How You Can Use the FAFSA4caster Tool to Predict Your Financial Aid


If you belong to the 85 percent of students who will receive financial aid for college, you should be using the FAFSA4caster.

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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