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

 May 2, 2020
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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.

What is the FAFSA4Caster?
How to use the FAFSA4Caster tool
The FAFSA4Caster can help you make smart financial choices
Why everyone should submit the FAFSA

What is the FAFSA4Caster?

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.

How to use the FAFSA4Caster tool

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 can help 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. 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.

Why everyone should submit the FAFSA

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.

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0.00% – 23.00%4Undergraduate

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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 Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community 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. As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Information advertised valid as of 9/15/2022. 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 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 3.47% APR to 13.03% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 2.80% APR to 11.69% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

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

4 Important Disclosures for Edly.

Edly Disclosures

1. Loan Example:

  • Loans from $5,000 – $20,000
  • Example: $10,000 IBR Loan with a 7% gross income payment percentage for a Senior student making $65,000 annually throughout the life of the loan.
    • Payments deferred for the first 12 months during final year of education.
    • After which, $270 Monthly payment for 12 months.
    • Then $379 Monthly payment for 44 months.
    • Followed by one final payment of $137 for a total of $20,610 paid over the life of the loan.

About this example

The initial payment schedule is set upon receiving final terms and upon confirmation by your school of the loan amount. You may repay this loan at any time by paying an effective APR of 23%. The maximum amount you will pay is $22,500 (not including Late Fees and Returned Check Fees, if any). The maximum number of regularly scheduled payments you will make is 60. You will not pay more than 23% APR. No payment is required if your gross earned income is below $30,000 annually or if you lose your job and cannot find employment.

2. Edly Student IBR Loans are unsecured personal student loans issued by FinWise Bank, a Utah chartered commercial bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to eligibility criteria and review of creditworthiness and history. Terms and conditions apply.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  • Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates are based on the 30-day average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of September 1, 2022, the 30-day average SOFR index is 2.23%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the SOFR index, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable interest rate is the greater of 21.00% or the 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 are only available for the most creditworthy applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate or medical 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.


    Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-10.35% (3.25% – 9.69% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.24% – 10.59% (4.24% – 9.93% APR). 

    Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.90% (3.75% – 9.68% APR). Fixed interest rates range from  5.22% – 10.14% (5.22% – 9.91% APR). 

    Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.35% (3.75% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.20% – 9.59% (5.20% – 9.39% APR).

    Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.02% (3.75% -8.98% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.18% – 9.26% (5.18% – 9.22% APR). 

    Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-9.21% (3.25% – 9.21% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.96%-9.50% (3.96%-9.50% APR).

    Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 6.58%-11.72% (6.58% – 11.62% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.82% APR). 

    Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 5.67%-9.17% (5.67% – 8.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.08% APR).

6 Important Disclosures for Funding U.

Funding U 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.