FAFSA Scams and Tips on How to Submit the Financial Aid Form

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As if filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) isn’t already stressful enough, there are a variety of FAFSA scams that can cost you money — and cause headaches — if you fall for them.

From impersonating the U.S. Department of Education, to making you pay to submit your FAFSA, there are many manipulations out there ranging from inconvenient to straight-up nefarious. Don’t get scammed out of your cash at a time when you need it most.

Here’s how to spot a FAFSA scam, how to submit your form the right way, and other things to know about this important financial aid document:

4 FAFSA scams to beware of

Here, in no specific order, are four common con-games used to steal money from student loan borrowers:

Fee to submit your FAFSA

Technically, it’s not illegal for someone to charge you for help filling out the FAFSA. However, you can do it on your own so there’s no need to incur this expense. Even though it might be intimidating to fill out the FAFSA on your own it’s actually important you know everything you’re submitting on your FAFSA so you don’t inadvertently commit FAFSA fraud. Make sure you’re honest about facts such as your marital status and income.

The real FAFSA site is www.fafsa.gov. Don’t be fooled by fraudulent sites, make sure to always look at the URL because it can sometimes be hard to tell which FAFSA site is real. Some scammers try to make their websites look like the real FAFSA site so that you don’t question them when they charge a fee to submit your FAFSA. The federal government took legal action against some of these sites in 2015, but scammers still continue to find ways to defraud unsuspecting students by mimicking the real FAFSA site. Remember it’s called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid for a reason — it’s free.

Communication from ‘U.S. Department of Education’

The FAFSA is administered by Federal Student Aid (FSA) — an office of the Department of Education — which could explain why some scammers will send false emails, calls and text messages impersonating the federal government in an attempt to get you to pay extra fees or part with important, personal information such as your Social Security number.

Here are some common scenarios scammers try to use when they contact you in this manner:

  • Banking information needed: Scammers often ask for your banking or credit card details to “hold” a scholarship for you. A legitimate financial aid offer would never require you to do this.
  • Pay a fee to receive the scholarship: If you receive communication asking you to pay a fee in order to receive scholarship or grant money that you have qualified for, this too is a financial aid scam. There are no upfront or administrative fees for legitimate scholarships or grants from the federal government.
  • You’re selected as a finalist in a contest you never entered: Some scammers will claim you’ve made it to the final round of a scholarship competition and need to provide personal details or banking information as part of the last round. This is not how the federal government distributes financial aid.

Financial aid seminars that make promises

It can be tricky to discern which financial aid seminars are legit because many local schools hold legitimate seminars that are important for students who need to learn more about their federal financial aid options. Not all financial aid seminars are FAFSA scams. The trouble comes when you start looking off the beaten path for seminars that make sweeping claims or that cost money to attend. Here’s how to tell if a financial aid seminar falls into the student scams category.

  • High pressured sales pitches: If you’re experiencing pressure to make an immediate purchase decision about any financial service, this is likely a scam scenario, especially if it relates to helping you fill out the FAFSA. Responsible financial services don’t resort to pressure or push you to make a financial decision without thoroughly thinking through all aspects.
  • Same service you could get for free: Oftentimes your school will offer financial aid help for free through their financial services offers or from guidance counselors. If you’re at a financial aid seminar that’s trying to charge you for services you could get for free, this should be a huge red flag that it’s a student scam.
  • Extraordinary success stories: Be wary if you hear amazing testimonials from people who have used the service and succeeded. Not everyone offering a success story is necessarily honest or legitimate — they could be paid by the organizers of the seminar. Instead, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests asking for a list of three local families who have used the service in the last year and succeeded. Follow up with these families privately to ask important questions about the service.

Exclusive scholarships

Since the FAFSA is free to submit, some scammers have resorted to trying other creative means to get you to pay for part of the process. One of these FAFSA scams is to inform you of other, exclusive scholarships that could be available to you if you pay for the information. The truth is — most information about scholarships is available on the internet already, for free. There isn’t a hidden listing of scholarships that someone is able to find you for a fee.

After you submit your FAFSA legitimately, you’ll be notified of any scholarships awarded to you as part of your financial aid package. You don’t have to pay any extra to get access to these. You can also apply to additional scholarships on your own, but paying for a service to find them for you is likely a waste of your money.

8 tips on submitting your FAFSA

  • Use your FAFSA ID: When you start your FAFSA application, you will be asked to enter either your FSA ID or student’s information. Choose the FSA ID option, as this will enable you to log in to your account without having to provide personally identifiable information every time.
  • Find out your FAFSA deadline: FAFSA deadlines vary in each state.
  • Leave enough time: Get started early, as the FAFSA questions require thorough answers. The last thing you want to do is rush through it.
  • Record your income accurately: Do not include student income in family income, a common mistake in FAFSA applications. You don’t want to accidentally commit FAFSA fraud.
  • Look for additional paperwork: Just because you finish the FAFSA doesn’t mean you’re done with the process. Your school will likely request that you fill out supplemental forms. It can help to find out what extra forms your school requires at the beginning of the process and create a checklist to make sure you don’t miss anything.
  • Be proactive if you’re running late: If you think you’re going to miss the FAFSA deadline, contact the school and see about the possibility of an extension.
  • Negotiate on your behalf: Don’t settle for your first offer. You may be able to negotiate a better financial aid package.
  • Don’t count yourself out: Do not assume you or your family make too much money to qualify for federal student aid. You never know what you could qualify for, which is why the U.S. Department of Education recommends that every college-bound student fill out the FAFSA, even if you believe your income is above the financial aid limits.

FAFSA FAQ

Will FAFSA give me money? You don’t get money directly from filling out the FAFSA. The FAFSA is a tool to help the federal government assess if and how to award you financial aid.

What happens if you commit FAFSA fraud? FAFSA fraud is when you intentionally provide false information on your FAFSA. If the amount of money you’ve fraudulently received is over $200 you could be charged with a felony and sentenced for up to five years in jail or charged up to $20,000 — or both. If it is under $200 you could be charged with a misdemeanor.

What is the FAFSA deadline in my state? Every state has a different FAFSA deadline but you can determine yours by heading here.

Which FAFSA site is real? The real FAFSA site is www.fafsa.gov. The U.S. government also owns www.fafsa.com, but this site will redirect you to the .gov site automatically. There is only one real FAFSA site.

Do I need an FSA ID before I start working on my FAFSA? You don’t need an FSA ID before you start filling out the FAFSA online, but you do need one before filling out the FAFSA using the myStudentAid app. Getting an FSA ID only takes a few minutes and could prevent delays.

If there was only one piece of FAFSA advice you could provide, what would it be? Make sure to apply for the FAFSA even if you don’t think you’ll qualify. Some schools use the FAFSA information to administer scholarships that are not necessarily need-based.

Meredith Simonds contributed to this report.

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Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
1.04% – 11.98%1Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

1.13% – 11.23%*,2Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

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3.80% – 9.36%3Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

2.20% – 6.17%4Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit EdvestinU

1.05% – 11.44%5Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.82% – 11.32%6Undergraduate

Visit Ascent

N/A7Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit FundingU

1.12% – 11.23%8Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.15% – 11.01%9Undergraduate and Graduate

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* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.

1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
 
This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 7/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.


2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.  If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.


4 Important Disclosures for EdvestinU.

EdvestinU Disclosures

EDvestinU is a product of the nonprofit New Hampshire Higher Education Loan Corporation (dba The NHHEAF Network) NMLS ID#1527348.

APR range and repayment rates displayed assume a $10,000 loan disbursed in two equal disbursements. APR low assumes immediate repayment and 7 year repayment. APR high assumes deferred repayment and 15 year repayment. APR’s presented include a .50% interest rate reduction for electing to have payments automatically deducted from a bank account. The interest rate reduction for authorizing our servicer to automatically deduct monthly payments from a savings or checking account will not reduce the monthly payment, but will reduce the monthly finance charge, resulting in a lower total cost of loan. All examples are provided for educational purposes and actual terms may vary based on credit history, loan amount, applicable repayment term, and chosen repayment plan and method. Please note that the interest rate on variable rate programs may increase or decrease over time. The variable rate example assumes the same standard rate for the life of the loan. The NHHEAF Network reserves the right to modify or cancel its program at any time.  

Eligibility: Dependent and independent U.S. citizen students. Currently residents of Washington and California are not eligible for EDvestinU programs.
Students must be enrolled at least half-time at a U.S.-based Title IV, degree-granting college or university.
The borrower or cosigner (if applicable) must have a minimum adjusted gross income of $30,000.

Loan Limits: Minimum loan amount of $1,000.
Maximum loan amount is cost of education less aid received.

Repayment: Standard or graduated repayment options available during repayment; 7, 10, or 15 year term selected by the borrower.
6-month grace period available to borrowers electing a full in-school deferment. 
No prepayment penalty.
Payments may be postponed during repayment by qualifying for an economic hardship deferment.

Cosigner Release: Cosigner release allowed if an account is in current standing, after 36 months of consecutive & on-time payments with a borrower FICO >749 for EDvestinU Private Student Loans and minimum income requirement of $30,000 with no foreclosures, repossessions, wage garnishments, unpaid tax liens, unpaid judgments or other public records having an open balance exceeding $100 during the last 7 years. The borrower must not currently be involved in bankruptcy proceeding or had any bankruptcy filings during the past 10 years and cannot have any defaults on education loans.


5 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
     
  2. Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
    Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

    Available Terms
    For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
    Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

    In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).


6 Important Disclosures for Ascent Student Loans.

Ascent Student Loans Disclosures

Ascent loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: >AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs;.

Rates are effective as of 07/01/2021 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes income-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: >AscentFunding.com/Rates.

1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions, please visit AscentFunding.com/Cashback. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student borrowers must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs are available for the most creditworthy applicants and may require a cosigner.


7 Important Disclosures for Funding U.

FundingU Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.


8 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

sofiDisclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.10% to 11.34% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.86% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.05% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.20% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (>www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).


9 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.15% – 11.01% (1.15% – 10.24 APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 11.70% (4.18% – 10.83% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23%% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).

Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 9.22% (1.89% – 8.50% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).

Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).

Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97% – 7.06% (1.97% – 7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).

Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).

Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.53% – 7.03% (3.53% – 6.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).

Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of June 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. 

Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.

Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.

Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer.  Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.

Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.

Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.

Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.

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