This past spring, I had the pleasure of traveling out to Phoenix, Arizona to meet with various counselors, mentors, and college access professionals to learn more about how they are getting ready for the upcoming FAFSA season. With the FAFSA launching earlier this year on October 1, many of you have started to organize events and prepare to help students and parents through the financial aid process. As a former college counselor, my biggest piece of advice to you is to familiarize yourself with the Financial Aid Toolkit. It is a goldmine of information that can help answer many of your questions and assist with your financial aid planning process. Also, here’s some advice from a few of our key partners on how to make this process fun and exciting.
Freshmen orientation. You can almost smell the nerves in the room, but you’re not worried. Dorm room, check. Class schedule, check. Textbooks, check. Watching your siblings and friends go through their college years has prepared you for the years ahead. Surely there were bumps and bruises, but there’s bound to be people on campus to help you avoid making life changing mistakes and make the most of your time at the school. Right?
Here at the Department of Education, we asked some of our interns for any advice they would extend to incoming freshmen to make their college years un-regrettable…
There are two exciting changes coming to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) process this year.
1. The 2017–18 FAFSA will be available earlier.
You can file your 2017–18 FAFSA as early as Oct. 1, 2016, rather than beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. The earlier submission date will be a permanent change, enabling you to complete and submit a FAFSA as early as October 1 every year.
2. You’ll use earlier income and tax information.
Beginning with the 2017–18 FAFSA, you’ll be required to report income and tax info from an earlier tax year. For example, on the 2017–18 FAFSA, you—and your parent(s), as appropriate—will report your 2015 income and tax info, rather than your 2016 income and tax info.
If you work in public service, you already know that feeling of self-fulfillment that comes from helping others, but you might not realize a potential added benefit of your public service work: federal student loan forgiveness.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer. I know what you’re thinking … “qualifying” is used a lot of times in that sentence. How would you possibly know if you qualify? You don’t have to guess; there’s an easy way to determine your eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Submit an Employment Certification Form (sometimes called an ECF).
1. What’s an ECF and why should I submit it?
An ECF is a form that you can complete and submit to keep track of your progress toward loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. It requires you to provide some basic information about you (the borrower) and your employer. Both you and your employer are required to certify that the information on your ECF is true, complete, and correct. Once you submit your form, the PSLF servicer will determine if your loans are eligible for PSLF and if your employer qualifies. Qualifying public service employment can include government work, teaching in a public school, or working at a non-profit organization.
If you’re a parent of a dependent undergraduate student or if you’re someone planning to attend graduate school, you’ve probably heard of the PLUS loan. The Direct PLUS Loan is a federal loan program that’s available specifically for these two groups of people to help cover the remaining cost of attending school after all other financial aid has been applied. Below we’ll explain the requirements, application process, and some tips if you’re considering getting a PLUS loan.
Requirements to Receive a PLUS Loan
No Adverse Credit History
A credit history is a summary of your financial strength, including your history of paying bills and your ability to repay future loans. To qualify for a PLUS loan, you cannot have an adverse credit history.
Your child is going to college or career school—that’s great! But you may have questions about how to pay for it. If your child hasn’t completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), ask your child to complete it today. Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free and quick, and it gives your child access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school, including loans YOU can receive.
After applying for financial aid, your child may receive an aid offer from the school that includes grants, federal work-study, scholarships, school and state aid, and federal student loans. Those federal loans may include a Direct PLUS Loan that you can get as a parent borrower. PLUS loans are an excellent option if you need money to pay your child’s education expenses, but you’ll want to make sure you understand the loan terms before you get one. Once you’ve taken out a PLUS loan, you must repay it, even if your child doesn’t complete their degree, can’t find a job related to their program of study, or if you or your child are unhappy with the education you paid for with your loan.
If you’re having difficulty repaying your federal student loans, then you might want to consider a deferment or forbearance. These two temporary solutions allow you to stop making or, in some instances, to lower your monthly federal student loan payment. While both can be helpful solutions if you’re experiencing temporary hardship, they aren’t great long-term solutions because they can be costly, and if you aren’t careful, your loan balance could be higher when your deferment or forbearance period ends.
Before you apply, here’s some information that can help you decide if deferment or forbearance is the best option for you.
1. Should I choose a deferment or forbearance?
The two main differences between deferment and forbearance are
- the situations under which you may qualify, and
- whether or not you’ll be charged interest when you’re not making payments.
Most borrowers first apply for a deferment because it’s usually the best option and then if they aren’t eligible for it, their loan servicer (the organization that manages your student loan) may grant a forbearance.
Your last high school prom is over and for most of you, graduation has come and gone. Yes, freedom and plans for a fun-filled summer are just around the corner. Before you know it, you’ll be loading up your belongings in the family minivan and heading off to college. You’re so ready, right? Well, maybe not. Here are some tips for things to do this summer before you head off to college.
1. Make sure your school has your financial aid ready for you
By now, you should’ve already applied for financial aid. If not, you need to complete the 2016-17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ASAP!
Early summer is a great time to check with the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend to make sure your financial aid is and all paperwork is complete. This will help you avoid any unnecessary surprises or financial aid delays when you arrive on campus.
You’ll also want to make sure you have enough money to cover any gaps between the cost of your school and the financial aid you’ve been offered. Here are 7 Options to Consider if You Didn’t Receive Enough Financial Aid.
If you’re using student loans to help you pay for college, make sure you’re borrowing only what you need and keeping track of what you’re borrowing.
Getting admitted into graduate school took a big weight off my shoulders, but it didn’t last long. I was already financially strapped from paying for four years of undergrad and I soon had to figure out how to pay for grad school. With the help of federal student aid and funding from my school, I was able to go to grad school with all my school expenses covered. If you’re preparing for grad school, here are my tips for success.
1. Start thinking about your graduate school finances early.
Before you even begin applications, you should understand what loans you already have and consider what your financial situation might look like as a graduate student. If you’re considering graduate school at the same institution you attended for undergrad, look for opportunities to get graduate credit while you’re still an undergrad. When I was an undergraduate senior, my university allowed me to take graduate courses that counted toward my master’s degree and saved me thousands in future tuition expenses.
2. Learn about the different types of federal aid for graduate students.
Your federal aid package will probably be different than what you were offered as an undergraduate. FAFSA4caster can give you an idea of what types of federal aid you will qualify for. Graduate students have a variety of federal student aid options and are considered independent on the FAFSA. Make sure you complete your FAFSA on time. You might have to complete it even before you know your admission status.
I bet many of you have seen ads on Facebook that sound something like this:
“Want Student Loan Forgiveness in Two Weeks? CALL NOW!”
“Apply for Obama Loan Forgiveness in 5 minutes!”
Usually, if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. There are countless ads online from companies offering to help you manage your student loan debt…for a fee, of course. While the U.S. Department of Education (ED) does offer some legitimate student loan forgiveness programs and ways to lower your student loan payments, they are all free to apply for. Don’t pay for help when you can get help for free!
If you’re a federal student loan borrower, ED provides free assistance to help:
- lower your monthly payment;
- consolidate your loans;
- see if you qualify for loan forgiveness; and
- get out of default.
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.
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!
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…