6 Things You MUST Know About Repaying Your Student Loans

Blog-6-Things-Loans

If you’re already repaying your student loans or about to begin making payments for the first time, it’s easy to get intimidated. Although you have lots of options to consider, there’s no reason to be alarmed. In just a few minutes, you can get a good handle on your student loans and who knows, you may even save yourself some time and money in the long run.

And REMEMBER: If you ever need any one-on-one help understanding your repayment options, you can get it (for FREE!) through your loan servicer. You should never have to pay for help with your federal student loans.

Here are six things you should know about your student loans.

1. When to start making payments

You don’t have to begin repaying most federal student loans until after you leave college or drop below half-time enrollment. Many federal student loans will even have a grace period. The grace period gives you time to get financially settled and to select your repayment plan. Note that for most loans, interest will accrue during your grace period. If you are able, you might want to consider making interest payments during your grace period so your principal balance doesn’t increase.

Your loan servicer or lender will provide you with a loan repayment schedule that states when your first payment is due, the number and frequency of payments, and the amount of each payment.

2. Who to pay

You will make your federal student loan payments to your loan servicer*, not the U.S. Department of Education (ED) directly. ED uses several loan servicers to handle the billing and other services on federal student loans. Your loan servicer can work with you to choose a repayment plan and can answer any questions you have about your federal student loans. It’s important to maintain contact with your loan servicer and keep your servicer informed of any changes to your mailing address, e-mail, or phone number so they know where to send correspondence and how to contact you.

3. How much to pay

Your bill will tell you how much to pay. Your payment (usually made monthly) depends on

  • the type of loan you received,
  • how much money you borrowed,
  • the interest rate on your loan, and
  • the repayment plan you choose.

You can use our repayment estimator to estimate your monthly payments under different repayment plans to determine which option is right for you. To switch repayment plans, contact your loan servicer.

4. How to Make Your Payments

There are several ways you can submit payments to your loan servicer, including options to submit your payment online through your loan servicer’s website.

TIP: Your servicer may offer the option to have your payments automatically withdrawn from your bank account each month. You may want to consider this option so you don’t forget to make your payments. And if you choose to enroll in automatic debit, you may even qualify for a special interest rate reduction.

5. What to do if you can’t make your payment

Contact your loan servicer as soon as possible if you are confused or can’t afford your monthly payment. You do have options to lower your payment, such as changing your repayment plan to one that will allow you to have a longer repayment period or to one that is based on your income. If switching repayment plans isn’t a good option for you, ask your loan servicer about loan consolidation or postponing your payments.

Note: Several third-party companies offer student loan assistance for a fee. Most of these services can be obtained for free from your loan servicer.

6. What could happen if you don’t make your payments

Not making your student loan payments is a big deal. It can result in default, which negatively impacts your credit score, and may affect your ability to borrow for things like buying a car or purchasing a home. Your tax refunds may also be withheld and applied to your outstanding student loan debt. There is never a reason to default. The Department of Education offers several options to ensure that you can successfully manage your student loans. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty making payments, contact your loan servicer for help.

*If you are repaying federal student loans made by a private lender (before July 1, 2010), you may be required to make payments directly to that lender.

Tara Marini is a communications specialist at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

4 Must-DOs Before Repaying Your Student Loans

Blog-4-Must-DOs

Congratulations, Class of 2015! Your hard work paid off. You did it! There’s a lot to think about as you begin the next chapter. Let me help you with the student loan part.

Here are four things you should do now, before you make that first student loan payment:

  1. Find out what you owe

Start by tracking down all of your student loans. Just go to StudentAid.gov/login and log in to view your federal student loan balances, interest rate, loan servicer contact information, and more.

Note: Don’t forget to check your personal records to see if you have private student loans as well.

Login

  1. Enroll in a repayment plan that you can afford

If you take no action after you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment, you will be automatically enrolled in the 10-Year Standard Repayment Plan. Find out what your monthly payment amount is going to be if you stick with this plan. If you don’t think you can afford that amount, consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan instead.

Income-driven repayment plans are designed to make your student loan debt more manageable by reducing your monthly payment amount to an affordable amount based on your income.

The easiest way to compare the different repayment plans based on your loan amount and income is to use our repayment calculator. Once you log in, the calculator pulls in information about your federal student loans, such as your loan balance and your interest rates, and allows you to estimate what your monthly payment would be under each of our different repayment plans. It also allows you to compare the total amount you will pay for your loan over time and can tell you the amount of loan forgiveness you’re expected to qualify for if you choose one of our income-driven repayment plans:

repayment

Estimate

Once you select a plan, contact your servicer to apply or enroll.

  1. Figure out how to pay

If you have federal student loans, you won’t pay the U.S. Department of Education directly. You will make payments to your loan servicer. Your loan servicer is a company that works on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to process and manage student loan payments. To find out who your loan servicer is, log in to StudentAid.gov. You may have more than one loan servicer, so it is important that you look at each loan individually.

Automatic Debit: The easiest way to pay

If you want to make repaying your student loans as easy as possible, sign up for automatic debit through your loan servicer. If you choose this option, your loan payments will be automatically deducted from your bank account each month, ensuring that your payments are made on time. If that isn’t good enough, you may also qualify for a 0.25% interest rate reduction when you enroll in automatic debit. To enroll in automatic debit, go to your servicer’s website.

Servicer-Website

  1. Know who to contact if you need help

If you ever have questions or need help with your student loans contact your loan servicer. Your loan servicer can help you choose a repayment plan, understand loan consolidation, apply for an income-driven repayment plan, and complete other tasks related to your federal student loan. It’s important to remember that you NEVER have to pay for help with your student loans. That’s what your loan servicer is there for. Their help is FREE.

It’s important to maintain contact with your loan servicer. If your circumstances change at any time during your repayment period, your loan servicer will be able to help.

Contact-Servicer

Nicole Callahan is a digital engagement strategist at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

How to Update Your FAFSA After Filing Your Taxes

taxesdone

Did you submit your 2015-16 FAFSA ® before you (or your parents, if you are a dependent student) filed your 2014 taxes? If so, don’t forget you are required to return to your application to update the information you originally estimated with the updated numbers from your 2014 tax return. And, you should update your information as soon as possible.

The easiest way to update your tax information is by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT). It allows you to transfer your tax information directly into your FAFSA! Check to see if your tax return is available and if you are eligible to use the tool, but keep in mind, you generally have to wait a few weeks after filing your taxes before you can use the IRS DRT.

To update your FAFSA:

  1. Log on to gov.
  2. Click Make FAFSA Corrections.
  3. Navigate to the “Finances section.”
  4. Change your answer from “Will file” to “Already completed.”

At this point, if you are eligible to use the IRS DRT, you will see a Link to IRS button. If you are not eligible to use the IRS DRT, you can manually enter the data from your completed tax return.

  1. Click Link to IRS and log in with the IRS to retrieve your tax information.
  • Enter the requested information exactly as it appears on your tax return.
  • Review your information to see what tax data will be transferred into your FAFSA.
  • Check Transfer My Tax Information into the FAFSA, and click Transfer Now to return to the FAFSA.
  1. Review the data that was transferred to your FAFSA and click Next.
  2. Sign and submit your updated FAFSA.

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

The University of California at Santa Barbara put together a video that walks you through this process. Check it out:

Well, what are you waiting for? Let the updating begin!

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

4 Reasons Why Community College Was Perfect For Me

As a senior in high school, I felt as if I was the only one not excited about graduation because I had been denied acceptance to the universities for which I had applied. I had given up on having a glamorous college experience and had no idea what the future had in store for me and enrolled at a community college.

During my two years in community college, I reflected on career choices and my future as a whole, all the while using that time to boost my GPA. Once I figured out what I wanted to do, I applied to four-year universities and was accepted to the perfect school for me.

As you are preparing to apply for college, keep community college in mind. It’s a great place to begin your higher education.

Here are four reasons why:

  1. Community college is affordable

The cost of attendance for two years at my community college cost less than one semester at a state college. This is huge advantage that most students don’t realize until they graduate and have to start repaying loans.

  1. Flexibility

Community colleges offer class times designed to accommodate a variety of schedules, making a part-time job manageable for full-time students. There is now a limit on the maximum period of time that you can receive Direct Subsidized Loans and the Pell Grant, so make sure to keep track of how you’re progressing in your degree program. You don’t want to lose eligibility for these types of financial aid!

  1. Better Transfer Opportunities

Community college is a perfect solution for those who don’t have the best grades coming out of high school. While obtaining my associate degree, I was able to boost my GPA and resume by working. After graduation I transferred to a university that I would have otherwise not been accepted to in high school. Community college can be seen as a second chance as long as you are willing to make the commitment and college admissions offices understand that some students need more time and experience to discover what they want out of life.

TIP: Many community colleges have “Guaranteed Admissions Programs” whereby students who successfully complete their associate degree at a community college are offered automatic admission to participating four-year colleges and universities.

  1. Attain multiple degrees

Unlike universities, community colleges provide the opportunity for an associate degree that feeds directly into a bachelor’s degree. The time a typical university student will have spent on one degree, a community college transfer will have received two degrees!

Talla Hashemi is a junior at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in Journalism and Public Relations. She is a virtual intern for the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

¡Estudia, Hay Dinero! There’s Money to Study!

First Lady Michelle Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan participate in an interview with Don Francisco of UNIVISION at Northwestern High School in Washington, D.C., Feb. 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan participate in an interview with Don Francisco of UNIVISION at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, MD, Feb. 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan sat down recently with Don Francisco, the renowned host of Univision’s longest-running TV show, Sábado Gigante, to discuss the importance of filling out the FAFSA. The message is simple: ¡Estudia, Hay Dinero! or, There’s Money to Study!

Students and parents filled a classroom at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, to hear the First Lady tell her story of achieving her dreams by going to college. The First Lady spoke of her experience as a first-generation college student whose parents offered lots of moral support and encouragement even though they had not gone to college themselves. She told the students, “I’m actually just like you. There’s no magic. It requires hard work”.

After the interview, parents and seniors gathered in the school’s computer lab to complete the FAFSA with the help of school counselors and staff from Federal Student Aid.

When talking to the students about their future goals, many were honest about their experience and even admitted that they messed up at the beginning of high school. They explained that they realized the importance of going to college because it’s key to a better future. One of those students said she wants to pursue a dream of becoming a fashion designer. She understands that in order to have a promising future, she needs to get a degree. With the support of her family and friends, she will graduate this spring and attend community college in the fall.

Both the First Lady and Secretary Duncan understand that parents may be nervous about their kids leaving home or may be apprehensive about completing the form. But they urged all the parents to encourage their kids to reach higher, to complete their educations, and to own their futures.

The Department has simplified the FAFSA, making it easier now for students and families to complete. It’s no secret that going to college is expensive, but like Secretary Duncan said, “It’s the best investment you could make.” In only twenty-five minutes a student and family can have access to the billions of dollars in federal aid the government offers towards education. It costs absolutely nothing to fill out the form, but can be the factor that helps a student achieve his or her dreams.

Remember: There’s money to study! If you or a student you know has not yet filled out the FAFSA, visit www.studentaid.gov to answer your questions and link you to the FAFSA. Congratulations to all of the students making the choice to Reach Higher!

Rahje Branch is the Reach Higher intern in the Office of the First Lady. She is a sophomore studying at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA.

A Guide to Reporting Parent Info on your FAFSA

If you’re planning on going to college this fall, you will definitely want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The FAFSA not only gives you access to grants and loans from the federal government, but many states and schools also use information from the FAFSA to award their financial aid.

If you are considered a dependent student for the purposes of the FAFSA, you are required to provide information about your parent(s) on the application. (Note: The dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are set by Congress and are different than those used on your tax return.) You might be wondering which parent’s information to report or what you should do if your parents are divorced, remarried, or if you live with another family member.

Don’t worry; we can help you figure out whose information to include. For a quick visual reference, check out our infographic, Who’s My Parent When I Fill Out the FAFSA?

who-is-my-parent

Or, if you want to more information, here are some guidelines. Unless noted, “parent” means your legal (biological or adoptive) parent.

  • If your parents are living and legally married to each other, answer the questions about both of them.
  • If your parents are living together and are not married, answer the questions about both of them.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated and don’t live together, answer the questions about the parent with whom you lived more during the past 12 months. If you lived the same amount of time with each parent, give answers about the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months or during the most recent year that you actually received support from a parent. If you have a stepparent who is married to the legal parent whose information you’re reporting, you must provide information about that stepparent as well.

The following people are not considered your parents on your FAFSA unless they have adopted you: grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, older brothers or sisters, and uncles or aunts.

If you still have questions or are unsure what to do if your parents are unable or unwilling to provide their information for your FAFSA, you can get more information at StudentAid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out/parent-info.

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

Gaithersburg’s “Blue Crew” Goes for the Green During FAFSA Fill-in Day

The media center at GHS was packed for “FAFSA Fill-in Day”. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The media center at GHS was packed for “FAFSA Fill-in Day”. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

I wish all my mornings could be like this – visiting schools filled with excited students, as they explore their options and take action to turn their college dreams into realities.

Students, teachers and administrators packed the Media Center at Gaithersburg High School (GHS) in Gaithersburg, Maryland as they prepared for their “FAFSA Fill-in Day” to encourage seniors to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at school, and find out more information regarding other financial aid options, and scholarships. They’d been kind enough to ask a team of us from the Department to join them – and there was no way I was going to miss out on the experience!

School spirit filled the room. A sea of blue Gaithersburg apparel adorned the crowd in the Media Center, with the phrase “Blue Crew” emblazoned on shirts and sweaters. Multiple flags from around the world hung from the ceiling, celebrating the diversity of the Gaithersburg High School community.

In the crowd, a familiar face stood out to our Department of Education (ED) staff. GHS English Resource Teacher and former Teacher Ambassador Fellow, Ms. Jennifer Bado-Aleman, welcomed attendees and announced that Federal Student Aid representatives were on hand to answer questions about the application. As seniors began filling out their forms, I was invited to a roundtable where students described their experiences in using the FAFSA, shared their college and career aspirations, and even opened up about some higher education fears.

“I always knew I wanted to go to college. Unfortunately, I didn’t look into it until last year,” one senior explained. “We need to start a plan by our freshman year,” interjected another. When I asked about the college information they needed, some mentioned: information about which majors specific colleges offer, guidance on how much to emphasize extra-curricular activities on their college applications, and how much their average SAT scores would count in how colleges considered candidates. Others said they took a step further and first looked at careers they wanted to pursue, before narrowing down their list of schools with a strong focus in that field.

They were pleased to learn that ED had released our College Ratings framework. President Obama asked our Department to design a ratings system that will give parents and students more information about their college choices by recognizing institutions that focus on accessibility, affordability and completion. The students also offered their opinions on how and by which measures colleges should be rated, including the quality of their majors, their graduation rates, and the employment rates of their graduates. Others chimed in on ratings options as the conversation continued:

“Financial aid to students,” Blake volunteered.

“Internship placements,” added Joanne.

“Tuition rates,” said Hakeem.

Parker thought colleges should be rated on “freshman retention, and the employment of their graduates. [Colleges] need to consistently be living up to their expectation.”

Chatting about the FAFSA. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Chatting about the FAFSA. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

I was glad to be able to share the many ED resources and tools that help students guide and focus their college search, like the College Navigator, which allows students to search for colleges based on majors, institution type and geography, and the College Scorecard, which gives students access to more information about a school’s affordability and value.

Paying for college was another important theme; and several students expressed fears about student debt. “My siblings all went to college and now struggle to pay their loans,” DJ noted. Blake told me he’d been considering out-of-state schools, but didn’t want to be saddled with years of loans to repay.

I’ve heard from many students who worry about how they will manage their student debt. That is why President Obama outlined a set of actions that can help borrowers better manage their student loan debt, including expanding his Pay As You Earn plan so more borrowers can cap monthly payments at 10 percent of their income. In addition, those that enter public service full-time may have their loans forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Since President Obama took office, our Department has made key investment in federal student aid such as creating the $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit, raising the maximum Pell Grant award by $1,000, and bringing millions of dollars back into the hands of students by eliminating billions of dollars of subsidies to banks.

The first step in receiving federal student aid is filling out the FAFSA, just like so many of the students I visited in Gaithersburg did. Getting help to pay for college is the best investment any student can make in their future. So, go for the green! Learn more and help us spread the word by visiting StudentAid.ed.gov.

Ted Mitchell is the U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

FAFSA Completion Numbers Now Available via Updated Tool

tool

We’ve updated our FAFSA Completion Tool!

Back in March of 2012, ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) announced the release of this innovative tool to help guidance professionals, school administrators, and practitioners track and subsequently increase FAFSA completions at high schools across the country.

Over time, we enhanced the Tool to not only provide FAFSA submission and completion totals for high schools during the current year but also totals for the same time the year before and other key benchmark dates.

The 2015 version provides updated information on a weekly basis during the peak FAFSA application period. This means that counselors and administrators will have access to current data so they can more accurately gauge the impact of outreach efforts and identify successful local strategies.

Before we developed the tool, the only source of data on FAFSA completions that high schools had was from self-reported student surveys, which were highly unreliable.

Now, educators have real-time access to reliable data to track FAFSA submission and completion and gauge their progress in increasing FAFSA completion. This is incredibly important because studies have indicated that FAFSA completion correlates strongly with college enrollment, particularly among low-income populations.

We encourage high schools to use this data as one component of a comprehensive college access and completion program within their school. To help educators, counselors, and others with this and other aid awareness and loan repayment efforts, we’ve created the Financial Aid Toolkit.

The Toolkit consolidates financial aid resources and content into a searchable online database, making it easy for individuals to quickly access the information they need to support their students. It also provides counselors with access to valuable resources, such as how to host a FAFSA completion workshop. We’re also encouraging folks to help us get the word out about FAFSA completion on their social media accounts – and we’ve even written some sample posts to help get the conversation started!

The Tool is a critical component of President Obama’s FAFSA Completion Initiative and this year, local completion efforts are getting a boost from Mrs. Obama’s “FAFSA Completion Challenge,” a video competition the First Lady recently launched to encourage more high school students to complete the FAFSA.

FAFSA data isn’t just for determining eligibility for federal student aid. Many states, institutions, and private organizations rely on the FAFSA to determine eligibility for non-federal sources of aid.

Last year, over one million high school seniors did not submit the FAFSA, which made them ineligible for federal grants and loans, as well as most state-based and institutional aid. When students complete the FAFSA, they help themselves and make a positive contribution to their school, communities, and states.

The promise of the FAFSA Completion Tool lies in its simplicity and its use of current data to effectively measure the success of FAFSA completion efforts. Last year, it provided FAFSA submission and completion data for the senior classes at over 25,000 high schools in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and all U.S. territories.

For more information on the Tool and to search updated FAFSA Completion Tool data by high school for the senior class of 2015, visit StudentAid.gov/FAFSA-HS-Data.

Todd May is Federal Student Aid’s Director of Communication Services and Greg Fortelny is the Acting Director of Federal Student Aid’s Customer Analytics Group.

When Should You File Your FAFSA?

fafsa_deadline

The short answer is … it depends.

There are school deadlines, state deadlines, and a federal deadline. An easy rule of thumb to remember is: You should submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) based on the earliest due date possible.

If you plan to attend college between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, and you want to be considered for financial aid, your deadline could be as early as February!

You don’t have to wait until you or your parents file your taxes to submit your FAFSA; you can estimate your tax information and update your FAFSA later.

For college deadlines, visit the school’s website or contact its financial aid office.

Check out the table below for information about states with first-come, first-served programs and information for states and territories that require checking in with your school’s financial aid office. If your state is not listed in the table below, click here to find your state’s FAFSA deadline.

For more specific deadline information from your state of legal residence, use this easy FAFSA deadlines tool.

April Jordan is a Senior Communications Specialist at Federal Student Aid.

How to Easily Transfer Tax Information to Your FAFSA

tax_fafsa

January makes me think of holiday parties, tax returns, and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). 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. Now imagine a time-saving process where you instantly transfer your tax information directly into your FAFSA. Actually, there’s no need to imagine; this process exists and you can learn more about it below.

  1. What is the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT)?

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) is a tool accessible in the finance section of the FAFSA that will take you to the IRS website. After you log in by providing information exactly as you provided it on your tax return, you will be able to preview your tax information before agreeing to have it directly transferred to your FAFSA. When you return to the FAFSA, you’ll see the relevant questions populated with your information automatically; courtesy of the DRT. You’re welcome.

  1. Why use this tool?
  • It’s so easy that it only takes a click of a couple buttons 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.
  1. When can I use the tool?

The IRS DRT is available the first Sunday in February. However, when your information will be available will depend on when you submitted your tax return.

  1. 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 “Finances” 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 prompts that allow you to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to transfer your tax return information into your application.

    1. 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 December 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.

Resources to Help You Fill Out the FAFSA

2-2 image

FAFSA®: An Introduction

If you or someone you know is considering enrolling in college, now is the time to complete the financial aid application – the FAFSA. Students of all ages complete the FAFSA to be considered for financial aid from the federal government, and in most instances, additional money from the state in which they reside and the college they want to attend. That’s why the FAFSA is so important – it is the gateway to three potentially big sources of financial aid from federal, state, and college entities. If you don’t complete a FAFSA, you could be missing out on a lot of financial aid. The data you enter on your FAFSA is used to calculate an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the number that’s used to determine your eligibility for federal student aid and is an indicator of your family’s financial strength to pay for college or career school.

FAFSA: Before you file

A wide array of resources is available to help you navigate the college financial aid process. Before you file your FAFSA, you might want to check out some of the most popular sites to get more information. For a comprehensive source of information on preparing, planning and attending college, take a look at StudentAid.gov. This U.S. Department of Education website is a one-stop source of information for students and their families and is designed to help you through every step of the financial aid process.

You can find general information about federal student aid and many of our publications, brochures, and fact sheets by going to StudentAid.gov/resources. Check the above website for the availability of our publications in English, Spanish, PDF, and Braille. Examples of these publications are listed below:

    • Funding Your Education: The Guide to Federal Student Aid helps students and parents understand the financial aid process and directs them to resources.
    • Financial Aid for Graduate and Professional Students helps graduate and professional degree students understand what types of federal student aid are available to them. It tells them how to apply for aid, what to consider when taking out a student loan, and where else they can look for graduate school funding.
    • College Preparation Checklist explains how to prepare academically and financially for college through “to do” lists aimed at elementary and secondary school students and their parents, as well as adult students. This is the primary publication for any student considering college.
    • My Future, My Way: First Steps Toward College is a workbook for middle and junior high school students that explains how to prepare academically and financially for college. The publication includes charts, checklists, and other activities to engage students as they gain more information about college preparation and costs.

You also may want to check out FAFSA4caster – an early eligibility estimator that can help you plan ahead when it comes to paying for college.

FAFSA: Ways to File

There are three ways to complete a FAFSA:

1) Online at fafsa.gov, (This is the quickest and easiest option!)

2) Access FAFSA to print out a FAFSA PDF

3) Call 1-800-4-FED-AID [1-800-433-3243] to request that a paper FAFSA be mailed to you.

In some cases, you might be able to apply directly through your school. You should check with the financial aid administrator at the school you are interested in attending to see if the school can assist you with your application.

If you need help understanding a specific question on the FAFSA, this guide . Online filers who need additional assistance with a particular question can use the online help or the “Help and Hints” box on the right-hand side of the screen for each question. Keep in mind that filing a FAFSA online is faster and will enable you to benefit from multiple checks to make sure your form is fully complete. (The paper versions, obviously, don’t have this benefit.)

FAFSA: Next Steps

Wondering what happens next? Here are 5 Things To Do After Filing Your FAFSA.

Adam Essex is a Management and Program Analyst at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.

Help Us Get the Word Out About the FAFSA

FAFSA-complete

For us at the U.S. Department of Education, the start of a new year provides a fresh opportunity to remind parents, students, educators and others about the importance of submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA ®). The Department’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) provides more than $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds each year to help students pay for college or career school. Completing the FAFSA is the primary step for determining eligibility for federal student aid and subsequently accessing these funds. With the 2015-16 FAFSA having gone live on January 1, FSA is requesting your assistance in promoting FAFSA completion.

We are asking for your help in getting the message out through your social media channels about the importance of completing the FAFSA early in the year. To help you do that, FSA has developed some resources for you to use. They include sample Facebook posts, tweets, blogs, informative videos, photos and infographics. These and other great resources can be found on FSA’s Financial Aid Toolkit. These resources can be tailored to best fit your needs. If you’re new to social media or just looking for ideas on how to easily use these resources or how others are using them, view this presentation.

In addition, over the next few months, FSA’s Digital Engagement Group will be actively managing our own presence on social media with a strong focus on FAFSA completion. We highly encourage you to use and repost our content whenever applicable. Here are the places you can find us:

facebook      twitter     youtube     storify
Thanks for your support and commitment to advancing the higher education goals of students and families across the country.

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