How Does Financial Aid Work?

How Does Financial Aid Work?

This weblog put up was initially revealed in January 2018. It has since been up to date to offer probably the most present and relevent data.

Last week, I assumed monetary help was akin to black magic. All I knew for positive was it “helps students pay for college.” I wasn’t positive how and even who certified for it, and I had a sense I wasn’t the one one residing in ignorance.

So, I known as an knowledgeable.

Rebecca Decker is an admissions counselor for Pearson Accelerated Pathways and has been utilizing her experience to assist tons of of faculty students make good monetary choices for the previous seven years (to not point out the 4 years she spent studying about and managing her personal monetary help in faculty).

After an hour-and-a-half-long dialog with Rebecca, breaking down what monetary
help is and the way it works, I realized this government-sponsored monetary program
undoubtedly isn’t black magic…however it isn’t precisely a fairy godmother both.

What is Financial Aid?

Most students don’t have the flexibility to pay for school out of pocket. Considering tuition, books, room and board, and different associated charges, the price will be substantial. Not surprisingly, most students have to analysis monetary help choices.

Financial help consists of quite a lot of parts that assist students pay for school, resembling scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study applications. Although some forms of help don’t should be paid again, others do.

It wasn’t till I talked to Rebecca that I realized that monetary help doesn’t at all times equate to “free money.”

“It’s absolutely possible to qualify for grants, which are essentially free money,” Rebecca mentioned, “but most of the time, accepting financial aid means taking out federal loans.”

I instantly felt ripped off. No one—NO ONE—ever informed me that monetary help meant student loans. Having been raised to reside debt free myself, the concept student debt could also be masquerading beneath a friendlier title didn’t sit nicely with me.

“If financial aid is just a loan,” I requested, “how is it any better than getting a private loan to pay for college?”

Turns out, there are just a few variations between a federal student loan and a personal loan:

  • Most federal loans don’t require a credit test.

  • Federal loans typically have low, fastened rates of interest, which fluctuate primarily based on the primary disbursement date of the loan. The rate of interest for Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans for undergraduate debtors first disbursed on or after July 1, 2020, and earlier than July 1, 2021, is 2.75% (A non-public loan may simply exceed 18%.)

  • Federal loans are tax-deductible.

  • Federal loans may also be deferred—mostly, students will defer their loans for as much as 6 months after they graduate (permitting time to get a job).

  • Lastly, federal loans are eligible for loan forgiveness in some particular circumstances.

While this checklist could make federal student loans look nicer than what Mr. Local Banker Man would has to supply, it ought to be famous that student loans are nonetheless debt. Taking out a student loan means spending cash you don’t have and that you’ll have to pay again… with curiosity.

Taking out a multi-thousand greenback loan at 18, with no profession and even the assure of a great job when you graduate? That’s a monetary gamble. For higher or worse, it’ll impression your life lengthy after faculty.

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Given that, let’s speak concerning the completely different sorts of federal student loans you would apply for and the impression they will have in your monetary future.

What is FAFSA?

The first step towards making use of for monetary help entails filling out an software.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA) is precisely what it appears like—your monetary help software. Completing this kind is the one option to be taught what sort of federal help you qualify for.

The function of the FAFSA is to permit states and faculties to find out which students are eligible to obtain monetary help. It additionally helps them decide how a lot help students will get.

“The first thing students should know is that completing your FAFSA is not a commitment,” Rebecca mentioned. Applying shouldn’t be agreeing to simply accept help. You’re simply discovering out how a lot you qualify for.

How Does FAFSA Work?

What sort of help you qualify for relies nearly solely in your tax data (for minors, meaning your mother and father’ tax data). This is the broad measuring stick the federal government makes use of to find out your eligibility for varied ranges of economic help. The extra you make, the much less help you qualify for, basically. While your state, college alternative, and some different components (e.g., what number of programs you’re planning to take) are factored on this choice, they’re all secondary to your yearly taxes.

It must also be famous that when you or your loved ones’s monetary state of affairs has modified considerably from what’s mirrored in your (or your mother and father’) most up-to-date tax return, you could be eligible to have your monetary help bundle adjusted.

Types of Student Loans

Student loans fall into certainly one of two classes: federal and personal. There are two key variations between federal and personal loans. The first is that federal loans have decrease rates of interest. The second is that federal loan compensation applications provide better flexibility.

Direct Loans: Subsidized and Unsubsidized

Both backed and unsubsidized loans are granted firstly of a semester, and neither is required to be paid again till after you graduate (or in any other case disenroll out of your college). No matter which 12 months the loan covers, when you’re out of faculty, your funds start.

The massive distinction between backed and unsubsidized loans is when you begin paying curiosity.

An unsubsidized loan good points curiosity similar to a personal loan would: beginning the day you are taking it out. The don’t-pay-until-you-graduate grace interval solely applies in your loan funds. Interest funds are nonetheless required all through your time in class.

However, when you take out a backed loan, the federal government pays curiosity for you whilst you’re in class. Your private curiosity funds will start solely after you graduate, together with the remainder of your loan funds.

If you’re going to take out a federal student loan, Rebecca recommends pursuing a backed one.

“I remember the difference by saying ‘unsubsidized is uncool,’” Rebecca mentioned. “Paying off the interest on an unsubsidized loan can be very stressful for students, especially if they aren’t earning much on the side while they’re in school.”

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Plus, she talked about, if you’re incomes an revenue whereas in class, you’d be higher served by placing that cash towards paying in your subsequent semester upfront and skipping the loans altogether somewhat than paying down a rising debt.

The fewer loans you are taking out, the much less curiosity you pay. The much less curiosity you pay, the cheaper faculty can be.

If you resolve to stroll the precarious loan path and don’t qualify for backed and unsubsidized loans, or when you’ve got taken out as a lot as you’ll be able to however nonetheless want extra cash to cowl your ultimate faculty prices, there’s a third kind of federal loan to pursue. But in Rebecca’s opinion, it’s a really poor alternative and ought to be prevented in any respect prices.

Direct PLUS Loans

Direct PLUS Loans work a little bit in a different way than each backed and unsubsidized loans:

  • First, PLUS loans require a credit test. So when you don’t have credit, your mother and father should act as co-signers. This means when you fail to pay it again, the loan burden will default to your mother and father.

  • Second, at 5.3%, the rate of interest for PLUS loans is larger than that of a backed or unsubsidized loan.

  • Third, not solely do PLUS loans acquire curiosity from the day they’re borrowed, similar to an unsubsidized loan, however you’re additionally required to pay an additional payment on high. Currently, the loan payment is the same as a little bit over 4% of the quantity you borrow.

Bottom line: this loan is accessible, however it’s costly—and probably dangerous to not simply you but additionally your mother and father.

“When I was applying for school, my parents wouldn’t co-sign this loan for me simply on principle,” Rebecca mentioned. Her household was one of many many who determined the potential risks of making use of for this kind of loan outweighed the advantages of faculty. That’s severe.

Other Types of Financial Aid

Students must also know that they might qualify for quite a lot of “free” monetary help choices, resembling grants and scholarships.


While the loan portion of economic help is what most students qualify for, there’s a happier facet to the method. By finishing a FAFSA, you may additionally qualify for grants.

A grant is a free reward of cash that the recipient shouldn’t be required to pay again besides beneath sure circumstances (like when you disenroll early or make an identical change that alters your eligibility). These grants are what each student thinks of after they think about monetary help, and it’s each bit pretty much as good because it sounds.

If you qualify for a grant, we advocate you are taking it earlier than contemplating any of the student debt choices we talked about above.

The Federal Pell Grant

“Think of the Federal Pell Grant as a collective pool of money set aside by the government to help students pay for college. Each year, this money is distributed among applicants based on their need.”

For the 2020-21 college 12 months, the utmost quantity a student may obtain from the Pell Grant was $6,345 per 12 months. That’s a good chunk, particularly for students pursuing group faculty or one other low-cost choice. Of course, how a lot of this cash you really obtain depends upon your monetary want, the price of your college, whether or not you’re attending half or full time, and what number of semesters you’re paying for.

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Your “financial need” is the most important consideration right here. This is decided primarily based in your most up-to-date (or your mother and father’ most up-to-date) tax return. And, sadly, there’s a big swath of people who fall into the camp of creating an excessive amount of to qualify for the Pell Grant whereas not really making sufficient to really pay for school. Curious when you’re eligible for Pell? The U.S. Department of Education gives a useful software for estimating how a lot help you’ll qualify for.

State Grants

Rebecca wished to enter element about state grants as nicely—and what sort of cash you could or could not qualify for in response to your state. Unfortunately, state grants aren’t standardized, which suggests the knowledge could be far too sophisticated and technical to narrate on this put up.

But it’s price noting that in case your state does have a grant to supply, you’ll discover out by filling out a FAFSA. You can even contact your state grant company to ask about doable grants.

School Grants and Scholarships

Like with state grants, that is one other kind of grant that isn’t standardized however is accessible by finishing a FAFSA. However, you’ll want to use to the college in query to achieve entry to the knowledge.

If you’re accepted to the college in query, it’ll put collectively a monetary help award letter primarily based in your FAFSA. You’ll obtain this letter alongside together with your notification of acceptance to the college. If you qualify for any of the college’s grants or scholarships, this letter will let you know.

Of course, you may also contact the college on to ask about doable scholarships or grants you could qualify for. You would possibly have the ability to discover out about scholarships supplied for particular majors.

Learn More About How to Pay for College

My dialog with Rebecca was extra useful than I may have hoped for, however it left me perturbed. When grant cash is so troublesome to come back by and loans are really easy, it may be tempting to imagine student loans are the easiest way to pay for school.

But that’s simply not true.

At Accelerated Pathways, we imagine faculty shouldn’t be a debt sentence. We assist students keep away from the necessity for student loans altogether by reducing their faculty prices via the usage of inexpensive on-line programs. I’d encourage you to make a sensible monetary choice and keep away from federal student loans. Learn extra about how Accelerated Pathways may help you lower your expenses in your schooling and graduate debt free.

Special because of Rebecca Decker, certainly one of our superb admissions counselors, for taking the time to talk with me about this matter.

What to learn subsequent? Here are some concepts:

Abigail Endsley

A former student counselor and Accelerated Pathways student, Abigail is now a author and Accelerated Pathways Content Manger who’s enthusiastic about empowering others to realize their targets. When she’s not arduous at work, you’ll find her studying, baking cupcakes, or singing Broadway songs. Loudly.