5 Ways the Federal Student Aid Website Can Help You Before, During, and After College

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federal student aid

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As part of the U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid (FSA) is the biggest provider of financial aid in the country. It grants more than $120 billion in financial assistance to over 13 million students every year.

If you’re a student or parent of a student, you’re bound to spend some time on the Federal Student Aid website. It has a wealth of resources on preparing and paying for college.

Federal Student Aid is a one-stop shop for learning about financial aid. Read on for all the resources StudentAid.ed.gov has to offer — and how you can make the most of this comprehensive site.

Who should use the Federal Student Aid website?

Any prospective, current, or former students — as well as their parents — will benefit from a visit to the Federal Student Aid website.

If you’re not yet in college, you’ll find tips on how to research colleges and careers. Plus, you’ll get information on how to fill out the FAFSA. You won’t fill out the application on this site, but you can learn all about it.

If you’re a current student or have already graduated, you can also learn about repaying federal student loans. FSA goes over your options for loan repayment, forgiveness, and consolidation. It also provides information about deferment, forbearance, and default.

You won’t necessarily find advice customized to your specific situation, but you’ll get an overview of financial aid and how it works, along with a glossary of terms you need to know.

5 things you can learn on the Federal Student Aid website

Federal Student Aid website

Image credit: Federal Student Aid

Although it’s tough to boil down all the resources the FSA website offers, here are five of the most useful ones for students and their families.

1. How to prepare for college

Preparing for college

Image credit: Federal Student Aid

If you’re a prospective student, check out the first tab on the FSA website. It goes over how to choose a college, take required tests, and apply. Each page connects you with other important websites, including the College Navigator tool and College Board, where you can sign up for the SAT.

Not sure how to start the college prep process? Check out the FSA’s checklists for academic and financial preparation. These checklists help you stay on track all the way from elementary school up until 12th grade. There’s even one specifically for adult students.

Beyond these college checklists, you’ll also find resources on career exploration. The FSA website encourages students to consider the return on investment on their degree. With its career search tool, you can learn about professions you’re interested in, plus you’ll get a sense of average post-college salaries.

Finally, you can read budgeting tips as you get ready for college. This section talks about setting short-, medium-, and long-term financial goals. While it might not be your ultimate go-to for personal finance advice, its strategies are definitely worth checking out.

2. Information about the types of financial aid

Types of financial aid

Image credit: Federal Student Aid

Federal Student Aid manages billions of dollars in financial aid. This aid includes grants, need-based and non-need based loans, and work-study. On the FSA website, you can learn all about the different types of financial aid.

Among its various grants, for instance, the FSA provides Pell Grants, TEACH Grants, and grants for military families. It also disburses subsidized and unsubsidized student loans and PLUS loans.

You won’t actually apply for loans on the FSA website, but you can learn how they work, along with their interest rates and fees. By reading over this information, you’ll be better prepared to understand your financial aid package.

You can also research the federal work-study program. Work-study offers part-time, on-campus jobs to qualifying students. This section of the site goes over how the work-study program works, how much you can earn, and what jobs you can expect to find.

Once you’ve learned about the different types of aid, go on to read about the tax advantages of federal student loans. These include the American Opportunity Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, and the student loan tax deduction.

Finally, head to the last tab for warnings on avoiding student loan scams. This section discusses how to spot fraud and protect yourself against identity theft. Plus, it shows you all the free resources you never have to pay for.

By reviewing this section of StudentAid.ed.gov, you’ll be well-versed in the different types of student aid. Plus, you’ll have a strategic sense of how to get tax benefits on your financial aid and avoid predatory lenders.

3. How to qualify for financial aid

Qualify for student loans

Image credit: Federal Student Aid

Once you’ve learned about the different types of financial aid, your next question might be about whether you’re eligible. This next tab discusses who qualifies for federal financial assistance.

It goes over basic eligibility requirements, such as demonstrating financial need and being a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen. You must also maintain satisfactory academic progress to retain your aid year after year.

To ensure you qualify, read over the full list of criteria. If you’re eligible, move on to the next stage: submitting the FAFSA.

4. Tips on the FAFSA

Completing the FAFSA

Image credit: Federal Student Aid

Federal Student Aid is a treasure chest of financial aid, but first, you need the key. That key is the FAFSA. To get financial aid, all students must first fill out the FAFSA.

This section of the Federal Student Aid website discusses the FAFSA in detail. You’ll learn how to fill out the FAFSA and when to submit it. It will also guide you through creating an FSA ID and reporting financial information.

When you’re ready to fill out the application, head to FAFSA.gov. You might also check out the FAFSA4Caster tool. This tool helps you predict how much aid you might qualify for.

5. How to repay your loans

Repaying federal student loans

Image credit: Federal Student Aid

Last but certainly not least, the final tab on the Federal Student Aid website discusses how to repay your student loans. First, it goes over all the different repayment plans, from the standard plan to Income-Based Repayment.

It also discusses how you can postpone student loan payments through forbearance and deferment. These can be useful options if you run into financial hardship or pause your income to go to graduate school. In addition, you’ll learn about loan consolidation, which can help if you’ve gone into default or want to simplify your payments.

Anyone considering a public service career should check out the FSA’s guides on Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness. You can also read all about student loan discharge in the case of a closed school or another qualifying event.

Finally, you’ll learn about avoiding default and getting out of collections. The site goes over what happens if you don’t pay your student loans. Plus, you’ll learn how to rehabilitate a loan if you’ve gone into default.

The site offers an overview of the different ways you can repay your student loans. You won’t get advice customized to your specific situation, nor will you learn any special strategies. But you will get a thorough explanation about the essentials of student loan repayment.

Other helpful Federal Student Aid sites

The Federal Student Aid website will teach you about student loan repayment and how to fill out the FAFSA. To actually create an account and submit applications, you’ll head away from the main FSA website to other sites under the FSA umbrella.

StudentLoans.gov, for instance, is where you’ll go to consolidate your student loans. You’ll also sign into your account to complete entrance and exit counseling. Parents can apply for Parent PLUS loans through this site.

As previously mentioned, you will fill out and submit the FAFSA through FAFSA.gov. You’ll create an FSA ID, as well as collect important financial information. After submitting the FAFSA, you’ll be one step closer to federal financial aid.

The FSA website is an excellent resource for learning the ABCs of financial aid. But you’ll head to its companion websites for interactive and customizable tools, including this student loan repayment estimator.

Contact information for Federal Student Aid

If you have questions about federal student aid, contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center via phone, email, or live chat.

The center’s phone number is 1-800-433-3243. Note that the center can only help you resolve an issue with an FSA ID if you’re the owner of that ID.

You can also email Federal Student Aid via this online form or speak with an agent through web chat. Before reaching out, you might also sift through the student aid FAQs page for an answer to your question.

The FSA website is an essential resource

Federal Student Aid is responsible for processing the FAFSA and disbursing federal student aid funds every year. Its website informs students and their families about the financial aid process.

The FSA website is an invaluable resource for staying informed about your financial assistance options. It’s never too early to come up with a plan for financing your education, so start today.

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N/A7Undergraduate and Graduate

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1.12% – 11.23%8Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.15% – 11.01%9Undergraduate 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.

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.


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.