The Five “Qs” of Public Service Loan Forgiveness

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#StudentLoanForgiveness. It’s a hashtag now, so you’ll all pay attention, right? Everyone wants their student loans forgiven. The perception is that very few qualify for any forgiveness programs. But did you know that there is one broad, employment-based forgiveness program for federal student loans? Most people don’t, or misunderstand how it works. Let me break down some key points of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to help you figure out if you could qualify.

Can you check the all the boxes?

[ 1 ] Work in “Qualifying Employment”

First, you need to work in “qualifying” employment; that is, you must work in “public service.” But what does that mean? Everyone seems to have a different definition. Ours is based on who employs you, not what you do for your employer. The following types of employers qualify:

  • Governmental organizations – Federal, state, local, Tribal
  • Not-for-profit organization that is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
  • A not-for-profit organization that provides some specific public services, such as public education, law enforcement, public health, or legal services

The following types of employers do not qualify:

  • Labor unions
  • Partisan political organizations
  • For-profit organizations

[ 2 ] “Qualifying Employment Status”

If you work at one of these types of organizations—great! That’s the most difficult criteria to meet. Next, you need to work there in a “qualifying” employment status, which means that you must be a full-time employee of the organization. Full time, for our purposes, generally means that you meet your employer’s definition of full time or work at least 30 hours per week, whichever is greater.

[ 3 ] Have a “Qualifying Loan”

A “qualifying” loan is a Direct Loan. It’s that simple. Of course, it’s the government, so nothing is actually that simple. You see, there are (or were) three big federal student loan programs:

  • The Direct Loan Program, which is now the biggest program,
  • The Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, which is what many students borrowed from until mid-2010, and
  • The Federal Perkins Loan Program, which is a relatively small program.

You may have loans from just one of these programs, or you may have borrowed from all three. If you’re not sure which loan program you borrowed from, I can’t blame you—I had 20 separate loans by the time that I finished graduate school! You can use the National Student Loan Data System to determine which program you borrowed from. Here’s a tip from me to you:  basically, if you see “Direct” in the loan type name, it’s a Direct Loan. Otherwise, it’s not.

Don’t have a Direct Loan? Don’t despair! You can consolidate your other federal student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan and qualify that way. Not having a Direct Loan is the biggest reason that borrowers who are seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness aren’t on the right track, so be sure that all of your loans that you want forgiven are Direct Loans before you proceed to the next step. If you do need to consolidate, be sure to check the box in the application that says that you’re consolidating for the purposes of loan forgiveness. It will make your life easier, I promise.

[ 4 ] Have a “Qualifying Repayment Plan”

Next, you need a “qualifying” repayment plan. All of the “income-driven repayment plans” are qualifying plans for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. So is the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, but if you’re on that repayment plan, you should switch to an income-driven repayment plan straight away, or you will have a drastically lower loan balance left to be forgiven after you meet all of the criteria.

If you’re consolidating your loans, you can apply for an income-driven repayment plan in the consolidation application, but if you don’t, you will be placed on the Standard Repayment Plan for Direct Consolidation Loans, which is almost never a qualifying repayment plan for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If you already have Direct Loans, you can submit an income-driven repayment plan application on StudentLoans.gov.

[ 5 ] Make 120 “Qualifying Payments”

Lastly, you need to make “qualifying” payments—120 of them. A qualifying payment is exactly what you would expect it to be. You get a bill. It has an “amount due” and it has a “due date”. Make the payment in that amount by the due date (or up to 15 days after), and the payment is a “qualifying payment”. If you make a payment when you’re not required to—say, because, you’re in a deferment or you paid your student loan early—then that doesn’t count. But if you reliably make your payment every month for 10 years, you should be okay. The best way to ensure that your payments qualify is to sign up for automatic payments with your loan servicer.

Note that these payments do not need to be consecutive. So, if you had made 10 qualifying payments, and then stop for a period of time (say, you go on a deferment), then start making qualifying payments again, you don’t start over; instead, you pick up where you left off.

And, I’m sorry to have to mention a seemingly arbitrary date, but a payment only qualifies if it was made after October 1, 2007, so nobody can qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness until 2017 at the earliest.

Ok, so do I qualify?

Now that you have the details, let me explain how all of the criteria work together. For any payment to count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you need to meet all of the criteria when you make each payment. Stated differently, you need to be working for a qualifying employer on a full-time basis when you make a qualifying payment under a qualifying repayment plan on a Direct Loan. When you break these criteria down separately, it seems simpler. It’s when you try to pack it into one sentence that it seems overwhelming.

As much as I’d like to think that all of you now have a perfect understanding of this program and how it works, I know all of you are thinking—“okay, but do I qualify?” Here’s how you find out. Download this form. Fill it out. Have your employer certify it. Send it to FedLoan Servicing (one of our federal student loan servicers), queue up How I Met Your Mother on Netflix, and wait for an answer. FedLoan Servicing will do the following:

  • Check whether you have any qualifying loans.
  • If you have qualifying loans, validate that your employment qualifies. If none of your loans qualify, they’ll tell you so.
  • If your employment qualifies, they will send you a letter confirming that your employment qualifies. Then, any of your federally held loans that are not serviced by FedLoan Servicing will be transferred to them so that we can keep better track of your loans and payments for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If your employment doesn’t qualify, they’ll tell you so.
  • After your loans are transferred, they will match up the dates of employment on the form that you submitted to the payments you made during that time and determine how many qualifying payments you made. You’ll receive a letter with a count of qualifying payments and an anticipated forgiveness date (which assumes that all your future payments also qualify).

It’s after you get this payment count back that you’ll know whether you’re on the right track. So, it really is a good idea to submit this form early and often. We recommend that you submit the form once per year or when you change jobs. The beauty of submitting these forms early and on an ongoing basis is that it means that you won’t have to submit 10 years’ worth of them when you ultimately want to apply for forgiveness. It also means that when you apply for forgiveness, that you’ll be able to do so with confidence that you qualify for it.

One more piece of good news: Public Service Loan Forgiveness is not considered income by the IRS. That means that it’s tax-free.

Ian Foss has worked as a program specialist for the Department of Education since 2010. He’s scheduled to be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness on October 6, 2021, if all goes according to plan.

4 Things to Do Before Making Your First Student Loan Payment

4.28 4 Things to Do Before

One perk of having a federal student loan instead of a private student loan is that you are not required to start making payments right away. In fact, many federal student loans have a grace period*, or a set amount of time after you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment before you must begin repaying your student loans. For most student loans, the grace period is 6 months but in some instances, the grace period could be longer. The grace period gives you time to get financially settled and to select your repayment plan.

For those of you who are getting ready to graduate, your grace period is about to begin. You’ll be contacted by your loan servicer, a company that works on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to process and manage student loan payments, letting you know how the repayment process will work.

In the meantime, here are four things you should do now, before your first student loan payment is due:

1. Get Organized

Start by tracking down all of your student loans. Did you know that there is a website that allows you to view all your federal student loans in one place?

You can log into www.nslds.ed.gov using your Federal Student Aid PIN to view your loan balances, information about your loan servicer(s), and more.

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

2. Contact Your Loan Servicer

Your loan servicer is the company that will be collecting payments on your federal student loan on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. They are also there to provide support. Your loan servicer can help you choose a repayment plan, understand loan consolidation, and complete other tasks related to your federal student loan, so 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.

To find out who your loan servicer is, visit www.nslds.ed.gov. You may have more than one loan servicer, so it is important that you look at each loan individually.

3. Estimate Your Monthly Payments Under Different Repayment Plans

Federal Student Aid has a great Repayment Estimator tool that allows you to compare our different repayment plan options side by side. Once you log in, the repayment estimator 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 depending on the repayment option you choose. Try it!

4. Select the Repayment Plan That Works for You

One of the greatest benefits of federal student loans is the flexible repayment options. Take advantage of them! Although you may select or be assigned a repayment plan when you first begin repaying your student loan, you can change repayment plans at any time. There are options to tie your monthly payments to your income and even ways you can have your loans forgiven if you are a teacher or employed in certain public service jobs. Once you have determined which repayment plan is right for you, you must contact your loan servicer to officially change your repayment plan.

* Not all federal student loans have a grace period. Note that for many loans, interest will accrue during your grace period.

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

4 Mistakes I Made With My Student Loans and How You Can Avoid Them

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It’s been tough for me to come to terms with, but, unfortunately for me, I am not in college anymore. In fact, this spring marks three years since I graduated from college and went into repayment on my student loans. I know, not the most exciting thing in the world, but important. So while I don’t claim to be a student loan expert, I have learned a lot of lessons along the way, mostly through trial and error. In hopes that you won’t make the same mistakes I did, here are some things I wish I had known when I was graduating and getting ready to start repaying my student loans:

  1. I should have kept track of what I was borrowing

Let’s be real. When you take out student loans to help pay for college, it’s easy to forget that the money will eventually have to be paid back … with interest. The money just doesn’t seem real when you’re in college, and I didn’t do a good job of keeping track of what I was borrowing and how it was building up. When it was time to start repaying my loans, I was quite overwhelmed. I had different types of loans and different interest rates. When I did eventually see my loan balance, I was pretty shocked.

You can avoid this problem. Had I known there was a super easy way to keep track of how much I’d borrowed in federal student loans, I would have been much better off. Just go to www.nslds.ed.gov, select “Financial Aid Review,” log in, and you can view all of your federal student loans in one place! How did I miss that?

  1. I should have made interest payments while I was still in school

If you’re anything like me, you probably consumed your fair share of instant noodles while trying to survive on a college student’s budget. Trust me, I get it. But one thing I really regret when it comes to my student loans was not paying interest while I was in school or during my grace period. Like I said, I was far from rich, but when I was in college, I did have a work-study job and waited tables on the side. I probably could have spared a few dollars each month to pay down some student loan interest. Remember, student loans are borrowed money that you have to repay with interest and more importantly, that interest may capitalize, or be added to your total balance. My advice: Even though you don’t have to, do yourself a favor and consider paying at least some of your student loan interest while you’re in school. It will save you money in the long run.

  1. I should have kept my loan servicer in the loop

If you’re getting ready to graduate or have graduated recently and haven’t heard from your loan servicer, make sure you check that your loan servicer has up-to-date contact info for you. When I graduated and moved into my first big-girl apartment, I forgot to change my address with my loan servicer. I found out that all of my student loan correspondence was going to my mom’s address. I hadn’t even thought to update my loan servicer with my new contact information. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Keep your servicer informed of address, email, and phone changes.

  1. I should have figured out what my monthly loan payments were going to be BEFORE I went into repayment

By the time my grace period was over, I had a decent idea of how much I had borrowed in total, but I had no idea what my monthly payments would be. I thought I was fine. I had started my new job and been paying rent and other bills for about six months. Then my grace period ended, and I got my first bill from my loan servicer. It was definitely an expense I hadn’t fully taken into account.

Don’t make the same mistake. Federal Student Aid has an awesome repayment estimator that allows you to pull in your federal student loan information and compare what your monthly payments would be under the different repayment plans that are offered. That way, you can choose the right repayment plan for you, know how much you can expect to pay monthly, and budget accordingly … unlike me.

I’ll be the first to admit that this whole process can be a little overwhelming, especially when you’re new at it. But just remember, your loan servicer is there to help you. If you have questions or need advice, don’t hesitate to contact them.

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

6 Things You Must Know About Repaying Your Student Loans

When it comes to repaying your federal student loans, there’s a lot to consider. But, by taking the time to understand the details of repayment, you can save yourself time and money. This should help you get started.

When do I begin repaying my federal student loans?

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.

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.

Whom do I pay?

You will make your federal student loan payments to your loan servicer*, not the U.S. Department of Education directly. The Department 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 address, e-mail, or phone number so they know where to send correspondence and how to contact you.

How much do I need 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. Just remember, if you would like to switch repayment plans, you must contact your loan servicer.

How do I make my student loan 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.

What should I do if I’m having trouble making my student loan payments?

Contact your loan servicer as soon as possible. You may be able to change your repayment plan to one that will allow you to have a longer repayment period or to one that is based on your income. Also, ask your loan servicer about your options for a deferment or forbearance or loan consolidation.

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.

What happens if I don’t make my payments?

Not making your student loan payments can result in default, which negatively impacts your credit score. This 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. 

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

Class of 2014: What’s Next for Your Student Loans?

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I’m not afraid to admit that being a college senior was a little frightening (okay, slight understatement  it was extremely frightening!). As you, the Class of 2014, prepare to say goodbye to the comforts of your college community and say hello to the real world, you’re faced with many realities. Where will I live? How am I going to find a job? Will I make ends meet? Will I be happy?

And with all these new exciting challenges, one of the last things on most of your minds is repaying your student loans. Yet it’s one of our responsibilities and you need to be prepared for when the first bill arrives in the mail.

I will be honest in saying the repayment process is a little intimidating, and before writing this post I was at a loss on where to begin. Luckily, the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has tools available to walk soon-to-be grads through the loan repayment process:

  • Exit Counseling: Redesigned to be more interactive, Exit Counseling provides important information to student borrowers who are preparing to begin student loan repayment. Exit counseling is required when you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment, so talk to the financial aid office at your school about completing it.
  • Federal Loan Repayment Plans: Understanding the details of repayment can save you time and money. Find out when repayment starts, how to make your payment, repayment plan options, what to do if you have trouble making payments, and more!
  • Repayment Estimator: Federal Student Aid recently launched a Repayment Estimator that allows you to compare your monthly student loan payment under different repayment plans to help you figure out which option is right for you. You can either enter your average loan amount or log-in to have your current federal student loan information automatically pulled in so you can compare repayment plans based on your specific situation.

So with all of these great resources, I’ve found that things were clearer, and not quite as scary. Class of 2014 you are about to embark on a new adventure. Best of luck to each and every one of you!

For additional information and tips, visit Federal Student Aid on Twitter , Facebook, and YouTube.

Kelsey Donohue is a 2013 graduate of Marist College (N.Y.)

5 Things To Consider When Taking Out Student Loans

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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 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.  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.

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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.

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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