In what Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos called “the most significant change to the student aid process … ever,” the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) announced Tuesday an overhaul of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The myriad improvements could simplify the financial aid process for student borrowers and their families beginning this spring.
What changes you can expect from the FAFSA
Generating the most headlines is the fact that the FAFSA is finally coming to your cellphone. Starting in spring 2018, you’ll be able to fill out the FAFSA using a mobile app.
“You can order food, get a ride home, check your bank account, send money to a friend, or, as I’m told, even find your soulmate on your phone!” said Secretary DeVos. “The FAFSA should — at minimum — keep pace with these commonplace activities!”
In addition to filling out the FAFSA on the app, you’ll be able to:
- Read “College Scorecard” reviews for the schools you’re applying to
- Immediately see your expected family contribution and expected Pell Grant award amount
FSA hopes you’ll eventually be able to use the app for other tasks as well — such as comparing financial aid packages, making loan payments, and checking credit scores.
Ben Barrett, a higher education policy analyst at New America, tweeted a video of the rollout:
— Ben Barrett (@BenPBarrett) November 29, 2017
Although he acknowledged the ideas were “cool” and that he was “hopeful,” he also said, because of cybersecurity concerns, he was “highly skeptical that this will be possible under the timeline they have proposed (if at all).”
He also pointed out that FSA is already working to optimize the FAFSA for mobile and that it “does not necessarily need to be an app to make it easier for low-income, mobile-only households to complete.”
That being said, the app is only part of FSA’s plans to streamline the financial aid process.
“We’re one of the world’s largest consumer loan portfolios,” A. Wayne Johnson, FSA’s chief operating officer, told Politico. “We should be a very respected and trusted brand, and, very bluntly, to do that we’ve got to modernize our technical and operating infrastructure.”
In keeping with that goal, FSA said it will consolidate all its consumer-facing websites into one streamlined platform and eventually offer “a single data processing system that gives customers a seamless experience from when they submit a FAFSA form to the point when they make their last student loan payment.”
FSA also stated it’s exploring the idea of a prepaid card students could use to pay for books and other living expenses with their federal student aid funds.
Why the FAFSA is changing
For years, parents and students have complained about the FAFSA being too difficult and lengthy:
i can pinpoint the start of my anxiety disorder as the beginning of filling out my FAFSA
— hannah marie (@sadderall) November 29, 2017
completing fafsa should be considered an extreme sport
— a$h cheekz (@ashleyanero) November 30, 2017
Besides being a hassle, this complexity makes aid less accessible than it should be.
“Nationally, just 3 out of 5 high school seniors complete an application for federal student aid,” reported Inside Higher Ed. “And completion rates are lowest among low-income students, meaning those students leave billions of dollars in aid on the table.”
Simplifying the process — and using a mobile-first approach, as many families don’t own computers — has been hailed as a way to improve access to aid.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee, is famous for saying he’d like to see the FAFSA fit on a postcard.
In a Twitter thread about why it matters, he said the following:
Second, this complexity frustrates the goal of the Pell Grant, which is to help low-income students attend college, because it discourages them from applying for aid.
— Sen. Lamar Alexander (@SenAlexander) November 28, 2017
How to make sure you get financial aid
If you’re getting ready to apply to college or seek federal student aid for next year, these changes will probably come as welcome news.
To ensure you get the financial aid you deserve, stay on top of the FAFSA’s changes and fill it out as soon as you can. The 2018-19 FAFSA is already available, and the 2019-20 FAFSA will become available on Oct. 1, 2018.
You also can explore options such as Frank, an app that promises to help you fill out the FAFSA in four minutes.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2018!
|1 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
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.
2 Important Disclosures for Discover.
3 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) or Turnstile Capital Management, LLC (TCM), which are not affiliated entities. Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. 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. All loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Other terms and conditions apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of 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 applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
* 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.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for PNC.
PNC Bank is one of the nation’s largest education loan providers. For over 40 years, PNC has been committed to helping students and their families make possible the adventure of college.
6 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2018 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
7 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
8 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
9 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|3.69% – 10.94%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents||Visit CollegeAve|
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|4.72% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit LendKey|
|3.72% – 9.68%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents||Visit CommonBond|
|4.19% – 12.06%9||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents||Visit Citizens|