Top 5 Questions about Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans

Subsidized VS Unsubsidized Loans: Let's Compare!

So you filed your FAFSA and got accepted to a college. Congrats! Your school will send you an award letter that lists different types and amounts of financial aid you’re eligible for. These types of aid could include grants, scholarships, work-study funds, or student loans. You might see two types of federal student loans in your letter: Direct Unsubsidized Loan and Direct Subsidized Loan. Some people refer to these loans as Stafford Loans or Direct Stafford Loans or just subsidized and unsubsidized loans. It’s important you know the basics about these two types of loans before you sign to accept either of them.

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9 Myths About the FSA ID

Get an FSA ID

As a graduate student, I‘m no stranger to filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), and when I filed my 2016-17 FAFSA, I was prompted to create an FSA ID—the username and password you need to log in to the FAFSA. I followed the step-by-step instructions, and voila! I easily created my very own FSA ID in no time!

2016-17 FAFSA Login with FSA ID

Login options on fafsa.gov

The FSA ID replaced the Federal Student Aid PIN (check out this blog post explaining why). Students, parents, and borrowers must use an FSA ID to log on to certain Department of Education (ED) websites like fafsa.gov, StudentAid.gov, and StudentLoans.gov. The FSA ID is a more secure way to access and sign important documents without using personally identifiable information (PII).

More than 30 million FSA IDs have been created, and people, like me, have used their FSA ID more than 146 million* times. With any new process, there are some myths floating around about creating and using an FSA ID. Let’s tackle some of those right now…

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4 Steps to Understanding and Comparing Financial Aid Offers

Students sitting on bench.

When I was in my last semester of high school, I checked my family’s mailbox just as much as I checked Snapchat and Instagram combined. It was the season of admissions decisions, and I was getting letters from all the colleges I’d applied to.

But once I’d gotten into several schools, my attention shifted to my e-mail inbox. I was waiting on information that was just as critical: my financial aid offer from each college. I knew that for me, the amount of financial aid I got from a school mattered just as much as the general admissions decision. I’d fallen in love with each of the schools I’d visited, and I knew I’d be happy anywhere. Basically, my choice was going to come down to the money.

Analyzing different aid packages can seem like way too much math for the end of your senior year—at least it did to me—but it’s important stuff. Check out my four steps to make this analysis simpler.


What to do once you get an aid offer

1. Make sure you know what you’re looking at.

The financial aid offer (sometimes called an award letter) typically comes in an e-mail from the college’s financial aid office. The offer includes the types and amounts of financial aid you’re eligible to receive from federal, state, private, and school sources. Be sure you understand what each type of aid is and whether it needs to be paid back. For example, when I got into UNC-Chapel Hill, my aid offer was a mix of scholarships, which I didn’t need to pay back, and private loans, which I did. My offer from Duke (booooo) had mainly the same stuff with some grant money mixed in.

Click to download PDF.

Click to download PDF.

Lucky for you, hundreds of colleges nationwide have signed on to present financial aid offers in a standardized format known as the Shopping Sheet. The Shopping Sheet is a standardized award letter template that makes it easy to compare financial aid offers from different schools. In addition to providing personalized information on financial aid and net costs, the Shopping Sheet also provides general information on the college, like graduation rate and loan default rate.

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Scholarship Basics and Tips

Scholarship image

We all know college is super expensive; not only do you have to pay tuition, but there’s also room and board (for those of you staying on campus), a meal plan (yay for cafeteria food…), and textbooks (buying hundred-dollar books for one chapter). It’s a lot. Luckily for us, there’s help: scholarships! Of course there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually be awarded any money, and sometimes it can seem like a whole lot of work for a whole lot of nothing. But that’s why I’m here! I’ve gone through the process recently (and am doing it again), and I’m at your service with suggestions and tips.

A lot of these tips come from StudentAid.gov/scholarships, so check out that page for a more comprehensive, detailed guide to scholarships.


 Types of Scholarships

There are scholarships for almost everything—all you have to do is look. Applying for scholarships doesn’t have to be tedious—find scholarships for things you’re passionate about. Some scholarships are really cool. There are scholarships for animal rescue, volunteering with the elderly, etc.; you can find them through specific organizations, too.

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4 Things You Should Consider When Choosing A College

4 things to consider when choosing a college

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:

College Scorecard - sample net cost of a college.

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5 Things To Do After Filing Your FAFSA

After the FAFSA

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.)

View your SAR

Click to enlarge

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.

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School Counselors, Meet the Financial Aid Toolkit

Happy National School Counseling Week! Many thanks to all you school counselors out there for your hard work and dedication.

Financial Aid Toolkit Screenshot

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:

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.

Top 5 FAFSA FAQs for 2016–17

Have you completed the FAFSA? Don't wait!

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.

2016-17 FAFSA Login with FSA ID

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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.

2016-17 FAFSA Parent Signature

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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.

2016-17 FAFSA Will File Taxes

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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.

Sample FAFSA Deadlines

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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.

2016-17- FAFSA Renewal

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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?

2016-17 Start FAFSA

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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.

 

Miles and miles apart? It’s easy for you and your child to fill out the FAFSA!

Mother and daughter hugging near car

If your child is a dependent student and is applying for federal student aid, youthe 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.”

FAFSA Login Screen

Click to enlarge


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.

Create Save Key Page

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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!

FAFSA.gov Homepage

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Enter student's info to login to the FAFSA

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FAFSA continue application page

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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.

Student signature page

Click to enlarge

 

Parent signature page

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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.

FAFSA confirmation page

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Next Steps

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.


Photo by Getty Images.

April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid.

The FSA ID: Your First Step to Getting Financial Aid for College

Do You Have An FSA ID Yet?

We all know college is super expensive, and I’m sure that you, like me, would welcome any and all help in paying for it. Luckily for us, that’s where the government comes in. “But how do I get them to help pay my tuition?” you may ask. While I (unfortunately) can’t guarantee you any money, I can tell you a good way to go about getting some of that financial help: Fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). To do that, you are going to need an FSA ID.

What is the FSA ID?

The FSA ID recently replaced the PIN as the way you log in to certain U.S. Department of Education (ED) websites, including fafsa.gov. It consists of a username and password and is basically the electronic equivalent of your signature. It’s easy to set up, and you can get one on a variety of ED websites. (I would recommend StudentAid.gov/fsaid because there is also a lot of good information and advice about student aid and the FSA ID there).

Incoming College Students

Everyone who will be in college next year and plans on applying for federal financial aid should get an FSA ID. If next year will be your first year in college, just go ahead and create your FSA ID and use it to sign your FAFSA. What happens next is that ED checks your information with the Social Security Administration to make sure it matches. That takes about one to three days. During that time, you will only be able to use your FSA ID to sign your new FAFSA (that’s the main thing though, so don’t stress). Then, after the Social Security Administration match is done, you should receive an e-mail letting you know that you’ll now be able to use your FSA ID on a number of ED websites.

I know that applying for federal student aid can be a stressful experience, but don’t worry! The FSA ID is easy to figure out. You can go to StudentAid.gov/fsaid and it will provide some super helpful information such as what you should gather beforehand, and a link to create your own FSA ID—plus it will walk you through the entire process.

To get an FSA ID, you’ll need this information:

  • your Social Security number
  • your full and correct name
  • your date of birth

Current College Students

If, like me, you are already in college, you probably filled out your previous FAFSA using a Federal Student Aid PIN. If you’ll be returning to college next year and are applying for more federal student aid, you will need to get an FSA ID—the PIN won’t work anymore. When creating your FSA ID, there will be an option to enter your PIN and link the two. Even if you’ve forgotten your PIN, you can answer the challenge question you created while creating your PIN and still be able to link your PIN to your FSA ID. You can find more information about all this at StudentAid.gov/fsaid.

Linking your PIN can save you time because your information won’t have to be matched by the Social Security Administration if it was already matched when you created your PIN. If that’s the case, then your FSA ID is ready for full use right away—which means you’ll be able to sign a Master Promissory Note for a student loan, or fill out your Renewal FAFSA, right away.

If you don’t remember your PIN or didn’t have one, don’t worry. You can still create an FSA ID from scratch.

Video on How to Create an FSA ID:

Some Tips About the FSA ID

  • Keep your FSA ID in a safe place and/or memorize it. It’s your legal signature. Keep it a secret.
  • One of your parents might need an FSA ID as well. If you’re considered a dependent student and need to provide information about your parents on the FAFSA, one of your parents will have to sign the application. He or she can sign electronically with his or her own FSA ID.
  • If you share an e-mail address with someone else, only one of you will be able to use that e-mail address to create an FSA ID. Each FSA ID can be associated with only one e-mail address. So, for instance, if you’re a dependent student, and you and your mom share an e-mail address, one of you should get a new e-mail address before creating an FSA ID.
  • Make your FSA ID early! Don’t leave it until right before your FAFSA is due. That adds a lot of stress (I would know!!!) that you don’t need.

Megan Friebe is a freshman at Michigan State University, where she spends her days studying public affairs and social policy, her evenings studying the same thing, and, if she’s lucky, her nights sleeping. She also manages to find time to intern with the Customer Experience team in the office of Federal Student Aid at the U.S. Department of Education.