This free tool from Federal Student Aid estimates your federal financial aid award before you even submit the FAFSA.
With this estimate, you can compare your cost of attendance at multiple colleges. Plus, you can take steps to maximize the amount of aid you receive.
Let’s take a closer look at how this FAFSA estimator works as you figure out how to pay for college.
FAFSA4caster estimates your financial aid award
For many of us, financial aid is a big factor when deciding where to go to school. In fact, over 19.8 million students applied for federal financial assistance for the 2015-2016 school year, reported the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA).
Unfortunately, you don’t get to see your financial aid award until months after you apply — but that’s where the FAFSA4caster tool comes in handy.
“The FAFSA4caster tool is a great resource for college-bound students and their families,” said financial expert Amy Mahon of Reich Asset Management.
“Prior to filing the FAFSA and in advance of their college search, they should use the tool to estimate their Expected Family Contribution (EFC),” she added. “This will give them an idea of what they are expected to pay toward college based on their income and assets.”
Your EFC is the amount your family is expected to pay for college. If your EFC is lower than the cost of tuition, you could qualify for federal financial aid to fill in the gap. Plus, you could get other aid in the form of scholarships or college grants.
Once the FAFSA4caster reveals your potential EFC, you’ll have a sense of how much you’ll need to pay out of pocket. If your EFC is higher than you think your family can handle, you might reconsider applying to expensive schools. By comparing the cost of attendance at various colleges, you can make a more informed choice about where to apply.
How to use the FAFSA4caster tool
The FAFSA4caster tool is like an extremely slimmed down version of the FAFSA. You won’t have to go into detail about tax information, but you do need to enter your or your parents’ gross income from the previous year. You’ll also enter the worth of your assets, if applicable.
After collecting this information, you can estimate your financial aid in three steps.
Step 1: Indicate your citizenship
You need to be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen to qualify for federal aid.
Step 2: Enter basic information about yourself and your parents
Next, you’ll enter data about yourself and your parents. This includes your date of birth, marital status, and family size. You’ll also say how much income you and your parents earned last year, as well as the worth of any assets your family might have.
Step 3: Review your financial aid estimate
Once you enter the required information, the FAFSA4caster will immediately predict your financial aid eligibility. It will indicate your eligibility for the following:
- Direct Subsidized Loan
- Direct Unsubsidized Loan
- Federal Pell Grant
- Federal Work-Study
For Direct Loans and Pell Grants, the tool will show the maximum amount you’re eligible for. But for work-study, you’ll just get an average, as in the example below. You won’t know the exact amount until you get your financial aid award letter.
Not only does this final page predict your financial aid, but it also works as an interactive calculator. You can enter the cost of a college you like and subtract your predicted financial aid from it. Plus, you can enter different values for state aid or scholarships if you’ve already earned some money for college.
By playing around with these calculations, you can compare your estimated net cost of attendance at various colleges. Instead of being in the dark about how much a college will cost, you’ll have a clearer sense of your tuition bill.
FAFSA4caster helps you make smart financial choices
The FAFSA4caster doesn’t just help you pick colleges based on affordability. You can also use the tool to get the most financial aid possible.
“[Families] can use this information to estimate potential aid from schools and also analyze if there are any ways — legally, of course — to reduce their EFC,” advised Mahon. “For example, clients can try to reduce their investment and checking/savings balances (assessed assets) if possible by paying bills ahead of time before the Oct. 1 FAFSA start date.”
In other words, it’s possible to restructure your assets to lower your EFC. If you have a complicated financial situation, Mahon suggested consulting with a personal financial advisor.
By investigating your EFC with this FAFSA estimator, you can make smart financial moves that could maximize your eligibility for financial aid.
Everyone should submit the FAFSA
Even if the FAFSA4caster says you’re not eligible for aid, you should still submit the FAFSA. According to Federal Student Aid, some students mistakenly think they’re not eligible for financial aid and miss out on assistance because they never filed the application.
Even if you’re not eligible now, filing the FAFSA is a safeguard in case your financial circumstances change in the future. Plus, many colleges look at the FAFSA to determine their own scholarships and non-need based aid.
To get the most aid possible, make sure to file the FAFSA as soon as possible; it opens on Oct. 1 every year. In the meantime, don’t forget to seek out scholarship opportunities to lower the cost of college overall.
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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 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
2 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
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.
(1)All rates shown include the auto-pay 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.
(2)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.
(3)As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.
Information advertised valid as of 4/1/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Discover's lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.
4 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).
5 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
5 Important Disclosures for Citizens.
Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.72%-9.05% (2.72%-9.05% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.79%-9.30% (3.79%-9.30% 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 April 1, 2020, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.92%. 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.
|2.75% – 10.65%*,1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.69% – 10.97%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.80% – 10.37%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.52% – 9.50%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.20% – 14.18%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.14% – 7.92%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|