A college or career school education = more money, more job options, and more freedom. Yet, with more than 7,000 colleges and universities nationwide, deciding which college is right for you can be difficult. Maybe you want to find a school with the best nursing program, or study abroad options, or the best college basketball team; every person values different things. However, it’s also important to remember that college is one of the biggest financial investments you will make in yourself. Just as important as academics and extracurricular activities are the financial factors: how much a college costs, whether students are likely to graduate on time, and, if alumni are able to find good jobs and pay off their loans. That is why the U.S. Department of Education developed the College Scorecard. It provides clear information to answer all of your questions regarding college costs, graduation, debt, and post-college earnings.
As you’re comparing colleges, use the College Scorecard to compare these four things:
1. Net Cost
For starters, you should consider how much you’ll actually be paying on an annual basis. That’s not necessarily the sticker price, but it’s the sticker price minus all of the scholarships and grants that you will receive when enrolling in an institution. This is called the net price, and it’s important because it’s the average amount students actually pay out of pocket.The College Scorecard can show you the average net price of each school compared to the national average. It can also give you a net price estimate for each school broken down by family income. Here’s an example:
Student loans, interest payments, and taxes: three things that have scared many people for years now. Read on to learn how these things can benefit you. Just as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man learned when they followed the yellow brick road, once you look at the bigger picture you’ll realize you had the resources to face your fears all along!
If you made federal student loan payments in 2015, you may be eligible to deduct a portion of the interest paid on your 2015 federal tax return. This is known as a student loan interest deduction. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to make the money you’ve paid work for you! Below are some questions and answers to help you learn more about reporting student loan interest payments from IRS Form 1098-E on your 2015 taxes and potentially get this deduction.
What is IRS Form 1098-E?
IRS Form 1098-E is the Student Loan Interest Statement that your federal loan servicer will use to report student loan interest payments to both the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and to you.
Will I receive a 1098-E?
If you paid $600 or more in interest to a federal loan servicer during the tax year, you will receive at least one 1098-E.
The IRS only requires federal loan servicers to report payments on IRS Form 1098-E if the interest received from the borrower in the tax year was $600 or more, although some federal loan servicers still send 1098-Es to borrowers who paid less than that.
If you paid less than $600 in interest to a federal loan servicer during the tax year and do not receive a 1098-E, you may contact your servicer for the exact amount of interest you paid during the year so you can then report that amount on your taxes.
How many 2015 1098-Es should I expect to receive?
That depends on how much you paid in interest, how many federal loan servicers you had, and some other factors. Read through the scenarios below to find where you fit and know how many 2015 1098-Es you should expect.
Your current servicer was your only servicer in 2015: In this case, your current federal loan servicer will provide you with a copy of your 1098-E if you paid interest of $600 or more in 2015. Your servicer may send your 1098-E to you electronically or via U.S. mail.
You had multiple servicers in 2015: In this case, each of your federal loan servicers will provide you with a copy of your 1098-E if you paid interest of $600 or more to that individual servicer in 2015. Your servicer may send your 1098-E to you electronically or via U.S. mail.
If you paid less than $600 in interest to any of your federal loan servicers, you may need to contact each servicer as necessary to find out the exact amount of interest you paid during the year.
How will reporting my student loan interest payments on my 2015 taxes benefit me?
Reporting the amount of student loan interest you paid in 2015 on your federal tax return may count as a deduction. A deduction reduces the amount of your income that is subject to tax, which may benefit you by reducing the amount of tax you may have to pay.
Now that you know student loans, interest rates, and taxes aren’t as scary as you may have originally thought, you are ready to report your student loan interest rates on your 2015 federal tax return!
But what if I still need help or have more questions?
While we are not tax advisors and cannot advise you on your federal tax return questions, your federal loan servicer is available to assist you with any questions about your student loans, including questions about IRS Form 1098-E and reporting the student loan interest you’ve paid on your 2015 taxes. If you’re not sure who your loan servicer is, visit My Federal Student Aid to find contact information for the loan servicer or lender for your loans. To see a list of our federal loan servicers, go to the Loan Servicers page on StudentAid.gov.
Noemi Solares is a Management and Program Analyst at Federal Student Aid.
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.
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:
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?
Log in using your FSA ID (You can’t use your Federal Student Aid PIN anymore!)
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
I’ll admit it. February is not my favorite month because it reminds me of tax returns, bad weather and well, finding my tax information. Ugh. If you are like me, a world-class procrastinator that agonizes every year at the thought of filing a tax return and submitting a FAFSA®, then you are not alone. You also know that it can be time consuming. So, here is why you should use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to instantly transfer your tax information directly into your FAFSA:
1. What is the IRS DRT and how do I use it?
You can find the IRS DRT in the “Financial Information” section of the FAFSA. To use the tool, be sure to indicate that you already completed your tax return. Answer the remaining questions and log in using your FSA ID:
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If your tax return information is available and if you are eligible to use it, you will be transferred to the tool. Make sure to provide your information exactly as you provided it on your tax return:
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You will be able to preview your tax information before agreeing to have it directly transferred to your FAFSA.
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When you return to the FAFSA, you’ll see the relevant questions populated with your information automatically. It’s that easy!
2. Why use this tool?
It’s so easy that it only takes a couple of clicks to transfer all your tax information.
It can be used by both students and parents.
Most importantly, it is accurate so you don’t have to worry about entering the wrong tax information on your FAFSA.
4. If I already completed the FAFSA using estimates, can I use the IRS DRT to update my FAFSA once I filed my taxes?
Yes, if you estimated, you will have to update your FAFSA once you have filed your taxes anyway. So why not use the IRS DRT? It’s the easiest way to update your FAFSA. To update your estimates, click “Make FAFSA Corrections” after logging in to fafsa.gov. Navigate to the “Financial Information” section and indicate that you have already completed your taxes. If your tax return information is available and if you are eligible to do so, you should follow the same prompts listed above to transfer your tax return information to your application.
5. Why can’t I use the IRS DRT?
If you’re not seeing the IRS DRT, there may be a few reasons why:
It is not available for use yet.
You indicated that you will file or are not going to file a federal income tax return.
Your marital status changed after Dec. 31 of the previous calendar year.
The student/parent filed a Form 1040X amended tax return.
The student/parent filed a Puerto Rican or foreign tax return.
If you are not able to use the IRS DRT, don’t worry. Although you’ll be required to enter your tax information manually, we have great resources on StudentAid.gov that walk you through the process.
Now that you know the secret to transferring your tax information to the FAFSA, I hope you will enjoy the time you saved!
Zelma Barrett is a Management and Program Analyst at Federal Student Aid.
Congratulations! You submitted your 2016–17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)! Wondering what happens next? Here are a few things to look out for:
1. Review Your Student Aid Report (SAR)
After you submit your FAFSA, you’ll get a Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR is a summary of the FAFSA data you submitted. Once you have submitted your FAFSA, you’ll get your SAR within three days (if you signed your FAFSA online) or three weeks (if you mailed a signature page.)
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Any student with an FSA ID can view and print his or her SAR by logging in to fafsa.gov and clicking on the appropriate school year. This is also where you can check the status of your application if you have not received your SAR yet. Once you get your SAR, you should review it carefully to make sure it’s correct and complete.
2. Review Your EFC
When reviewing your SAR, look for the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) number. Your EFC can be found in the box at the top of the first page of your SAR, under your Social Security number.
Your EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law. This formula considers the following about you (and your parents, if you’re dependent):
Taxed and untaxed income
Benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security)
Number of family members who will attend college during the year
Schools use your EFC to determine your federal student aid eligibility and your financial aid award. However, it’s important to remember that your EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college nor is it the amount of federal student aid you will receive. It is a number used by your school to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Contact your school’s financial aid office if you have any questions about how they calculate financial aid.
3. Make Corrections If You Need To
It’s important to make sure that everything on your FAFSA is correct and complete, as your school may ask you to verify some of the information. Most of the questions on the FAFSA want to know your situation as of the day you sign the FAFSA. However, there are some instances in which you’ll want to (or be required to) change the information you reported.
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TIP: You must wait for your most recent FAFSA submission to process before you can update or make corrections to your FAFSA. That usually take about three days.
Most FAFSA information cannot be updated because it must be accurate as of the day you originally signed your FAFSA. However, there are certain items that you must update. If there will be a significant change in your or your parent’s income for the present year or if your family has other circumstances that cannot be reported on the FAFSA, you should speak to the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend.
4. Review Your Financial Aid History
The last page of your SAR includes information about your financial aid history, specifically the student loans you have taken out. It’s important to keep track of how much you’re borrowing and to understand the terms and conditions of the loan.
TIP: You can always access your financial aid history by logging into My Federal Student Aid. Make sure you have your FSA ID ready.
5. Double-Check With Your Schools
Lastly, make sure that you double-check with the financial aid offices at the schools you applied to. Sometimes schools need additional paperwork or have other deadlines. You never want to leave money on the table!
Here’s a video on what happens after the FAFSA. You can find more videos on our YouTube channel.
Sandra Vuong is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Happy National School Counseling Week! Many thanks to all you school counselors out there for your hard work and dedication.
Click to visit the Financial Aid Toolkit
Many times through the years, I’ve heard how busy the typical school counselor is, with a heavy case load and no time to learn everything there is to know about financial aid. Instead, counselors have sent out a plea for a selection of short, specific items that answer the questions a student will have at various points in the financial aid lifecycle. You asked for it; we built it. It’s called the Financial Aid Toolkit.
What’s the Financial Aid Toolkit?
FinancialAidToolkit.ed.gov is a site that was designed specifically for you, the school counselor, to give you information and resources that will help you educate students and parents about federal student aid for college.
What does the Financial Aid Toolkit offer?
It offers a lot, so be sure to explore the site. Meanwhile, here are some highlights:
Searchable library of fact sheets, videos, infographics, booklets, PowerPoint presentations, archived webinars, and more
FAFSA updates, including a list of which documents will be available on what dates
Why shouldn’t a counselor recommend the Financial Aid Toolkit to students and parents?
The Financial Aid Toolkit speaks to YOU, the counselor. It does not have the type of information or level of detail that a student or parent needs. Please send students and parents to StudentAid.gov for federal student aid information. (For fact sheets, videos, and other student-focused items, send students and parents to StudentAid.gov/resources.)
What else should a counselor know about the Financial Aid Toolkit?
Because the site is designed for you, your feedback is crucial to its success. At the bottom of each page, there’s a “Leave Us Feedback” link that’ll send you to the site survey so you can let us know what you like or what you’d like to see added to the site.
Remember, the Financial Aid Toolkit site is for you. Use it in good health!
Cindy Forbes Cameron has worked at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid for a million years—or perhaps 17. (Hard to tell the difference sometimes.) Cindy focuses on website content management and document creation and editing. She loves serving the school counselor/college access mentor community via the Financial Aid Toolkit, listserv postings, and conference exhibiting and speaking.
I’ve seen online ads claiming that “Obama Wants to Forgive Your Student Loans!” or “Erase Default Statuses in 4–6 Weeks!” The link takes you to companies that want to help you manage your loans — for a fee. You never need to pay for help with your student loans. For the great price of free, the U.S. Department of Education can help you:
Your loan servicer — the company that collects your payments on behalf of the Department of Education can also help you with these goals for free. If you need help with your debt, you should contact your servicer. Click here for a list of servicers’ contact information.
And you should — because you never need to pay for these services.
Some debt relief companies charge a lot. Our research shows that some companies charge upfront consolidation fees as high as $999 or 1 percent of the loan balance (whichever is higher); “enrollment” or “subscription” fees up to $600; or monthly account “maintenance” fees as high as $50 per month. That’s money out of your pocket for services that are available to you for free.
Unfortunately, some companies act unethically or illegally to get your business — misrepresenting themselves as having a relationship with the Department of Education by using our logos, violating students’ privacy by inappropriately using their FSA IDs, and claiming that government programs are their own. In fact, yesterday, the Department sent two of these companies cease and desist letters because they have inappropriately used our logo, giving the impression that they are working with or for the government.
We are taking action to crackdown on these companies and continuing our efforts to protect student borrowers.
Throughout the Obama Administration we’ve worked to ensure student borrowers are protected and have worked across agencies in doing so. For example, the Department of Education has convened an interagency Joint Task Force on the Oversight and Accountability of For-Profit Institutions. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have been active in looking at possible deceptive practices in the debt-relief business.
The extent of the problem with debt relief companies is demonstrated by numerous legal actions around the country. In January of 2014, the New York Student Protection Unit issued subpoenas to 13 student debt relief companies as part of an investigation into concerns about potentially misleading advertising, improper fees, and other consumer protection problems in that industry. Over the past two years, the Florida, Illinois and Minnesota Attorneys General all took separate actions against firms found to have misled borrowers. A number of states and our enforcement partners are stepping up to help protect borrowers, but the first line of defense is making sure you know your rights.
We’re making it easier to distinguish between Department sites and private companies’ pages to make sure students and families aren’t mistakenly lured into paying for services available for free. For instance, last year we reached a settlement with a company to obtain a web address it was using — FAFSA.com — to market its for-profit service charging students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This settlement reduced confusion among students and parents who may have thought they were using a federal website rather than a commercial one. We also trademarked many of our forms’ names and taglines.
We are strengthening our internal systems to ensure continued protection of students’ information. For instance, under the new FSA ID, there is a delay for borrowers trying to recover their password to ensure that third-party companies are not inappropriately accessing peoples’ accounts.
Always remember: Keep your FSA ID private and think twice before signing on to pay for a service you can get for free. Sharing your FSA ID puts you at risk.
If you think that you’ve been scammed then learn your options. Many state governments have an Office of Consumer Affairs or Consumer Protection either within or affiliated with, the Office of the state’s Attorney General. At the federal level, the FTC and the CFPB have the authority to act against companies that engage in deceptive or unfair practices. Click on the links to file your complaint with either of those agencies; or you can call the CFPB at 1–855–411–2372.
Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.
TRUE! You might have heard that you can’t complete the 2016–17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) until you file your 2015 taxes. This is actually a myth! The FAFSA allows you to use estimated financial information if you select “Will file” on the question about whether you’ve completed your 2015 tax return.
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The subsequent questions will ask about “2015” financial information, but you’re allowed to use 2014 numbers in these fields for now so you can get your FAFSA submitted early. Don’t worry, you won’t get in trouble for using estimated financial information; just make sure you update your FAFSA after you and/or your parents file 2015 taxes. Below are answers to common questions about submitting a FAFSA before filing taxes.
Why is it important to fill out the FAFSA early?
Some states, schools, scholarships, and other aid programs have deadlines that occur before you’re able to file taxes. If you wait, you could miss out on that money unless you use estimates and submit the FAFSA early. Did you know that some aid is first come, first served? That means once the pool of funding runs out (awarded to the early birds), there won’t be any money left for late FAFSA filers. You can find state deadlines on the FAFSA website.
However, we do not have a listing of every school’s deadline since they’re all different. You have to check with each school about their FAFSA deadline. If there is a scholarship or grant you’re applying for, check their FAFSA deadline too. Submit your FAFSA by your earliest deadline to maximize your financial aid.
How do I fill out the FAFSA if I haven’t filed taxes?
If your income from 2015 was similar to your income from 2014, use your 2014 taxes to estimate your financial information. If your 2015 income was very different from your 2014 income, use the income estimator (available within the FAFSA) to estimate financial information rather than basing your estimates on your 2014 taxes. Just click on the blue Income Estimator button, and the calculator will expand.
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How do I update my FAFSA once I’ve filed taxes?
After you file taxes, click Make FAFSA Corrections after logging in to fafsa.gov. Navigate to the “Finances” section and change your tax filing status to “Already completed.” From here, the FAFSA has a tool that allows you to automatically import tax information from the IRS into your FAFSA. This is called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) and it will be available on Feb. 7, 2016. You may not be able to use the IRS DRT immediately after you file taxes. You have to wait a few weeks after you file taxes before your tax data can be imported into the FAFSA.
After importing your tax information into the FAFSA, sign and submit your FAFSA. Remember, if you don’t see the confirmation page at fafsa.gov, you haven’t submitted your FAFSA yet. Be sure to read all the instructions as you sign and submit the FAFSA, and look for that confirmation page before you close your browser. Got it? Okay! Go meet those deadlines!
Sandra Vuong is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is the first step in accessing the more than $150 billion available in federal student aid. To help you get a head start on your FAFSA, below are the answers to the top 5 questions we’ve been getting on our Facebook and Twitter accounts:
1. What is an FSA ID and do I need one?
The FSA ID is a username and password you use to log in to your FAFSA. You should get an FSA ID before you start the FAFSA. If you are required to provide parent information on your FAFSA, one of your parents needs an FSA ID too. Keep in mind that parents should not be making an FSA ID for their child or vice versa.
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Parents will use their FSA ID to sign a dependent child’s FAFSA. However, if they are unable to get an FSA ID, they can mail a signature page.
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Go here to get an FSA ID now. The FSA ID does not define if you are a student or parent, the process of getting an FSA ID is the same for both.
2. How can I complete the FAFSA if my parents or I haven’t filed 2015 taxes yet?
When filling out the 2016–17 FAFSA, you’ll want to use financial information from the 2015 tax year. At this point in the year, many people haven’t received their Form W-2, let alone completed their 2015 taxes. But that shouldn’t stop you from submitting the FAFSA! If you or your parents have not completed your taxes yet, you can estimate your income and other tax return information, and then correct your application after you have filed your taxes.
If your 2015 income is similar to your 2014 income, use your 2014 tax return to provide estimates for questions about your income. If your income is not similar, use the Income Estimator for assistance estimating your adjusted gross income, and answer the remaining questions about your income to the best of your ability. If you do not know your parent’s tax information, we have a guide on how to complete the FAFSA if you and your parent are not together.
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Note: Once you complete your 2015 tax return, you’ll need to update your FAFSA. When you do so, you may be eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the FAFSA. This allows you to transfer data directly into your FAFSA from the IRS website.
3. When is the FAFSA deadline?
States, schools, and the federal government each have their own FAFSA filing deadlines. It is important that you research all of these deadlines and complete the FAFSA by your earliest deadline. That being said, because some types of aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it is highly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid.
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4. Do I have to complete the FAFSA every year?
Yes, you need to fill out the FAFSA each school year because your eligibility for financial aid can differ from year to year for various reasons, including your family’s financial situation and the number of your family members enrolled in college. If you filled out a FAFSA last year and want to renew it, go to fafsa.gov, click “Login”, and be sure to select “FAFSA Renewal” once given the option. That way, many of the (nonfinancial) questions will be pre-filled for you. Just be sure to update any information that has changed since last year.
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5. Which FAFSA should I complete?
When you log into fafsa.gov, you will be given two different options: “Start a 2015–16 FAFSA” and “Start a 2016–17 FAFSA.” Which should you choose?
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If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, select “Start a 2015–16 FAFSA.”
If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, select “Start a 2016–17 FAFSA.”
Remember, you must complete the FAFSA each school year, so if you’ll be attending college during both periods of time, you should fill out both applications.
TIP: If you need to fill out both applications, complete the 2015–16 FAFSA first. That way, when you complete the 2016–17 FAFSA, a lot of your info will automatically roll over.
If you are applying for a summer session, or just don’t know which application to complete, check with the college you are planning to attend.
We hope this answers some of your questions! If you have additional questions about the FAFSA, you leave us a comment below. We also have videos on our YouTube channel. For more information about completing the FAFSA, visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa.
Sandra Vuong is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.
If your child is a dependent student and is applying for federal student aid, you—the parent(s)—may need to provide some of your information on and sign the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Now, it’s easier than ever for you and your child to complete the FAFSA…even if you’re not in the same place. Help is also available for every question, just look for the “Help and Hints” box on the right side of each screen.
Step 1: You and your child must each create an FSA ID
The first step to filling out the FAFSA is for you and your child to each create your own FSA ID, a username and password. The FSA ID replaces the Federal Student Aid PIN and is required to sign the FAFSA electronically.
IMPORTANT TIP #1: Do not create an FSA ID for your child. Let your child create his/her own. Otherwise, your child could experience problems or delays with his or her financial aid.
Step 2: Start the FAFSA
You or your child can start a new FAFSA. If your child starts the application, he or she should enter his or her FSA ID on the left side of the log-in page. But, if you start the application, select “Enter the student’s information” on the right. Be sure to follow the instructions on each screen to proceed.
IMPORTANT TIP #2: If the parent is starting the FAFSA, DO NOT enter your child’s FSA ID or your FSA ID on this page. Instead, click “Enter the student’s information.”
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Step 3: Create a Save Key
After selecting which FAFSA you’d like to start, you’ll be given the option to create what’s called a “Save Key.” It’s a temporary password that lets you save an incomplete FAFSA, pass the FAFSA back and forth with your child, and return to the application later to add information. Think of it as your key to accessing the draft FAFSA.
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IMPORTANT TIP #3: Once you create your Save Key, make a note of it. Unlike the FSA ID, you and your child can share the Save Key.
So, let’s say your child is away at school and starts his or her FAFSA. He or she can click the “SAVE” button at the bottom of the page and exit. You can then log in at FAFSA.gov using your child’s identifiers and the save key, and pick up where he or she left off!
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From here, you can enter your financial information or any other information that’s missing from your child’s FAFSA.
Step 4: Sign and submit the FAFSA
After you and your child have filled out all the necessary information, you both need to sign the FAFSA. If you’re not in the same location, one of you can sign by navigating to the “Sign & Submit” section, entering your username and password (your FSA ID) clicking the “SIGN” button, saving, then closing the application. The other person can then log in at fafsa.gov using the Save Key, navigate to the “Sign & Submit” section, and sign the application using his or her FSA ID.
Make sure the parent who is signing with the FSA ID checks whether he/she is listed on the FAFSA as Parent 1 or Parent 2 and checks the appropriate box.
IMPORTANT TIP #4: You and your child should enter your own FSA ID in the correct spot—student above and parent below.
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IMPORTANT TIP #5: If you are a parent without a Social Security number, you will not be able to create an FSA ID and will not be able to sign the FAFSA electronically. But, your child can submit the FAFSA without a parent signature, then print a paper signature page for you to sign and return by mail.
Once you and your child have signed the FAFSA, click the blue “SUBMIT MY FAFSA NOW” button at the bottom of the page. Your child’s FAFSA is not submitted until you see the confirmation page. It’s a good idea to print the confirmation page for your records. If your child provided an e-mail address, he or she will receive a copy of the confirmation page by e-mail.
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Once your child’s FAFSA is submitted, it will take three to five days to process. Information on your child’s FAFSA will be made available to the financial aid offices of the schools listed. The school or schools will use the information to determine what aid your child may be eligible to receive.
IMPORTANT TIP #6: On the confirmation page, you’ll see an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Please note, the EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college or the amount of federal student aid you will receive. It is a number used by your school to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive.
The confirmation page also provides some financial aid estimates. Please keep in mind that these are true estimates. You may qualify for different amounts or additional types of aid. In order to find out the exact amount and types of aid you’re eligible to receive, you’ll need to wait to receive an aid award from each school you listed.
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April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid.