04.02.10 | Your Student Aid Report and You

Posted in FAFSA, Financial Aid, Stafford Loan, Student Loans by Evan Jacobs

Within two to six weeks after you have completed your FAFSA, the Department of Education sends you a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR).

The SAR will give you an idea of how much the federal government and colleges expect you to pay. Look for the EFC (expected family contribution) number. If it says 09000, for example, that means your probable share of annual tuition and fees will be $9,000. Here is what to do when the SAR arrives:

Make updates/corrections. If you need to fix any errors or amend the information you supplied on the FAFSA; now is the time to do it. This is particularly useful if you have recently completed your tax returns since you filled out the FAFSA, and some of your information has changed.

When you got to submit the corrections, you should also contact the schools to which you have applied. The colleges you selected will receive this report as well. As registration deadlines grow nearer, some colleges and universities might prefer you send a copy of the SAR directly to their financial aid office, with all corrections included.

Inform the schools of any new hardships. Remember that your FAFSA was based on last year’s income, so if you have experienced any particular hardships such as a job loss or costly medical injury, call the schools and state your case.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate. If you’re an exceptional student and think you can get a better aid package, don’t be afraid to do a little haggling over your aid from a certain school. Colleges may increase their aid offering to a student with an especially strong academic background. Explain your case to the school’s admissions office, and be prepared to show copies of better offers from other schools.

Seek out additional funds, if necessary. If your EFC is higher than expected, and you’re not sure you can pay, consider alternative methods, such as private student loans. Be sure to do some digging for scholarships as well.

If you sent in your FAFSA but haven’t received your SAR within two to six weeks, contact the U.S. Department of Education help desk at: 1-800-4-FED-AID. If you have any additional questions about your SAR, leave them in the comments or peruse our forums and our financial aid experts will assist you.

03.25.10 | Can federal loans cover my off-campus housing?

Posted in FAFSA, Financial Aid, Stafford Loan by Evan Jacobs

We get a lot of questions in our forums from people wondering how to pay for off-campus housing. More specifically, can the federal student loans you are currently using for a dorm or other on-campus apartment be used for a home not run by the university?

Fortunately, the answer is yes.

Your school’s cost of attendance typically factors in a certain cost of room and board. When your financial aid office receives your federal aid check, they will deduct the necessary amount for tuition and fees and provide you the difference.

So if you’ve been using federal aid for your dorm or on-campus home, you will most likely get the same money for an off-campus pad. One thing to remember is that your federal aid arrives once per semester and virtually every landlord will require a monthly rent, paid on time. So make sure to consider that when budgeting.

One of the smartest decisions I made in college was moving off campus after my sophomore year. Moving off-campus is not only liberating, but it can be pretty good for the wallet, as well. (In my case, my monthly rent dropped nearly $300 per month, and I was able to have my own bedroom.)

But there are some things to consider. Moving off-campus typically means you’re losing your meal plan. If your university provides cable and internet, you won’t have access to that in an off-campus apartment. Most on-campus apartments and dorms provide you with furniture, but you will almost certainly have to furnish any place you move in to.

Image credit to dynamicsonline on Flickr.

03.24.10 | Federal loan package not enough? What now?

If you have recently been disappointed with your financial aid award letter, you might be left wondering how you can cover some of the costs of tuition. What if the federal Stafford loan simply isn’t enough?

Rest assured, you’re not alone. In the vast majority of cases, a Stafford loan will not cover the entire cost of attendance. If your federal aid is less than you hoped, you may seek out alternative options. Private student loans are a common supplement to federal loans as they are based on credit, not need. You can learn more at PrivateStudentLoans.com.

In some cases, there has been a change to your situation since you filled out your FAFSA.  If a parent has since become unemployed or suffered another financial setback, you may be able to request additional funds. You should speak with your school’s financial aid office as they will work to secure you additional federal loans. Be prepared to provide paperwork to support your case (pay stubs, etc.).

03.11.10 | You have completed your FAFSA – now what?

Posted in FAFSA by Evan Jacobs

Hopefully by now you have sent in your FAFSA form. If you haven’t, you might want to get on that. While the federal deadline is June 30, many states require the FAFSA to be sent in much earlier. Check here for a list of state deadlines. Also, check with your financial aid office because many universities have their own FAFSA deadline, separate from the state.

Now the rest of you are probably wondering, what now?

First, take a deep breath. The FAFSA is a very detailed, involved form, and can be grueling to get through. Hopefully, you used our line-by-line guide to the FAFSA. Just remember the light at the end of the tunnel – college!

Second, Federal Student Aid will process your application and send you a Student Aid Report (SAR). An electronic copy of your SAR is sent to the school(s) you’ve listed on your FAFSA. This is an important time. You can review your report and look for any errors. If you need to make any changes to your status, or to add a new school code, now is the time.

Finally, you must apply for a PIN. Your PIN is your key to a number of sites that can help you access your financial aid. You can make payments, check the status of a payment and make key changes down the road, if necessary. You can apply for a PIN here. Remember to keep your PIN in a safe place and don’t give it out to anyone.

For more information on the FAFSA, check out www.FAFSAonline.com.

02.26.10 | Reminder: File Your FAFSA!

Posted in FAFSA, Financial Aid by Evan Jacobs

Hey guys and gals – this is a friendly reminder that you likely have a week or two left to file your FAFSA to receive maximum aid from both the government and your chosen school. For a more accurate date, head over to your school’s financial aid department either online and/or in person, and ask for the list of financial aid deadlines for this year.

File your FAFSA

Although the federal deadline for submitting the FAFSA is in the summer, schools require it to be submitted much earlier in the year so they have time to assemble their own financial aid packages and fairly distribute their need-based scholarships and grants.

Check out this blog for more information on the FAFSA that I think you will find very useful. And remember, even if your parents make enough money to disqualify you for need-based federal loans, you still may be awarded an unsubsidized Stafford loan that has much lower fixed interest (6.8%) and generous repayment terms than 99% of the private student loans out in the market.

02.24.10 | FAFSA and your dependency status

Posted in FAFSA by Evan Jacobs

Filling out your FAFSA form at the time same time as your taxes?taxes

It is important to note that filing as an independent on your taxes does not necessarily mean you would be considered as such on your FAFSA.

Just because you live on your own and your parents don’t contribute to your education does NOT necessarily mean you can file as an independent on the FAFSA.  You must file your FAFSA based on the dependency requirements listed here or you risk getting turned down for federal financial aid.

If you still feel – after having your FAFSA results returned to you – that you should be considered an independent student, contact your school’s financial aid office to file an appeal. But be prepared to have extensive documentation to back up your case.

P.S. – You may only file as an “emancipated minor” if you have been declared so in a court of law. Paying your way through school or even having your own apartment does not necessarily make you an emancipated minor. You must be legally declared so by a judge.

02.22.10 | Stafford Loans, in Plain English

Posted in FAFSA, Financial Aid, Stafford Loan by Evan Jacobs

Stafford loanNow that it’s FAFSA time, I thought that the second installment of this blog should focus on a piece of federal aid that many students receive as part of their award: the federal Stafford loan. Read on to find answers to questions like: “What is it?”, “What does it do for me?”, and “What is it going to cost me?”

What is a federal Stafford loan? The Stafford loan is a type of financial aid granted from the United States government to students who file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and show demonstrated financial need. The Stafford Loan program is an evolution of the Guaranteed Student Loan Program, established in 1965, and was named after a Republican senator from Vermont who was highly honored and respected for his work on higher education reform. (more…)

02.17.10 | Federal Work Study, in Plain English

Posted in FAFSA, Federal Work-Study by Evan Jacobs

Well, it’s that time of the year again; time to file your taxes, FAFSA, and other paperwork goodies to your respective school(s). I have received a lot of questions about how different student programs work, and decided to start this “… in Plain English” blog series to address them and simplify the entire experience for you, our readers.

Today, we are going to explore how the Federal Work Study program works, and why it probably is a great way for you to make some pocket money without getting in the way of your studies or classes.

First, what is it? Work study is a federal program that was established in 1964 as part of the Economic Opportunity Act. Basically, it was introduced so that college students have more part-time jobs available to them to offset poverty and afford basic necessities (and potentially repay some of their debt) during their time at school. In the years since, work study has become an excellent tool for getting job experience while in school and serves as one of the primary ways colleges fill what normally would be intern spots in their various departments.

How does it work? Work study eligibility is determined based on the information in your FAFSA. Depending on your level of financial need, you typically can receive anywhere up to roughly $2,000 for the academic year in available earnings. The way you then receive these funds is through working in one of the campus jobs offered by your school — the money is actually kept in an account in your name at your school, and disbursed to you through payroll as you work the hours.

So essentially, the government grants you X amount of dollars for the year, and you pick a position at your school to work to earn that money. It’s just like a normal part time job, except for the fact that there is a total limit on how much you can earn during the year. As far as the pay rate for each job, your financial aid department has a sliding scale that they use to figure out how many hours per week and dollars per hour you can earn based on your award.

Why should I do it? Simply put, it’s a guaranteed job (and money, as long as you work). You get to pick a position that you find interesting — check with your financial aid office for a list of open ones — and this gives you valuable experience, as well as a regular paycheck. One other cool thing is a lot of the work study jobs are somewhat low key, so you may be able to get some homework done in between tasks. Also, every work study job has different hours, and usually are flexible… so you can work as little or as much as you need to (within the guidelines of your award.)

Important Note: If you don’t use your work study grant, it is possible that you will not be awarded another one the following year. Work study is considered a need-based privilege, and if you do not claim it and work at least one semester per academic year, the government may not offer it to you again. This doesn’t always happen, but it is just something to be aware of.

ScholarshipPoints Redemption Code: P-ENGLISH1

02.12.10 | FAFSA and You

Posted in FAFSA, Financial Aid by Evan Jacobs

To open, I’d like to ask a simple question: Have you filed your FAFSA yet? If no, you should know that the FAFSA is one of the most valuable financial aid tools in a student’s arsenal (besides scholarships and grants, which are the best) because it shows the government and your school that you need money for college.

In the eyes of your future school, neglecting to file a FAFSA is equivalent to leaving a gigantic tip on on a small meal – you only do it because you don’t care, or money is no object. Depending on your level of need, there is potential to get a significant portion of your cost of attendance financed at attractive interest rates, and/or qualify for a Pell Grant, which you do not need to pay back. Also, the FAFSA applies to both undergraduate AND graduate students.

So why the urgency? “I read on the Government website that my FAFSA isn’t actually due until June 30, right?” — Technically yes, but the real answer is no. In the case of colleges and universities, the financial aid department of your school will actually set a separate financial aid deadline in order to give themselves enough time to put together everyone’s aid packages.

The bottom line: The longer you wait to file your FAFSA, the less chance you have of receiving an excellent financial aid package from your school. Also, be on the lookout for a separate school-only financial aid form – sometimes they require more than just the FAFSA to evaluate your need; you can contact your financial aid office to ask if there are more forms involved.

One last thing! Don’t forget to send your FAFSA to all the schools you applied to. When you are completing the application, there will be an option toward the end to add the receiving schools by school code… just make sure you get them all in there and you will be A-OK paperwork-wise when your school begins to review financial need.

ScholarshipPoints Redemption Code: FAFSA2K10

12.30.09 | Need a Stafford loan for the 2010-2011 school year?

Posted in Stafford Loan by Kristin Morris

Financial Aid Award LetterIf you are counting on a Stafford loan for the 2010-2011 school year listen up! In order to be eligible for a Stafford loan you must file a FAFSA on or after January 1, 2010. This is just two short days away! The information on the FAFSA helps financial aid officers determine student eligibility for all forms of federal aid including subsidized Stafford loan, unsibsidized Stafford loans, Perkins loans and Pell Grants. It is important to file your FAFSA as close to January 1st as possible since some financial aid is awarded on a first come first serve basis.

If you are a senior in high school or someone going to college for the first time you must complete the full FAFSA form. If you have filed a FAFSA before you only need to complete a FAFSA Renewal. Usually there is no need to complete the entire FAFSA again. The renewal form will reflect any changes in your financial situation since you first submitted the FAFSA. If nothing has changed you still need to submit it, but it should be a very easy process.