Loan Information Center
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Student Loan Basics Frequently Asked Questions List
Who is American Student Assistance® and what do you do?
ASA® is a nonprofit organization based in Boston that helps students and families manage higher education debt.
Our services include counseling about repayment options, information, and support throughout life of loan.
As they prepare to leave school, what should college students know about repaying their student loans?
Before leaving school, students are required to participate in an exit interview where they learn how much they owe, projected monthly payments, where to make payments, different payment options, etc.
Graduation can be a hectic time—it may be hard for students to focus on student loan repayment, so hold on to any loan paperwork for future reference.
If I am a high school student, or the parent of one, what should I be thinking about when it comes to borrowing for college?
- Before accepting a loan, research projected monthly payments, interest rates, and repayment terms and understand some basics about borrowing.
- The average debt for an undergraduate degree at a private college is now $23,000. At public institutions, it’s $15,000. Decide if you and your family are prepared to make that commitment, and think about its long-term ramifications on your financial wellness.
- Always look first into grants and scholarships (free money) when considering types of financial aid.
- Research salary ranges for your chosen career. Determine how much you’ll have to earn to pay off your student loan debt.
What is the FAFSA and what form(s) do I need to complete?
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a form used to collect information about family income and assets, and determine how much federal and state financial support an individual is eligible to receive. All schools require the FAFSA or the Renewal FAFSA in order to consider you for federal and state aid.
Some colleges and scholarships may require a completed CSS PROFILE, which is also a form used to collect information about family income and asset, and used by institutions to determine how much nonfederal student aid (usually scholarships) an individual is eligible to receive. The CSS PROFILE is separate from the FAFSA and includes questions specific to your school or program of study, follows a different methodology for determining eligibility for financial aid, and requires a fee.
Note that the in order to complete the FAFSA, you will need your previous year's income tax forms. For the CSS PROFILE, you will need this information from the previous two years.
Finally, check with your school to see if you are required to fill out an institutional financial aid form.
When are financial aid forms due?
Although there is no one deadline for all forms and all schools, there are some guidelines to follow. The state government, federal government, and each school, has its own deadlines for filing financial aid forms. Make sure you know the financial aid deadline for each school to which you are applying. Most schools want the forms completed sometime between January and March. You should file your financial aid forms before the earliest school deadline. It is extremely important to file by this date. You will have access to the most financial assistance by meeting your deadlines.
What if the deadline is before my tax return is complete?
To fill out the FAFSA and other financial aid forms, it is best to wait until you have your federal tax return for the previous year completed because most forms ask for information from the tax return. If a school you are applying to has a deadline that must be met before your taxes are done, you can estimate your earnings and taxes. One way to do this is to use your tax return from the year before unless your financial situation has changed substantially. Another way is to use your last pay stub to unofficially fill out a tax return. If you estimate your earnings and taxes, the school will likely require the actual figures once your taxes are complete.
Can I apply for financial aid online?
Yes. In fact, it's generally better to do it online than on paper.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Financial Aid PROFILE can be completed online. The TERI College Planning Centers have computers with online access to the FAFSA that you can use. You should have the following available for reference before you start: a completed paper FAFSA or PROFILE; documentation of your income for the previous year, such as a copy of your federal 1040 form; the previous year's 1040 statements; statements from the Social Security Administration and/or Department of Transitional Assistance; and/or letters from clergy, guidance counselors, homeless shelters, etc., documenting your family financial situation.
Note that even though you are able to file your application "electronically," you still have to submit an original signature to fully complete the application process. If you can, it is better to complete applications online. You are less likely to submit an application with errors, and your application is processed more quickly.
What happens after I file my FAFSA and other required financial aid forms?
Two things happen:
First, a Student Aid Report (SAR) will be sent to you three weeks or less after you submit your FAFSA online. (The paper form can take four to six weeks). Review it carefully. If there are any errors, make the corrections and send it back to the processing center. It is important to make a photocopy of the SAR for your records before sending it along to the processor. If you do not need to make any corrections, then just file the form with your other paperwork. All of the schools you listed in the FAFSA will receive the information electronically from the processor. If you file the FAFSA electronically and/or if you provide an email address when you submit the FAFSA on paper, you will receive your SAR electronically.
Second, a Financial Aid Award (also called Financial Aid Letter, Financial Aid Package, or Award Letter) is sent to you from all schools that accept you. This letter will tell you what federal, state, and school money is available to you in the form of grants, scholarships, loans and work-study, and what your expected financial contribution will be. You will need to sign and return a copy of the award letter to tell the school that you are accepting their Financial Aid Award.
Is the FAFSA difficult to complete?
If you have certain documents, the FAFSA can be completed without difficulty. You should first read through the entire form and then gather the documents you will need:
- Most recent federal tax forms (IRS Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ)
- W-2 form and records of the prior year's earnings
- Records of non-taxed income such as AFDC, Social Security, and Veterans' benefits
- Current bank statements
- Records of business, farm, stocks, bonds, and other investments
Read instructions for each question before you answer.
Many organizations offer assistance with the FAFSA, including College Goal Sunday. Boston-area students can also get help with the FAFSA at one of the ASA College Planning Centers.
When will I know how much money I will get in financial aid?
Each school from which you are seeking financial aid will notify you of your financial aid package. The financial aid award letter will include information about your eligibility for federal and state financial aid. The government does not notify students directly. Therefore, the student must have been accepted to a school before the school will send them a financial aid package. If a student is not admitted to a school OR does not apply for aid at that school, s/he will not receive a financial aid award letter from a school.
What if I need more financial aid?
By completing the financial aid forms required by your school, you will have applied for the major sources of financial aid. If you believe there are special circumstances, such as changes in your financial circumstances, you should contact the school's financial aid office and ask for reconsideration.
You also can investigate private scholarships and loans online or through the ASA College Planning Centers. The sooner you do this research, the more opportunities you will have to get money for your education.
What is a financial aid package?
There are three different types of financial aid: grants and scholarships; loans; and federal work-study. A financial aid "package" consists of a combination of these types of financial aid. Each school from which you are seeking financial aid will notify you of your financial aid package.
Successful Repayment Frequently Asked Questions List
When do I have to start repaying my federal student loans?
Loan repayment begins after you start attending school less than half the time—although you will receive a grace period before your first payment is due. The length of this grace period will depend on the type of loans you have. Once your grace period ends, you will need to begin repayment.
Do I have different repayment options?
Yes. If you have federal student loans, you can decrease your payments or extend your repayment period via different repayment options.
Repayment Challenges Frequently Asked Questions List
What if I can’t make my federal student loan payment?
Remember, you have options available to you—even if you are facing repayment challenges. If choosing a different repayment option does not help you, you can look into postponing your payments for a specific amount of time. To do this, you must meet certain criteria—like having financial trouble or being unemployed or in school at least half time. These postponements are called deferment and forbearance.
Managing Default Frequently Asked Questions List
What does “default” mean?