you’re interested in a plan other than the standard or one of the income-driven plans, contact your servicer to ask how to enroll.

 4. Set up your payments

You will never pay the U.S. Department of Education directly. In most cases, federal student loan borrowers will make payments to one of our loan servicers. Loan servicers work on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to collect your payments and provide customer service. If you don’t know who your loan servicer is, find out here.

Your loan servicer will contact to let you know when your first payment is due and how to make a payment, so it’s very important that you provide your servicer with updated contact information.

TIP: To simplify the repayment process, consider enrolling in auto debit and your payments will be automatically taken from your bank account each month. As an added bonus, you get a 0.25% interest rate deduction when you enroll. Ask your servicer how to enroll.

5. Know who to contact if you need help with your student loans

Beware of student loan scams.  You never have to pay for help with your student loans. As you’re researching repayment and forgiveness options, make sure you’re getting information from trusted sources, like .gov websites or your servicer’s website. The government and your servicer will never charge application or maintenance fees, so if you’re asked to pay, walk away.

If you have questions or need help, contact your servicer.

TIP: Save your servicer’s contact information in your phone so you can access it when you need to.

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Image by Getty Images

8 Student Loan Tips for the Class of 2016

8 student loan tips for the Class of 2016

Nothing says, “Welcome to adulthood” quite like getting your first student loan bill in the mail. If student loans are your reality, here are some tips that may help you (from someone who is going through this too).

1. Don’t ignore your student loans!

I think everyone can agree that student loans are no fun to pay back, but ignoring them can have serious consequences (and it won’t make them go away.) If you’re worried about your student loans or don’t think you can afford your payments, contact us for help. No matter what your financial situation is, we can help you find an affordable repayment option. For many, that could mean payments as low as $0 per month.

2. Set a budget.

Life after graduation gets real, real fast. To make a plan to tackle your student loans, you need to understand what money you have coming in, and what expenses you have going out. If you haven’t already, it’s important that you create a budget. This will help determine your repayment strategy. Here are some budgeting tips to help you get started.

3. Choose an affordable payment amount.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to paying back student loans. The key question you need to answer is: Do you want to get rid of your loans quickly or do you want to pay the lowest amount possible per month?

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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Financial Aid Award

Generally, the first step in applying for financial aid is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The schools you listed on the FAFSA will take that information and use it to calculate the financial aid you’re eligible for.  Your financial aid awards may vary from school to school based on a number of factors including: your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the number of credits you will take each term, your cost of attendance (COA) at each school, your eligibility for state and institutional aid at each school, and your year in school. Keep in mind that many schools have a priority deadline, so the sooner you apply each year, the better. Here are 5 things that will help you better understand how financial aid is awarded:

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How to Update Your FAFSA After Filing Taxes

It's time to update your FAFSA

Did you submit your 2016–17 FAFSA® before you (and your parents, if you’re a dependent student) filed your 2015 taxes? If so, it’s time to return to your application to update the information you estimated with the actual numbers from your 2015 tax return.

The easiest way to update your tax information is by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT). It allows you to transfer your tax information directly into your FAFSA! Check to see if your tax return is available and if you’re eligible to use the tool. You usually have to wait a few weeks after filing your taxes before you can use the IRS DRT, but this tool can save you lots of time.

To update your FAFSA:

Step 1

Go to fafsa.gov and click Login.

Step 2

Students: Log in to the FAFSA using your FSA ID.
Parents:  Your child must initiate the FAFSA correction process by logging in first, continuing to Step #3, and creating a Save Key*. If you need to make corrections to your child’s FAFSA, get the Save Key from your child. Once you do, you can log in by entering the student’s information. The FAFSA will ask you to enter the “Save Key” if you wish to continue.
FAFSA login screen

*A Save Key is a temporary password meant to be shared between you and your child. It lets you and your child pass the FAFSA back and forth and allows you to save the FAFSA and return to it later. This is especially helpful if you and your child are completing the FAFSA, but are not in the same place.

Step 3

Click Make FAFSA Corrections.

Make FAFSA Corrections

Step 4

Navigate to the “Financial Information” section.

Step 5

Change your answer from “Will file” to Already completed.

2016-17 - Taxes Completed

Click to enlarge.

If you’re eligible to use the IRS DRT, you’ll see a Link to IRS button. If you’re not eligible to use the IRS DRT, you can manually enter the data from your completed tax return.

Step 6

Click Link to IRS and log in with the IRS to retrieve your tax information.

  • Enter the requested information exactly as it appears on your tax return.
IRS DRT Screenshot with 2015 tax info

Click to enlarge

 

  • Review your information to see what tax data will be transferred into your FAFSA.
  • Check Transfer My Tax Information into the FAFSA, and click Transfer Now to return to the FAFSA.
IRS DRT Screenshot with 2015 tax info

Click to enlarge

 

Step 7

Review the data that was transferred to your FAFSA, and click Next.

Step 8

Sign and submit your updated FAFSA using your FSA ID.

Once you’ve made updates at fafsa.gov, your changes will be processed in about three days. You’ll receive a revised Student Aid Report (SAR) showing the changes made to your application. Each school you listed on your FAFSA can access the revised information one day after it’s processed.

Remember, some state and school financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. So, log in today to update your FAFSA!

April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid

Learn the Secret to Expanding Your Student Loan Repayment Benefits

If you borrowed before July of 2010, you may need to consolidate your loans in order to qualify for certain student loan repayment benefits, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness and some income-driven repayment plans.

Distraught girl at computer

Why does it matter which type(s) of loans I have?

If you’re interested in the best student loan repayment benefits, you’ll want to have Direct Loans. If you borrowed any federal student loans before July 2010, there’s a good chance that some or all of your federal student loans are not Direct Loans. But that doesn’t mean you can’t qualify for the best repayment benefits—you can. All you’ll need to do is consolidate. If you consolidate, as a student borrower, here are some of the repayment benefits you could access:

What are Direct Loans?

Direct Loans are those that are made to you, though your school, directly by the Department of Education. Since July 2010, almost all federal student loans are made under this program—in full, called the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program.

Though the Direct Loan Program existed long before 2010, there was another bigger federal student loan program that most students relied on to finance their education: the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program.

Under the FFEL Program, loans were made by banks and ultimately guaranteed by the taxpayer in case you didn’t make your payments. In 2010, this program ended.

Loans from both of these programs are FEDERAL student loans.  The main way the programs differ is in who made you the loan in the first place. Most of the benefits in the Direct Loan Program are available in the FFEL Program. However, FFEL Program loans are not eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness or the best income-driven repayment plans. This is where loan consolidation can help. It will effectively convert your FFEL Program loans into Direct Loans.

How do I find out which type(s) of federal student loans I have?

  1. Go to StudentAid.gov/login
  2. Log in using your FSA ID (You can’t use your Federal Student Aid PIN anymore!)
  3. Scroll to the loan summary section. Go through each of the loans that are listed. Use the list below to see if you need to consolidate any of your loans to qualify for the best repayment options.

Which loans to consolidate

What should I consider before consolidating?

First, evaluate whether you want any of the benefits that are available only in the Direct Loan Program. Consolidating your loans can increase the amount of interest that accrues on your loans, so if you’re not interested in these programs, you may not want to consolidate. Also, understand that, by consolidating your loans, you will start your forgiveness clock over. For example, if you were already on an income-driven repayment plan and consolidate your loans, then you will lose the any credit you had already earned toward forgiveness.

Lastly, understand that some of the loans that we called out for consolidation are those from another federal student loan program called the Federal Perkins Loan Program. Those loans have their own cancellation benefits that are based on your job. If you consolidate these types of loans, you will lose access to those cancellation benefits. Learn more about Perkins Loan cancellation here.

Now I know what type(s) of loans I have. What can I do?

  • I have some loans that I need to consolidate, and some that I don’t. Okay, you’re a little trickier to advise. You’ll definitely have some loans that you’ll want to consolidate, but the real question is, should you consolidate all of your loans? Only consolidate what you need to? You can do either. It will be easier to keep track of your loans if you only have one, but as you can see in the above section, sometimes you’re better off not consolidating if you don’t have to. After you’ve figured this out, you can consolidate your loans and apply for the best income-driven repayment plans. After you’re set up on the plan you want and if you want to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, get your employment certified for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

If you’re confused, need help, or have questions, you can contact the Loan Consolidation Information Call Center at 1-800-557-7392 to get free advice.

Ian Foss is a Program Specialist and Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Image by Getty Images

Which Income-Driven Repayment Plan is Right for You?

Guy and girl different paths

You may have heard about income-driven repayment plans. These days, there are a lot of them to choose from.

It might seem difficult to choose an income-driven repayment plan when so many of the basic features of the plans look the same. After reading this post, you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to choose the best repayment plan for your situation.

Here are the basics:

Let’s start by looking at the basics. All of these plans set your payments based on a percentage of your income, and all of these plans forgive any remaining balance on your loans after a period of time. There are some obvious differences between the plans, sure, but the chart is so general that you don’t have enough information in the chart to make a smart choice.

If you’re interested in an income-driven plan, you probably want to pay as little as possible over the shortest period of time and have accepted that more interest may accrue on your loans as a result. Additionally, you should understand that you have to keep in touch with your loan servicer about your income each year in order to stay on these plans. So, Pay As You Earn would seem to be a natural choice. But there are very specific requirements you must meet to qualify for Pay As You Earn plan. The details matter.

Let’s dive in to the details.

What type of federal student loans do you have?

If you’re interested in an income-driven repayment plan, you will first want to determine whether your federal student loans are Direct Loans. If you borrowed any federal student loans before July 2010, there’s a good chance that some or all of your federal student loans are not Direct Loans.

If your loans aren’t Direct Loans, that doesn’t mean you can’t qualify for the best income-driven repayment plans—almost everyone can. You just need to consolidate first. If you don’t consolidate, the only income-driven repayment plan you might qualify for is the income-based repayment plan, and, as you saw, it wouldn’t give you the lowest payment.


After you have figured out whether you needed to consolidate, and done so, you’re ready to choose a plan.

Let the Department of Education choose the best plan for you

Don’t do difficult work that you don’t have to do. The details matter for these plans. And there are a lot of details. Instead of sorting all of this out yourself, make us, or, more accurately, your loan servicer, do the difficult work. Just go to StudentLoans.gov and start an “Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request”. (That’s the online income-driven repayment application.)

When you get to the “Repayment Plan Selection” section of the application (toward the end), you should not choose an income-driven repayment plan by name. Instead, choose this option:

Choose the Repayment plan you would like to be placed on. "I request that my loan holder (servicer) place me on the plan with the lowest monthly payment amount.

If you do, your loan servicer will evaluate whether you are eligible for all of the income-driven repayment plans and put you on the best plan for you.


If you want to choose a plan on your own, you probably want to choose the Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan.

For most borrowers, the Revised Pay You Earn Plan is the best choice because:

  • all Direct Loan student borrowers are eligible for the plan,
  • there are no date restrictions,
  • there are no income restrictions,
  • it offers the lowest payment of all the income-driven repayment plans,
  • it offers the shortest repayment period for many, and
  • it offers a generous interest benefit to keep your interest balance from growing

However, there are some borrowers who can’t or shouldn’t choose the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan.

Answer the questions below to see if you’re one of those borrowers.

Are you married? How do you file your taxes?

If you are married, you can choose to file a joint or separate income tax return. How you choose to file your taxes can have a large impact on income-driven repayment. There are two factors at play here—whether your spouse’s income will be used to calculate your payment and whether your spouse’s loan debt will be used to adjust your payment downward.

There are two things you need to consider

First, income.

If you file jointly, for all plans, your income + your spouse’s income = income used to calculate payment.

If you file separately, then how your spouse’s income is treated depends on the plan:

For the Income-Contingent, Income-Based, and Pay As You Earn plans, only your income = income used to calculate payment.

For the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan, however, your income + your spouse’s income = income used to calculate payment.

Second, loan debt.

If it seems like using a joint income is going to disadvantage you, this isn’t the end of the story. If your spouse also has federal student loans, then we will figure out what percentage of the total debt is yours and multiply the payment based on a joint income by that percentage. This acknowledges that there are multiple federal student loan debts being repaid with the joint income. If your spouse has no federal student loan debt, however, then 100% of the debt is yours, and so there’s no adjustment to your payment.

What does this all mean? Though the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan is better for most, if you are married, file a separate return from your spouse, and your spouse doesn’t have federal student loan debt, then you will definitely be able to get a better deal under the Pay As You Earn Plan (if you are eligible for it), and, depending on your spouse’s income, you might even get a better deal under the Income-Based or Income-Contingent Repayment Plan. But, to get this better deal, you have to file separately from your spouse, and that might cost you more in taxes.

Did you borrow a federal student loan for graduate school?

Let’s talk about borrowing for graduate school. If you did, then the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan might not be for you.

Under the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan, the forgiveness clock runs for 20 years if you only borrowed for undergraduate study, and for 25 years if you borrowed even one loan for graduate study.

By contrast, the Pay As You Earn Plan has a 20-year forgiveness clock for all borrowers, undergraduate and graduate alike. So, if you qualify for Pay As You Earn and are a graduate borrower, it’s probably a better option for you. If you don’t qualify for Pay As You Earn, however, the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan is still better for you than the Income-Based or Income-Contingent Repayment Plans.

How recently did you start borrowing?

The Pay As You Earn Plan has many, but not all of the benefits as Revised Pay As You Earn, and, for some borrowers, it’s a better option. However, it’s also the plan that is available to the fewest number of borrowers. Specifically, to qualify for Pay As You Earn, you need to be a “new borrower” on or after October 1, 2007 who received a loan on or after October 1, 2011. That excludes a lot of people who have loans today.

Are you are a parent borrower?

Parent borrowers who want to repay their Parent PLUS Loans under an income-driven repayment plan can’t use the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan or any other income-driven repayment plan except for the Income-Contingent Repayment Plan.

The Income-Contingent Repayment Plan is the only plan that a borrower with this loan type can opt for. However, eligibility is not automatic. To become eligible, parent borrowers must consolidate their outstanding Parent PLUS Loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan. If you’re a parent borrower, you can do that by visiting StudentLoans.gov.

Let’s sum up.

The Revised Pay As You Earn is the best plan for most borrowers. However, if it’s not good for you for one of the reasons I mentioned above, then you should consider Pay As You Earn. If that doesn’t work for you, consider the Income-Based Repayment Plan. Finally, consider the Income-Contingent Repayment Plan.

Ian Foss has worked at the Department of Education since 2010. He just saved 33% on his student loan payments by switching from the Income-Based Repayment Plan to the Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan.

Image by Getty Images

3 Types of FAFSA Deadlines You Should Pay Attention To

Sample FAFSA Deadlines

Click to enlarge

Ah, deadlines. The sworn enemy of students across the nation. When you’re busy with classes, extracurricular activities, and a social life in whatever time you’ve got left, it’s easy to lose track and let due dates start whooshing by. All of a sudden, your U.S. history paper is due at midnight, and you still don’t know Madison from a minuteman. We get it.

Nevertheless, we’re here to point out a few critical deadlines that you really shouldn’t miss: those to do with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). By submitting your FAFSA late, you might be forfeiting big money that can help you pay for college. Luckily for you, you’ve got just three types of deadlines to stay on top of. Now if only your Founding Father flashcards were that simple.

Here are those three deadlines:

  1. The College Deadline

The first type of deadline comes from colleges themselves, and—spoiler alert—it’s typically pretty early. These deadlines vary from school to school, but they usually come well before the academic year starts, many in the neighborhood of early spring. If you’re applying to multiple colleges, be sure to look up each school’s FAFSA deadline and apply by the earliest one.

Many of these FAFSA due dates are priority deadlines. This means that you need to get your FAFSA in by that date to be considered for the most money. Many colleges have this date clearly marked on their financial aid pages. If you can’t find it, a call to the college’s financial aid office never goes amiss.

  1. The State Deadline

The second deadline is determined by your home state. This deadline varies by state and can be as early as February 15 of a given year’s FAFSA application cycle (What’s good, Connecticut?). Some states have suggested deadlines to make sure you get priority consideration for college money, and some just want you to get the FAFSA in as soon as you can. States often award aid until they run out of money—first come, first served—so apply early.

You can check the deadline tool at fafsa.gov to see what the deal is in your state. You can also find that state-specific information on the paper or PDF FAFSA. In many cases, it turns out that state and school deadlines occur before you’ve even filed your taxes. If that’s the case, learn how to submit your FAFSA if you haven’t filed taxes yet.

  1. The Federal Deadline

This last deadline comes from us, the Department of Education, aka the FAFSA folks. This one is pretty low-pressure. Our only time constraint is that each year’s FAFSA becomes unavailable on June 30 at the end of the academic year it applies to.

That means that the 2016–17 FAFSA (which became available Jan. 1, 2016) will disappear from fafsa.gov on June 30, 2017, because that’s the end of the 2016–17 school year. That’s right; you can technically go through your entire year at college before accessing the FAFSA. However, a few federal student aid programs have limited funds, so be sure to apply as soon as you can. Also, as we said, earlier deadlines from states and colleges make waiting a bad idea.


Why so many deadlines?

All these entities award their financial aid money differently and at different times. What they all have in common, though, is that they use the FAFSA to assess eligibility for their aid programs. So when a college wants to get its aid squared away before the academic year starts, it needs your FAFSA to make that happen. If you want in on that college money, you need to help the college out by getting your information in by its deadline. Same goes for state aid programs. Additionally, many outside scholarship programs need to see your FAFSA before they consider your eligibility for their money. If you’re applying for scholarships, you need to stay on top of those deadlines, too.

What happens if I miss the deadlines?

Don’t miss the deadlines. Plan to get your FAFSA in by the earliest of all the deadlines for your best crack at college money. By missing deadlines, you take yourself out of the running for money you might otherwise get. Some states and colleges continue awarding aid to FAFSA latecomers, but your chances get much slimmer, and the payout is often less if you do get aid. It’s better just not to miss the deadlines.

If you miss the end-of-June federal deadline, you’re no longer eligible to submit that year’s FAFSA. Did we mention not to miss the deadlines?

Across the board, the motto really is “the sooner the better.” So put off the procrastinating until tomorrow. Apply by the earliest deadline. Get your FAFSA done today!

Drew Goins is a senior journalism major at the University of North Carolina. He’s also an intern with the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office. Likes: politics, language, good puns. Dislikes: mainly kale.

Parents: Tips to Help Your Child Complete the 2016–17 FAFSA

2016-17 FAFSA Tips for Parents
If you’re a parent of a college-bound child, the financial aid process can seem a bit overwhelming. Who’s considered the parent? Who do you include in household size? How do assets and tax filing fit into the process? Does this have to be done every year? Here are some common questions that parents have when helping their children prepare for and pay for college or career school:

Does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA?

Your child’s dependency status determines whose information must be reported on the FAFSA. Even if your child lives on his own, files his own taxes, and supports himself, he may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes. If your child was born on or after January 1, 1993, then he or she is most likely considered a dependent student and will need to include your information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

Why does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA?

Our dependency guidelines are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. If your child is considered a dependent student, it doesn’t mean you, the parent(s), are required to pay anything toward your child’s education; this is just a way of looking at everyone in a consistent manner.

Which parent’s information should I include when completing the FAFSA?

If your child needs to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help.

Who's My Parent When I Fill Out My FAFSA? Graphic

Click to enlarge

Who’s considered part of the household?

When completing your child’s FAFSA, your household size should include parents, any dependent student(s), and any other child who lives at home and receives more than half of their support from you. Also include any people who are not your children but who live with you and for whom you provide more than half of their support.

Do we need to wait to apply until I file my income taxes?

You do not need to wait until you file your federal tax return. Deadlines in some states are before the tax filing deadline so you’ll want to ensure your child fills out his or her FAFSA as soon as possible to maximize financial aid. If you haven’t filed your taxes by the time your child completes the FAFSA, you can estimate amounts based on the previous year if nothing has drastically changed. After you file your taxes, you’ll need to log back in to the FAFSA and correct any estimated information. If you’ve already filed your taxes, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically pull in your tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be available February 7, 2016.

Do I need to do this every year?

Yes, you and your child need to complete the FAFSA each year in order for your child to be considered for federal student aid. The good news is that each subsequent year you can use the Renewal Application option so you only have to update information that has changed from the previous year!

What else do I need to know before I begin?

You and your child will each need to get an FSA ID, which is made up of a username and password. It is used to confirm your identity when accessing your financial aid information and to electronically sign the FAFSA. You can save time by getting your FSA IDs prior to starting the FAFSA.

Certain information and documents are necessary to complete the FAFSA and it’s good to have them handy before you begin. Here’s a checklist to help you get ready.

Susan Thares is the Digital Engagement Lead at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.

Photo by Getty Images.

Why Students and Parents Need to Create Their Own FSA IDs


Each year, more than 18 million people submit a FAFSA, and the U.S. Department of Education provides more than $150 billion dollars in federal student aid. To protect the integrity of this important financial system and the private data of all of the students, parents and borrowers within it, it’s essential that only the FSA ID owner create and use their account.


In order to fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), you now need an FSA ID, made up of a username and password that you create.

Although the FAFSA is considered your application, one of your parents will have to provide some information on the FAFSA and sign it, if you are considered a dependent student. Any parent, who wants to electronically sign the FAFSA, will need his or her own FSA ID.

To avoid problems with your financial aid down the road, you (and your parent, if that applies) should create your own FSA ID. Don’t let anyone—not your teacher, your financial aid counselor, your mom or dad, your best friend, or your second and third cousins—create your FSA ID for you. And you should not create one for your parent or anyone else.

For starters, it’s against the rules. The FSA ID has the same legal status as a written signature, so you should treat it like such. You’re not supposed to let someone else sign your name on a tax form or a job application. Well, the same goes for your FAFSA.

Also, one of the primary reasons people have issues with their FSA ID and need to call our contact center for help is because someone else created their FSA ID. If you don’t make your own FSA ID you are less likely to know or remember your username and password. And if you get locked out or need a reminder of your username or password, you are less likely to know the answers to your challenge questions or have access to the e-mail address associated with your account.

Don’t miss an important deadline because someone else created your FSA ID, and you can’t reset your password!

In addition to signing the FAFSA, you can use your FSA ID to do things like

  • import your tax information into your FAFSA from the Internal Revenue Service,
  • view and print an online copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR), and
  • sign your master promissory note.

Creating an FSA ID is simple and only takes a few minutes. To save time when you and your parent are filling out the FAFSA, create your own FSA ID before you begin the application. For more information, visit StudentAid.gov/fsaid.

7 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA

7 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA

Need to fill out the FAFSA® but don’t know where to start? I’m here to help. You’ve already done the hard part and gathered all of the necessary information, so now it’s time to complete the FAFSA. Let me walk you through it step by step:

IMPORTANT: On May 10, 2015, we changed the way you log in to fafsa.gov. You now must use an FSA ID to log in and sign the FAFSA online. You can no longer use a PIN. If you are required to provide parent information on the FAFSA, your parent must register for an FSA ID too. Create your FSA ID at  StudentAid.gov/fsaid

1. Go to fafsa.gov

One thing you don’t need in order to fill out the FAFSA? Money! Remember, the FAFSA is FREE when you use the official .gov site: fafsa.gov.

2. Log in using your FSA ID

If you completed a FAFSA last year: Click “Login” and enter your FSA ID. If you haven’t transitioned your PIN to an FSA ID, you can do so here. If possible, make sure you link your PIN during the FSA ID registration process. Otherwise, you will need to wait 1-3 days before you can use your FSA ID to sign and submit your renewal FAFSA.

If this is your first time completing the FAFSA: Click “Start a new FAFSA” and enter your FSA ID. If you haven’t created an FSA ID yet, you can do that here. You will be able to use your FSA ID to sign and submit your new FAFSA right away.

If you are a parent: Click “login” and “Enter the student’s information”.

FAFSA Login Screen

3. Choose which FAFSA you’d like to complete

The new FAFSA that becomes available on January 1, 2016, is the 2016–17 FAFSA. You should complete the 2016–17 FAFSA if you will be attending college between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017. Remember, the FAFSA is not a one-time thing. You must complete your FAFSA each school year.

Note: The 2015–16 FAFSA is also available if you will be attending college between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, and you haven’t applied for financial aid yet.

4. Enter your personal information*

This is information like your name, date of birth, etc. If you have completed the FAFSA in the past, a lot of your personal information will be pre-populated to save you time. Make sure you enter your personal information exactly as it appears on official government documents. (That’s right, no nicknames.)

5. Enter your financial information*

All of it. You should use income records for the tax year prior to the academic yearfor which you are applying. For example, if you are filling out the 2016–17 FAFSA, you will need to use 2015 tax information. If you or your parent(s) haven’t filed your 2015 taxes yet, which at this point, most people haven’t, you can always estimate the amounts using your 2014 tax return; just make sure to update your FAFSA once you file your 2015 taxes. Once you file your taxes, you may be able to automatically import your tax information into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. It makes completing the FAFSA super easy!

6. Choose up to 10 schools

Two-thirds of freshmen FAFSA applicants list only one college on their applications. Don’t make this mistake! Make sure you add any school you plan to attend, even if you haven’t applied or been accepted yet. You can add up to 10 schools to your FAFSA at a time. We will send the necessary information over to the schools you listed so they can calculate the amount of financial aid you are eligible to receive.  If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, this is what you do.

7. Sign the document with your FSA ID*

Your FSA ID serves as your electronic signature, or e-signature. You’ll use it to electronically sign and submit your FAFSA. If you don’t have an FSA ID, you’ll need to get one. If you’re considered a dependent student, at least one of your parents or your legal guardian will need an FSA ID as well. You will use your FSA ID to renew/correct your FAFSA each school year, so keep it in a safe place. If you have forgotten your FSA ID, you can retrieve it. If you have siblings, your parent can use the same FSA ID to sign FAFSAs for all his or her children.

*If you are considered a dependent student, your parent(s) will also need to do this.

I’m finished. What’s next?

That’s it. You’ve filled it out. I told you it wasn’t so bad. With the hard part over, check out this page to learn what you should do next.

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.

Your Federal Student Loans Just Got Easier to REPAYE

girl at computer

Beginning today, Federal Direct Loan borrowers can take advantage of a new repayment plan: REPAYE (the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan).

Some of you may be familiar with the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Repayment Plan, which caps payments at 10% of a borrower’s monthly income and forgives any remaining balance on your student loans after 20 years of qualifying repayment. But this plan is only for recent borrowers.

REPAYE solves this problem. Like the name implies, REPAYE has some similarities to PAYE. First and foremost, REPAYE, like PAYE, sets payments at no more than 10% of income. However, REPAYE—unlike PAYE— is available to Direct Loan borrowers regardless of when they took out their loans.

Should I switch to REPAYE?

If you can’t afford your monthly payment under your current repayment plan, you should consider REPAYE or one of the other income-driven repayment plans. These plans can offer needed relief by ensuring that you will never pay more than a certain percentage of your income. If you can afford to pay more on your loan, you should, since this will save you more on interest costs over the life of your loan.

If you’re pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you should consider REPAYE. REPAYE is an eligible repayment plan for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. If you’re working toward PSLF and considering consolidating your loans in order to qualify for REPAYE, you should read this first.

If you’re currently on Income-Based Repayment (IBR) because you weren’t eligible for PAYE, you should consider whether REPAYE might be a better option for you. REPAYE could lower your payments by one-third, from 15% to 10% of income.

Before making your decision, use our repayment estimator to compare what your monthly payment would be under REPAYE and all of our other plans.

Under any income-driven repayment plan, you’ll need to “recertify” your income and family size each year.

How is REPAYE different from the other income-driven repayment plans?

So, you already know that your payment under an income-driven plan is a percentage of your income. But REPAYE is different from the other plans. Here are a few differences:

There’s no income requirement to enter the plan: Unlike with the PAYE and IBR plans, borrowers don’t have to show that that their income is low compared to their federal student loan debt in order to enter REPAYE. In simple terms, that means that the amount of your debt and your income level won’t keep you from qualifying.

Borrowers with only undergraduate loans will have a different repayment period than those with graduate loans: Income-driven repayment plans forgive any remaining loan balance after a specific number of years of qualifying repayment—either 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan. REPAYE is a little different than the other income-driven repayment plans. With REPAYE, if you’re only repaying loans you received as an undergraduate student, you’ll repay your loans for up to 20 years. However, if you’re repaying even one loan that you received as a graduate or professional student, you’ll repay your loans (including any loans you received as an undergraduate) for up to 25 years. Of course, this difference doesn’t matter if you later qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, since your loans would be forgiven after 10 years of qualifying payments.

Married borrowers’ payments are calculated differently: The other income-driven repayment plans use the combined income of you and your spouse to set your payment amount only if you file a joint federal income tax return. If you and your spouse file separate tax returns, your payment amount is based on only your income. REPAYE (with limited exceptions) uses the combined income of you and your spouse to set your monthly payment amount, regardless of whether you file a joint tax return or separate returns. This could increase your monthly payment amount. For more information, read our Q&A.

REPAYE payments are not capped at the 10-year standard payment amount: Generally, your payment amount under an income-driven repayment plan is a percentage of your discretionary income. However, this isn’t always the case with the PAYE and IBR plans. Under PAYE and IBR, your payment will never be higher than what it would have been under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, no matter how much your income increases. With REPAYE, there’s no cap on your monthly payment amount. Your payment will always be 10% of your discretionary income, no matter how high your income grows. This means that if your income increases significantly, your REPAYE payment could be higher than what you would have to pay under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan.

REPAYE provides a more generous interest benefit: If your payment doesn’t cover all of your interest, REPAYE pays more of the remaining interest than PAYE or IBR. This can help prevent your loan balance from ballooning and limit the total cost of your loans.

What else should I consider before applying?

Determine whether you have Direct Loans before attempting to switch to REPAYE. If you’re not sure which type of loans you have, you can log in to StudentAid.gov to find out. Loans labeled “Direct” qualify for REPAYE, loans without the “Direct” label don’t qualify for REPAYE unless you consolidate them. You can apply for a Direct Consolidation Loan on StudentLoans.gov.

Special considerations for borrowers who are currently on IBR:

  • If you don’t have Direct Loans, but you’ve been repaying your other loans under IBR for a while and you’re thinking of consolidating to take advantage of REPAYE, it’s important to understand that you’ll lose any credit toward IBR loan forgiveness that you received before consolidating—you’ll have to start over with a new 20- or 25-year repayment period on the Direct Consolidation Loan. So, carefully consider whether having a lower monthly payment amount matters more than the additional time you may spend repaying your loans.
  • Any outstanding interest will be capitalized (added to your loan principal balance) when you leave IBR.

How do I apply for REPAYE?

You can apply for REPAYE—or any other income-driven repayment plan—on StudentLoans.gov. We’ve made some improvements to the way the electronic application works, so give it a spin.

Looking for the lowest monthly payment? With four income-driven repayment plans, it’s easy to overlook a plan or confuse a feature of one plan with another. Let us do the hard part for you. If you’re looking for the lowest monthly payment, there’s a box you can check on the application to request that your loan servicer evaluate you for all income-driven repayment plans, and put you on the plan with the lowest initial payment.

Where can I get more information?

There’s more to know about REPAYE than what you see in this blog post.

Have a question that our resources can’t answer? Contact your servicer. They’re the best option for individualized advice.

3 Important Financial Considerations for College Students

budgeting

The U.S. Department of Treasury recently released a report entitled “Opportunities to Improve the Financial Capability and Financial Well-being of Postsecondary Students.”  I read this report because I am an intern in the office of Federal Student Aid at the Department of Education, and I am working on various projects related to financial literacy for college students. I actually found this report to be a worthwhile read as a college student embarking on the daunting journey of funding my college education and managing my money while in school.

Despite the heavy financial burden, most of us understand the necessity of a college degree. Report after report make evident that education is one of the most significant factors in upward economic mobility. Still, college students face not only education loans but also consumer debt. There are so many important decisions that college students have to make in support of the ultimate goal to become financially independent. And, as tuition, books, housing and more only rise, the dream of financial independence has only become more difficult, and stressful.

Although I am no expert in financial literacy and financial aid, learning about responsible borrowing, careful budgeting, and repaying loans on time has helped lower my financial stress. The following are some simple tips I’ve learned that can alleviate financial stress and help college students manage their money.

1. Borrow responsibly. 

Federal Student Aid offers resources to help students understand the borrowing process. 

First, know how to read the financial aid package your school offers you. Be sure you can differentiate among grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study offers. You can do this by talking to the staff at your school’s financial aid office. Next, talk to your parents or those contributing to your education. Review the financial aid offer from your school, and look at your family’s finances, to decide which aid to accept or turn down. This is important in calculating how much you need to borrow in order to afford your education. You do not need to accept the full amount of loan money that’s offered to you; and understanding that concept will leave you with less debt in the future.

2. Budget carefully.

Budgeting is vital to lowering stress. By adopting responsible budgeting habits, you’ll learn planning skills to help manage multiple priorities and prepare for the future. Healthy budgeting practices provide dual opportunities for money-saving and time-management techniques. Budgeting is a great financial foundation and can be a stepping-stone to handling greater financial responsibility, leaving lifelong benefits.

3. Repay on time.

Repayment is the final step of the student loan process and lasts long after you graduate. If you do your research, the repayment process can go a lot more smoothly.

One way to reduce your stress is to understand the different repayment plans. You might find that you meet the criteria for making payments based on your income. Use the Repayment Estimator to help you understand the different repayment plans and decide which one is best for you. Then contact your loan servicer to see how to apply for the plan that best fits your situation.

Another thing to be aware of is that there are certain loan forgiveness options, including one for those who work full-time in public service. Knowing who qualifies and how to apply can ease the stress you feel about your debt as well.

Lastly, know that forbearance and deferment (ways to postpone or reduce your payments) are options if special circumstances arise. Understanding what’s best for your situation and applying in a timely manner is something you need to be aware of and talk to your servicer about.

As the report says, “Postsecondary education is essential to the economic health of our nation and to the economic opportunity of many Americans,” and each of our personal financial decisions contributes to that!

Megan McCusker is a sophomore at Loyola University Maryland studying History and Spanish. She served an intern for U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.