5 Things To Consider When Taking Out Student Loans

ThingstoConsider

Federal student loans can be a great way to help pay for college or career school. While you shouldn’t be afraid to take out federal student loans, you should be smart about it. Before you take out a loan, it’s important to understand that a loan is a legal obligation that you will be responsible for repaying with interest.

Here are some tips to help you become a responsible borrower.

  1. Research starting salaries in your field. Ask your school for starting salaries of recent graduates in your field of study to get an idea of how much you are likely to earn after you graduate. You can use the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook to estimate salaries for different careers or use a career search tool to research careers and view the average annual salary for each career.
  2. Keep track of how much you’re borrowing. Don’t wait till right before you graduate to figure this out. Think about how the amount of your loans will affect your future finances, and how much you can afford to repay. Your student loan payments should be only a small percentage of your salary after you graduate (8% is a good rule of thumb!), so it’s important not to borrow more than you need. If you’ve already borrowed for your education, you can view all of your federal student loan information in one place. Go  to nslds.ed.gov, select Financial Aid Review, and log in. You can also use our Repayment Estimator [TP1]  to calculate what your monthly payments might be based on your current loan balance.
  3. Understand the terms of your loan and keep copies of your loan documents. When you sign your promissory note, you are agreeing to repay the loan according to the terms of the note even if you don’t complete your education, can’t get a job after you complete the program, or didn’t like the education you received.
  4. Keep in touch with your loan servicer. Your loan servicer is the company that handles the billing and other services on your federal student loan on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. When you begin paying back your loan, you will work directly with your loan servicer. Also, make sure you notify your loan servicer if you change your name, address, or Social Security number or when you graduate, withdraw from school, drop below half-time status, or transfer to another school. Staying in contact with your servicer will make it easier for you to successfully repay your student loans once you’ve left college.
  5. Stay ahead of your student loan payments. Once your loan enters repayment, you are required to make your scheduled loan payment as determined by your repayment plan.[TP2]  If you’ve done your homework, your scheduled monthly payment amount won’t be a surprise and you’ll be prepared to begin making payments. But, if you do find yourself having trouble making your scheduled loan payments, take advantage of our flexible repayment options. Contact your servicer immediately to discuss ways to keep your loan in good standing.

Remember, federal student loans are an investment in your future so invest wisely and borrow only what you need. Find out more about student loan repayment, including when repayment starts, how to make your payment, repayment plan options, and more!

Tara Marini is a communication analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid

Are You Ready to Pay for College?

On April 1st President Obama announced April as National Financial Capability Month with a focus on ensuring all Americans have the tools they need to navigate the financial world and gain economic freedom. In today’s economy, financial capability is essential for managing through some of life’s biggest transitions, including paying for college. A solid understanding of money management basics makes it easier to avoid scams, spot misleading information, and make sound financial decisions on financing your education and avoiding unmanageable debt when you graduate.

student_loans

The first step in paying for college is to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at www.fafsa.gov. Federal Student Aid has over $150 billion in financial aid available for college and it all starts with the FAFSA. The FAFSA is FREE, so you should never have to pay to have someone submit it for you. In addition, many states also have state aid available to help finance your education. You’ll want to make sure to complete your FAFSA by the priority deadline for your state to be eligible for those additional funds.  You should also spend time looking for scholarships. Many are based on your interests, community service, organization affiliations, etc. and not just your grades. StudentAid.gov has lots of great information and resources on planning and paying for college including how to search for scholarships.

Once you’ve completed your FAFSA, you won’t get a check in the mail from the government. There’s a little more to it than that. Once you’ve been accepted to the school of your choice, they will send you a financial aid award letter listing all the financial aid you are eligible for. The timing of the aid offer varies from school to school, and you could receive an aid offer as early as spring (awarding for the fall). You’ll want to be an informed consumer and make sure to closely review your aid offer. You can also compare offers from different schools to see which might be best for you. And you don’t have to accept everything that’s offered.  The rule is free money first (scholarships and grants), then earned money (work-study), and then borrowed money (federal student loans). Check out this handy chart that illustrates the order in which you should accept financial aid.

If you do have to take out student loans make sure to borrow only what you need and try and limit borrowing to federal student loans. Federal student loans typically have lower interest rates and more flexibility when it comes time to pay them back. Federal Student Aid also has a Repayment Estimator which can help you get an idea of what your monthly student loan payment may be when you graduate. This tool will help you see what impact the loans you are about to get can have on your future finances. Don’t wait until you’re ready to graduate to find out what those student loan payments might be and wonder if you can afford them!

Education is an important step in getting a good paying job and can lay the foundation for your financial future. Plan ahead and make smart decisions about how you finance it.

Susan Thares is the digital engagement lead at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid

Protecting Americans from Predatory and Poor-Performing Career Training Programs

Students at for-profit colleges represent only about 13 percent of the total higher education population, but about 31 percent of all student loans and nearly half of all loan defaults. Of the for-profit gainful employment programs analyzed by the Department of Education, the majority—72 percent—produced graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts.

Debt Graphic

The Obama Administration announced new steps on Friday to address growing concerns about burdensome student loan debt.

In an effort to reduce the number of American families with enormous debt loads, and to encourage responsible actions by colleges and programs, the Obama Administration announced new steps on Friday to address growing concerns about burdensome student loan debt by requiring career training programs to do a better job of preparing students for gainful employment.

The regulation proposed by the Department will help to strengthen students’ options for higher education by giving all career training programs an opportunity to improve, while stopping the flow of federal funding to the lowest-performing programs where the debt of former students in comparison to their earnings or the rate at which they default on their student loans consistently fail to meet minimum standards. Institutions will also be required to make public disclosures regarding the performance and outcomes of their career training programs.  The disclosures include information on costs, earnings, debt, loan repayment rates, and completion rates.

While this proposal applies equally to public, private and for-profit programs, students at for-profit colleges have had particularly concerning outcomes.

After the proposal released last week publishes in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to comment on the draft regulations. The Department will take that feedback and finalize the rule in the following months.

Read more about the gainful employment announcement.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

President Obama Announces New FAFSA Completion Initiative

Earlier today at Coral Reef High School in Miami, President Obama announced the launch of an exciting initiative to help ensure that more of America’s students take the first step towards college success: completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

FAFSA GraphicThe FAFSA Completion Initiative helps states, districts and schools give students the support they need to complete the form which serves as the gateway to accessing financial aid for college, career school, or graduate school.

The FAFSA not only gives students access to the nearly $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds that the federal government has available, but many states, schools, and private scholarships require you to submit the FAFSA before they will consider you for any financial aid they offer.

FAFSA Completion Initiative:

  • We will be partnering with states to enable them to provide to schools and districts limited, yet valuable information on student progress in completing the FAFSA  beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
  • Additionally, the Office of Federal Student Aid has updated the existing FAFSA completion tool with FAFSA completion numbers for the 2014 high school graduating class at over 25,000 high schools across the nation.
  • These new resources can help increase FAFSA completion rates, and by extension, promote college access and success.

Resources:

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

5 Things To Do After Filing Your FAFSA

Congratulations! You finished filling out the 2014-2015 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)! Now what?

1. Look Out For Your Student Aid Report

FAFSA LOGOAfter you submit your FAFSA, you’ll get a Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR is a paper or electronic document that gives you some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid as well as listing your answers to the questions on your FAFSA.

Any student with a Federal Student Aid PIN can view and print his or her SAR by logging in to www.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. If you made a mistake, make sure you go in and correct or update your FAFSA.

2. Locate Your EFC

Found your SAR? Awesome! You may want to start by looking for your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). 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. Its formula considers your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) as well as your family size and the 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.

Did you fill out FAFSA before your 2013 tax information was complete? Do you need to update any information? Did you find a mistake? Don’t worry! It’s easy to make corrections online at www.fafsa.gov. Log in and click “Make FAFSA Corrections.” You’ll need to enter your Federal Student Aid PIN to make any corrections. Corrections should be processed in 3-5 days and you should receive a revised SAR.

4. Review Your Financial Aid History Information

The last page of your SAR includes information about your financial aid history, specifically the loans you have taken out. It can be complicated and confusing to keep track of all of your loans and interest rates, but it is very important. Reviewing the financial aid history in your SAR will help you be aware of how much you are borrowing and how much you’ll owe later.

Remember: You can access your financial aid history information anytime by logging into www.nslds.ed.gov with your Federal Student Aid PIN.

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!

Rachel Connolly is freshman at The University of Michigan and virtual intern in ED’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Fill Out Your FAFSA, Get Help Paying for College

First Lady

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks during a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) workshop at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., Feb. 5, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog. Read more about AmeriCorps member Margaret Montague who advises students at T.C. Williams.

On Wednesday, during her visit to T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, First Lady Michelle Obama asked students a good question: Why would the First Lady of the United States come to a school and spend time with students “just to watch you fill out a computer form?”

The answer is that filling out one particular form – the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid – is one of the most important things students and families can do in planning for college success.

“You don’t have to be the valedictorian. You don’t have to major in a certain subject,” the First Lady said in her remarks. “You don’t even have to be at the bottom of the income ladder to receive the money.”

There is no income cutoff to qualify for financial aid, and most federal student aid programs don’t take grades into consideration when you apply.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who joined the First Lady at the event, pointed out in his remarks that recent changes have made filling out the FAFSA much easier.

“For too long, applying for financial aid and securing the best aid package has been much more complicated, and much less transparent, than it should have been,” Secretary Duncan said.

Duncan and FLOTUS

First Lady Michelle Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan talk with students working on FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms during a workshop at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., Feb. 5, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

The FAFSA, Secretary Duncan said, now uses “skip logic” so students need only to answer questions relevant to them. Improvements to the web-based form – now used by 98 percent of applicants – makes the form faster and easier to fill out, less than 30 minutes on average.

Federal Student Aid, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, provides more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds each year to more than 15 million students paying for college or career school.

“Almost everyone is eligible for some kind of financial aid, and all you have to do to access that aid is fill out this one little form,” said the First Lady. “It’s so simple.”

Talking with Students

First Lady Michelle Obama talks with students working on FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms during a workshop at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., Feb. 5, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Later, Secretary Duncan and the First Lady visited with parents and students, discussing plans for college and how the FAFSA is a key step to achieving their post-secondary dreams. They also talked with school counselors about their work with students.

You can take action by filling out the FAFSA today.

In case you missed it:
To learn more about how the federal government can help you attend college, check out http://studentaid.gov/
Jennifer Simon is Senior Policy Advisor to the First Lady.

TurboTax Users to Have New Tools to Learn About Student Loan Repayment Options

Sometimes life throws us curveballs. Maybe that curveball means losing a job, or having a hard time finding one after college. Some borrowers may have a growing family or just struggle to pay a high monthly bill. These circumstances may make it difficult for some to afford their monthly federal student loan payments. If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, you may be eligible for a repayment plan that bases your monthly payment on your income.

Income based repayment graphicBorrowers interested in these income-driven repayment plans can visit studentaid.gov to learn more, and for those that use TurboTax Online tax preparation software, a new collaboration among the U.S. Department of Education, the Treasury Department and Intuit Inc. (the company behind TurboTax) will make it easier to learn about their repayment choices.

This tax-filing season, a banner will be featured on the TurboTax software that lets users know they have options for repaying federal student loans. The banner will link to ED’s online Repayment Estimator, where users will be able to determine if they could lower their monthly student loan payments through an income-driven repayment plan. From there, users can apply for the plan that makes the most sense for them.

This new collaboration is just one step the Obama Administration is taking to make college more affordable and to tackle rising college costs. Read more about today’s announcement on our website.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Parents: Tips To Help Your Child Complete the FAFSA

Parent Blog Image

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:

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

While we provide over $150 billion in financial aid each year, the federal student aid programs are based on the assumption that it is primarily your and your child’s responsibility to pay for college.  If your child was born after January 1, 1991 then most likely he or she is considered a dependent student and you’ll need to include your information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM).

Who’s considered a parent when completing the FAFSA?

If you need to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help you:

  • If your legal parents (your biological and/or adoptive parents) are married to each other, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
  • If your legal parents are not married to each other and live together, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
  • If your parent is widowed or was never married, answer the questions about that parent.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated, follow these guidelines.

More information on who’s considered the parent can be found here: http://1.usa.gov/1fdcCy2

Who’s considered part of the household?

When completing your child’s FAFSA, you 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 in the household size.  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 I need to wait until I file my income taxes?

In some states there are deadlines for additional monies so you’ll want to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st.  You do not need to wait until you file your federal tax return.  If you haven’t done your taxes by the time you complete 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.

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’ll need to get a PIN and have all the necessary documents before you begin.  Here’s a handy checklist: http://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out

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

7 Common FAFSA Mistakes

FAFSA help

1.      Not Completing the FAFSA

I hear all kinds of reasons: “The FAFSA is too hard,” “It takes to long to complete,” I never qualify anyway, so why does it matter.” It does matter. By not completing the FAFSA you are missing out on the opportunity to qualify for what could be thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. The FAFSA takes most people 23 minutes to complete, and there is help provided throughout the application. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, there is no income cut-off when it comes to federal student aid

2.      Not Being Prepared

The online FAFSA has gotten a lot easier over the last few years. We’ve added skip logic, so you only see questions that are applicable to you. There is also an option to import your tax information from the IRS directly into the FAFSA application. But, the key to making the FAFSA simple is being prepared. You’ll save yourself a lot of time by gathering everything you need to complete the FAFSA before you start the application

3.      Not Reading Carefully

You’re on winter break and probably enjoying a vacation from reading for a couple weeks. I get it. But when it comes to completing the FAFSA, you want to read each question carefully. Too many students see delays in their financial aid for simple mistakes that could have been easily avoided.

Don’t rush through these questions:

  • Your Number of Family Members (Household size): The FAFSA has a specific definition of how you or your parents’ household size should be determined. Read the instructions carefully. Many students incorrectly report this number.
  • Amount of Your Income Tax: Income tax is not the same as income. It is the amount of tax that you (and if married, your spouse) paid on your income earned from work. Your income tax amount should not be the same as your adjusted gross income (AGI). Where you find the amount of your income tax depends on which IRS form you filed.
  • Legal Guardianship: One question on the FAFSA asks: “As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?” Many students incorrectly answer “yes” here. For this question, the definition of legal guardianship does not include your parents, even if they were appointed by a court to be your guardian. You are also not considered a legal guardian of yourself.

4.      Inputting Incorrect Information

The FAFSA is an official government form. You must enter your information as it appears on official government documents like your birth certificate and social security card. Examples:

  • Entering the Wrong Name (Yes, I’m serious): You wouldn’t believe how many people have issues with their FAFSA because they entered an incorrect name on the application. It doesn’t matter if you’re Madonna, or Drake, or whatever Snoop Lion is calling himself these days. You must enter your full name as it appears on official government documents. No nicknames.
  • Entering the Wrong Social Security Number (SSN): When we process FAFSAs, we cross check your social security number with the Social Security Administration. To avoid delays in processing your application, triple check that you have entered the correct SSN. If you meet our basic eligibility criteria, but you or your parents don’t have a SSN, follow these instructions.

5.      Not Reporting Parent Information

Even if you fully support yourself, pay your own bills, file your own taxes, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes, and therefore, you’ll need to provide your parent(s) information on your FAFSA. Dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. Find out whether or not you need to provide parent information by answering these questions.

6.      Not Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

For many, the most difficult part about filling out the FAFSA is entering in the financial information. But now, thanks to a partnership with the IRS, students and parents who are eligible can automatically transfer the necessary tax info into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This year, the tool will launch on February 2, 2014. In most cases, your information will be available from the IRS two weeks after you file. It’s also one of the best ways to prevent errors on your FAFSA and avoid any processing delays.

Note: If you used income estimates to file your FAFSA early, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to update your FAFSA two weeks after you file your 2013 taxes.

7.      Not Signing the FAFSA

So many students answer every single question that is asked, but fail to actually sign the FAFSA with their PIN and submit it. This happens for many reasons, maybe they forgot their PIN, or their parent isn’t with them to sign with the parent PIN, so the FAFSA is left unsubmitted. Don’t let this happen to you. If you don’t have or don’t know your PIN, apply for one. If you would like confirmation that your FAFSA has been submitted, you can check your status immediately after you submit your FAFSA online.

Nicole Callahan is a new media analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

7 Myths About the FAFSA and Applying for Financial Aid

myths

I’m currently a junior in college, which means the 2014-15 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM) will be the last time I complete the FAFSA. However, my sister is going to be starting college in the fall and will be filling out the FAFSA for the first time. Luckily for her, she’ll have me to help her along the way.

Looking back to the first time I completed the FAFSA, I remember some misconceptions that I had about filling it out —and some of my friends had the same ones. Turns out these myths weren’t true. The FAFSA really is an easy-to-complete, online application that will help you plan for and finance your education.

I wanted to share some of these common myths about the FAFSA and applying for financial aid with you. You can also check out Federal Student Aid’s video that addresses these common myths!

  1. I won’t qualify for financial aid because my parents (or I) make too much money.
    Actually, there isn’t an income cutoff to qualify for financial aid. Your eligibility for financial aid is based on a number of factors and not just your or your parents’ income. Plus, many states and schools use your FAFSA data to determine your eligibility for their aid. Fill out the application and find out what you can get!
  2. I don’t have good grades, so I won’t be eligible for financial aid.
    Completing the FAFSA isn’t the same as applying to college. Most federal student aid programs don’t take your grades into consideration when you apply. Just remember, once you’re in college, you do need to maintain satisfactory academic progress  in order to continue receiving federal aid.
  3. I’m too old to qualify for financial aid.
    Federal student aid programs don’t take your age into consideration.
  4. The application is too hard to fill out!
    Since it’s available online, the FAFSA is easier than ever to complete. The form uses “skip logic,” so you are only asked the questions that are relevant to you. If you’ve filed your taxes, then you can transfer your tax return data into your FAFSA automatically. And as you go through the application, there will be guided assistance in the margins to help you answer each question. Plus, the FAFSA website has a Help page that addresses most frequently asked questions.
  5.   I have to wait until I (my parents) file taxes.
    Since some colleges have FAFSA deadlines that are before the tax filing deadline, it’s important to complete the FAFSA early. You can use estimates on your FAFSA by basing them off of last year’s taxes. After you file your taxes, you can log back into the FAFSA and input your updated tax information.
  6. I support myself, so I don’t have to include parent info.
    This is not necessarily true. Even if you support yourself and file taxes on your own, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes. You can determine your dependency status by answering these questions. If you are independent, you don’t need to include your parents’ information on your FAFSA. If you are dependent, you need to provide your parents’ information.
  7. I completed the FAFSA my freshman year, so I don’t have to complete it again.
    As I said, this will be my fourth time completing the FAFSA. You should complete the FAFSA each year you plan to attend college or career school.

What are you waiting for? Start your application now at www.fafsa.gov!

Mark Valdez is a student at Brown University and an intern with the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

5 Reasons You Should Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Did you hear? The 2014-15 FAFSA became available on January 1, 2014!


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

If you will be attending college between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, you should complete the FAFSA. Here are some reasons why:

You may need it to apply for state and college financial aid and even private scholarships!

Completing the FAFSA is the first step toward getting financial aid for college, career school, or graduate school. The FAFSA not only gives you access to the $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds that the federal government has available, but many states, schools, and private scholarships require you to submit the FAFSA before they will consider you for any financial aid they offer. That’s why it’s important that every college-bound student complete the FAFSA, even if you haven’t qualified in the past. You’ll never know what you get unless you apply.

It’s FREE!

The FAFSA is free to complete and there is help provided throughout the application. Several websites offer help filing the FAFSA for a fee. These sites are not endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education. We urge you not to pay these sites for assistance that you can get for free at the official FAFSA website: www.fafsa.gov.

It’s easier than ever.

We’ve done a lot over the past few years to simplify the FAFSA. One of the most exciting enhancements has been the launch of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. The tool allows students and parents to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the FAFSA, and transfer the data directly into their FAFSA from the IRS Web site with just a few simple clicks. This year, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool will launch on February 2, so be on the lookout for that. Also, for those who have completed the FAFSA in the past, when you go to renew your FAFSA for the upcoming school year, a lot of your information will automatically roll over, saving you lots of time.

It takes less than 30 minutes to complete.

Did you know that, on average, it takes only 23 minutes to complete the FAFSA? That’s less time than it would take you to watch your favorite TV show! And think of the benefits! Spend 30 minutes completing the application and you could qualify for thousands of dollars in financial aid. Talk about return on investment…

More people qualify than you’d think.

If you don’t fill out the FAFSA, you could be missing out on a lot of financial aid! I’ve heard a number of reasons students think they shouldn’t complete the FAFSA. Here are a few:

  • “I (or my parents) make too much money, so I won’t qualify for aid.”
  • “Only students with good grades get financial aid.”
  • “The FAFSA is too hard to fill out.”
  • “I’m too old to qualify for financial aid.”

These are all myths about financial aid. The reality is, EVERYONE should fill out the FAFSA! Don’t leave money on the table.

For information and tips on completing the FAFSA, visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa.

Nicole Callahan is a new media analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

6 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA

Don’t go at filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) alone. We’re 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 us walk you through it step by step:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

  1. Go to www.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: www.fafsa.gov.
  2. Choose which FAFSA you’d like to complete. The new FAFSA that becomes available on January 1, 2014, is the 2014–15 FAFSA. You should complete the 2014-15 FAFSA if you will be attending college between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015. Remember, the FAFSA is not a one-time thing. You must complete or renew your FAFSA each school year.
    Note: The 2013–2014 FAFSA is also available if you will be attending college between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014, and you haven’t applied for financial aid yet.
  3. 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 info 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.)
  4. Enter your financial information.* All of it. You should use income records for the tax year prior to the academic year for which you are applying. For example, if you are filling out the 2014–15 FAFSA, you will need to use 2013 tax information. If you or your parent(s) haven’t filed your 2013 taxes yet, you can always estimate the amounts using your 2012 tax return; just make sure to update your FAFSA once you file your 2013 taxes. If you have filed your taxes already, 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!
  5. Choose up to 10 schools in which you wish to apply, and we will send the necessary information over to them so they can calculate the amount of financial aid you are eligible to receive. Make sure you include any school you plan to attend so your financial aid awards are not delayed.
  6. Sign the document with your PIN.* The PIN serves as your electronic signature, or e-signature. You’ll use it to electronically sign and submit your FAFSA. If you don’t have a PIN, you’ll need to get one. If you’ve completed the FAFSA in the past, you probably already have a PIN. You can use the same PIN you used in the past to renew your FAFSA each school year, so keep it in a safe place. If you have forgotten your PIN, you can retrieve it. If you’re considered a dependent student, at least one of your parents will need a PIN as well. If you or one of your siblings have completed the FAFSA within the last 18 months, your parent(s) will use the same PIN they used before. If not, your parent(s) may need to apply for a new PIN.

*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. We told you it wasn’t so bad. With the hard part over, check out this page to learn who you will hear from and when.

Still have questions?

We’re here to help. Connect with us: StudentAid.gov/social.

Nicole Callahan is a new media analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.