The FAFSA4caster estimates your federal financial aid award before you apply, helping you to compare the cost of attendance at multiple colleges. Plus, you can take steps to maximize the amount of financial aid you receive.
Using this FAFSA estimator is just a first step, but a key one no less. Let’s look at how it works.
For many of us, financial aid is a big factor when deciding where to go to school. In fact, more than 18.9 million students applied for federal financial assistance for the 2017-2018 school year, the most recent data available.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to see your financial aid award until months after you apply — but that’s where the FAFSA4Caster comes in handy. You can begin using it as early as middle school, but it’s likely to be more accurate the closer you are to your junior and senior years of high school.
The tool projects your expected family contribution (EFC), or the amount your school anticipates you can afford to put toward its cost of attendance. 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 FAFSA estimator 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.
The FAFSA4Caster tool is 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 household size. You’ll also state how much income you and your parents earned last year, as well as the worth of any assets your family might have, such as a 529 college savings plan.
The more accurate your inputs, the more precise the tool’s outputs will be.
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:
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 and other bills.
To pinpoint your costs and potential aid package at specific colleges, consider asking your college financial aid counselor about the school’s net price calculator. This tool will clarify what institution- and state-based aid might be available to a student of your specific means.
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. For instance, your parents could lower their asset amounts by paying off bills or debt before applying for the FAFSA on Oct. 1, when the form becomes available for the following school year.
In other words, it’s possible to restructure your assets to lower your EFC. If you have a complicated financial situation, it could be worth consulting 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.
Even if the FAFSA4Caster says you’re not eligible for any aid, you should still submit the FAFSA. Some students mistakenly think they’re not eligible for financial aid — perhaps they think mom and dad make too much money for the FAFSA — and they miss out on assistance because they never file an 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 financial aid not based on need.
To get the most aid possible, make sure to file the FAFSA as soon as possible (Reminder: it opens on Oct. 1 every year). In the meantime, don’t forget to seek out scholarship opportunities to help lower the cost of college overall.
Note: The images above were taken from the FAFSA4Caster tool.
Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
|1.04% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|3.80% – 9.36%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.05% – 11.44%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.22% – 11.66%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.76% – 7.14%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.24% – 11.99%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|* 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.
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.
Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates 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.
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 Earnest.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% 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).
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.76% – 7.14% (2.76% – 7.14% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.01% – 7.50% (3.01% – 7.50% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.19% – 6.73% (2.19% – 6.73% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 2.89% – 7.09% (2.89%-7.09% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 9.54% (1.36% – 8.82% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.13% – 9.84% (4.13% – 9.12% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 8.34% (1.36% – 8.04% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.03% – 8.64% (4.03% – 8.34% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.10% – 7.41% (2.10%-7.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.69% – 7.83% (4.69% – 7.83% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.45% – 9.60% (4.45% – 9.53% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.38% – 12.81% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.55% – 7.05% (3.55% – 6.77% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.07% 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 March 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.11%. 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.
7 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.