12 Steps to Filling out the FAFSA Form 2021-2022

For many people, one of the first steps to applying for college is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA®. This form helps the government determine your eligibility for federal student aid, including subsidized and unsubsidized student loans, as well as grants and work-study opportunities.

Completing The 2021-2022 FAFSA Application

The FAFSA form 2021 may look a bit different if you’ve filled out the form in the past. That’s because of the FAFSA® Simplification Act, which was passed in December 2020 and designed to make the FAFSA more accessible for lower-income students and families. While most of these changes won’t go into effect for the upcoming FAFSA cycle, we’ll point in this article a few changes to FAFSA you will see this year.

Recommended: FAFSA 101: How to Complete the FAFSA

12 Steps to Fill Out the FAFSA

FAFSA opens Oct. 1, 2020, and closes June 30, 2022 for the 2021/2022 academic year. However, FAFSA deadlines may vary depending on the states and schools you’re applying to, so you may want to check with each school to confirm their FAFSA deadline. If you’re ready to fill out FAFSA, we’ve outlined steps required in the process.

Not ready to fill out the FAFSA? You can fill out an abridged Federal Student Aid Estimator to give you an idea of what filling out the actual FAFSA will be like and to estimate your expected student aid package.

1. Required Documents Ready

Before even loading the online FAFSA form, it may be useful to have all your required documents in order to make the application process even easier. The things you’ll need may include:

•   Social security or alien registration ID

•   Drivers license or state ID

•   Federal income tax returns, W-2s and other financial documents for both yourself and your parent(s) if you’re a dependent (more on that later)

•   Bank statements

•   Untaxed income

•   Title IV Institution Codes for schools you’re applying to (again, more on that later)

•   Download app, if you plan on applying on mobile (you can also apply on desktop)

Dependent students will also need to provide similar information for their parents.

2. FSA IDs

There’s one more thing you’ll need in order to apply for FAFSA, and that’s a federal student aid ID, or FSA ID . This is simply the username or password you’ll use to log into FAFSA. Note that if you need to enter parental financial information, whoever is providing that financial information will also need to create an FSA ID .

3. Basic Information

Now that you have a FSA ID, you’re ready to log in and get started. The first few steps of FAFSA will be filling out basic information. The site or app will first ask you if you are a student, parent, or preparer helping a student fill out the FAFSA. Select which one applies to you. You should then be prompted to provide the following:

•   Your full name

•   Date of birth

•   Social security number

4. Starting the Application

Once you fill in this information, you will be asked to accept or decline the disclaimer, which details how the site will use and monitor your data. You should then be prompted to either start a FAFSA for 2021-2022 or 2020-2021. If you’re filing FAFSA for the upcoming year and are not currently enrolled in college, you should choose “Start 2021-2022 FAFSA.”

You’ll also be asked to create a save key, which is simply a four-digit code you’ll use to save your application. If you don’t finish FAFSA in one sitting, then you’ll be asked to enter your save key to continue filling it out at a later date.

5. Section 1: Student Information

Next, you’ll need to enter some information about yourself, including (but not limited to):

•   Social security number

•   Full name

•   Date of birth

•   Email address

•   Phone number

•   Home address

•   State of residence

•   Citizenship status

•   High school completion status

•   College degree level

•   If you’d like to be considered for work-study

6. Section 2: College Search Section

To send your FAFSA information to schools you’re applying to, you’ll need to find the federal school code for each school you want your information sent to. Doing so allows colleges to receive your FAFSA information and use it to provide you a financial aid package. You can find this code either on the school’s website or by searching for it on the FAFSA form itself.

7. Section 3: Dependency Status

You can either apply to FAFSA as a dependent of your parents or as an independent. If you’re a first-time college student and will graduate from high school in 2022 and/or are under 24 years old, you’ll most likely need to file as a dependent, meaning you’ll need your parents’ financial information to apply.

Section 3 of the FAFSA will help you determine if you’re an independent or dependent student. You’ll need to provide some more information about yourself, such as your marital status, if you have children or other dependents, and if you’re at risk or are currently experiencing homelessness.

Once you’ve filled out this information, FAFSA should display a message that determines whether or not you’re considered a dependent and therefore need parental financial information to determine expected family contribution (which will soon be replaced with the student aid index).

(Note that the rest of these steps assume you’re filing as a dependent. While the process of filing as an independent will be similar, you won’t be asked to provide information about your parents.)

8. Section 4: Parental Information

If you need parental information for FAFSA, you’ll include that in this section. Information you’ll need includes (but is not limited to):

•   Parental marital status

•   Date of parent’s marriage

•   Parent social security number

•   Parent name

•   Parent date of birth

•   Parent email address

•   Parent’s spousal information for all of the above

•   Household size

9. Section 5: Parent Financials

Next, you’ll need to provide some financial information about your parents. You’ll be asked for information such as (but not limited to):

•   Last year taxes were filed

•   Tax return type

•   Filing status

•   IRS Data Retrieval Tool (otherwise, need to fill in tax information manually)

•   Combat pay

•   Grant and scholarship aid

•   Education credits

•   Untaxed IRA distributions

•   IRA deductions and payments

•   Tax exempt interest income

•   Child support payments

•   Need-based employment programs

•   Net worth

10. Section 6: Student financials

Now it’s time to provide some financial information about yourself. You’ll be asked for information such as (but not limited to):

•   Last year taxes were filed

•   Tax return type

•   Filing status

•   IRS Data Retrieval Tool (otherwise, need to fill in tax information manually)

•   Combat pay

•   Grant and scholarship aid

•   Education credits

•   Untaxed IRA distributions

•   IRA deductions and payments

•   Tax exempt interest income

•   Child support payments

•   Need-based employment programs

•   Net worth

11. Check for errors

Once you’ve reached the end of the application, you should receive a FAFSA summary. Before hitting submit, you may want to ensure that all the information you included is accurate. Reviewing this information closely may help avoid filing a FAFSA correction later.

12. Agreement of Terms

The FAFSA requires you to accept or reject its agreement of terms. If your parent(s) also provided information because you filed as a dependent, they will also need to accept these terms in order for you to submit the application. Both you and your parent(s) will e-sign using your FSA ID. Once you’ve accepted the terms, your FAFSA will be complete.

Sample FAFSA Form for 2021/2022

Do you need some extra help? FAFSA’s Financial Aid Tool Kit is rich with resources and information. Some documents include step-by-step instructions on how to complete the FAFSA on the website and mobile app, lists of tips for filling out the FAFSA, question-and-answer documents, and more. You can also view a sample FAFSA form or a presentation on how to fill out FAFSA using the mobile app.

This student aid report may also be useful if you need to see another FAFSA sample form.

Recommended: How much FAFSA Money Can I Expect?

What’s Different About the 2021/2022 FAFSA

As previously discussed, the FAFSA Simplification Act passed last December resulted in a few changes to FAFSA. However, most of these changes won’t go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year. For FAFSA 2021-2022, major changes include the following:

•   Automatic-Zero EFC: FAFSA will give all applicants with an income of $27,000 or less an EFC of zero, meaning FAFSA does not expect families to help pay for the applicant’s college. This amount increased $1,000 from last year, which set the cut-off at $26,000, so more students should be able to receive a EFC of zero.

•   Schedule 1 Questions: When populating tax information from the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, the tool will automatically answer whether or not the applicant filed for a Schedule 1.

Additional changes are already scheduled for the 2022/2023 FAFSA form, such as drug convictions no longer negatively affecting one’s ability to get financial aid. Additionally, registration status for Selective Service for eligible males will also no longer be considered for financial aid. You can review the latest changes to the FAFSA on the official FAFSA website.

A Few Extra Tips

Completing the FAFSA can be an overwhelming process. For those filing for the first time, you may want to check out this 2021-2022 FAFSA guide and some FAFSA tips to make the process even easier. If you need some more help on how to fill out FAFSA 2021/2022, some tips from StudentAid.Gov include:

1.    Completing the form: It can be tempting to skip the FAFSA altogether, especially if you’re from a middle- or upper-class family and you believe you won’t be eligible for aid. However, falling for this assumption could mean leaving aid on the table.

2.    Paying attention to deadlines: As stated earlier, FAFSA 2021/2022 opens Oct. 1 and closes June 30, 2022. However, the schools you’re applying to may require you to fill out the FAFSA before June 30, so it’s best to ask each school’s financial aid office about what their FAFSA deadlines are to avoid losing out on aid.

3.    Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool: This tool auto-fills your latest tax information from the IRS database. When you fill out FAFSA, you’ll have the option to either fill out your tax data manually or use the tool. Using the tool could help you avoid making costly mistakes while also saving you time.

4.    Filling out every section: Not sure how to fill out a section? FAFSA offers helpful tips throughout each section of the FAFSA form to make filling out the FAFSA easier. Additionally, not filling out a section of FAFSA could result in your form not being submitted or you receiving less financial aid.

5.    Double-checking the form: Before you submit, you may want to go back and double-check your answers to make sure everything is filled out and is accurate.

Recommended: Navigating Your Financial Aid Package

The Takeaway

Filling out the FAFSA is a great first step to pay for your dream school. This is one of the best ways of getting scholarships and grants you won’t have to pay back or government-backed loans to help you pay for college-related costs. By learning how to properly fill out the FAFSA (and then actually doing so!), you can increase your odds of getting a bigger financial aid package.

However, if your financial aid package doesn’t cover all your college expenses, you may want to consider private student loans. It’s important to note that private student loans don’t offer the same protections as federal student loans, like income-driven repayment plans or deferment options. For this reason, private student loans are generally considered only after other sources of funding have been considered.

SoFi’s Private Student Loans are available for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as parents. In just a few minutes, you can apply online for student loans and be well on your way to financing your education.

Find out more about SoFi’s Private Student Loan options.

Header photo credit: iStock/Vladimir Sukhachev

FAFSA photos credit: FAFSA’s Financial Aid Tool Kit


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

What Is a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan?

Federal Direct Subsidized Loans are available to students who demonstrate financial need. The federal government subsidizes this type of loan by paying the interest that accrues while the student is enrolled at least half-time and during qualifying periods of deferment, such as the grace period.

It’s one of three federal student loans available to student borrowers. The others include Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, and Direct Consolidation Loans. Read on for more information about the benefits of Direct Subsidized loans and details about other types of student loans available to eligible students.

What Are the Benefits of a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan?

Like any other student loan, you will be responsible for paying back your Federal Direct Subsidized Loan after you finish school, but unlike many other student loans, you won’t be responsible for paying interest while you are in school or during your grace period. The government subsidizes this type of loan by paying the interest on your behalf.

Since the government is paying the interest, it is not capitalized on the loan when you graduate. When interest is capitalized, it means it is added to the principal value of the loan. This becomes the new principal value and interest will accrue based on this new balance. Since there is no interest to capitalize, the amount you originally borrowed and the amount you’ll have to repay after your grace period ends will be the same.

Recommended: Understanding Capitalized Interest on Student Loans

Interest on a Direct Subsidized Loan won’t start accruing until the grace period is over. This might sound like a minor detail, but not having to pay interest while you are in school can drastically cut down the overall cost of your loan.

Other benefits of a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan? Like other federal student loans, you are not obligated to make payments during school.

How Do You Apply for a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan?

In order to apply for a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known as FAFSA®. The FAFSA is available for free online, and contains questions about you and your family’s financial circumstances.

The information you submit through the FAFSA is transmitted to your school, and is used to determine what types of aid and how much for which you may be eligible. The FAFSA must be completed annually.

How Is Your Eligibility for a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan Determined?

After the FAFSA has been reviewed, you will receive a Student Aid Report , which will explain your eligibility for the various types of federal financial aid. What type of aid and how much aid you are eligible for depends on many different circumstances, including the amount the federal government expects you and your family to contribute to your educational costs, your current enrollment status in school, and the cost of attending your particular college.

The financial aid staff at your school is responsible for determining exactly how much and what type of federal loans you are eligible for.

Because Federal Direct Subsidized Loans are a need-based form of federal financial aid, you must meet certain eligibility requirements to qualify. These requirements are largely based on your expected family contribution, or how much the federal government expects that you and your family can put towards your educational expenses.

There are also limits on the amount of subsidized loans you can borrow each year, regardless of your financial need. For the 2021-2022 school year, the limit on subsidized loans was $3,500 for first-year undergraduates, $4,500 for second-year undergraduates, and $5,500 for third-year undergraduates and beyond.

Graduate and professional students are not eligible for Direct Subsidized Loans.

Paying Back a Direct Subsidized Student Loan

Like other types of student loans, you will need to start paying back your Federal Direct Subsidized Loan if you leave school or after graduation. After graduation, borrowers with Federal Direct Subsidized Loans are eligible for a six-month grace period before repayment is required.

Some people with Direct Student Loans may potentially qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). PSLF is available to qualifying college graduates who work in certain fields like government, the nonprofit sector, or healthcare, and allows some federal student loans to be forgiven after 10 years of qualifying payments.

Actually getting approved for PSLF can be extremely challenging due to stringent requirements. In October 2021, the the Department of Education announced plans to overhaul the program in order to improve upon the program’s accessibility.

Beyond Subsidized Loans: Other Options Available to Student Borrowers

Since borrower eligibility for Direct Subsidized Loans is based on borrower need, and there are annual borrowing limits, students may be interested in learning about other loan options available to them. There are three other types of federal loans and some borrowers may consider private student loans.

The three types of federal loans available outside of Direct Subsidized Loans are:

•   Direct Unsubsidized Loans. These loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students. Unlike Direct Subsidized Loans, borrowers are responsible for paying the interest on these loans while they are enrolled in school and during their grace period. Eligibility is not based on financial need.

•   Direct PLUS Loans. PLUS Loans are options for graduate and professional students, or parents of students who are interested in borrowing a loan to help their child pay for college. Eligibility for this type of loan is not based on need, but the application process does require a credit check.

•   Direct Consolidation Loan. This federal loan isn’t awarded to borrowers as a part of their financial aid package. Instead, a Direct Consolidation Loan allows borrowers with multiple federal loans to combine (or consolidate) them into a single loan. The loan’s new interest rate is the weighted average, rounded up to the nearest one eighth of a percent, of the interest rates on the existing loans.

Private student loans are offered by private lenders. They are not required to offer the same borrower benefits or protections — think of things like PSFL or income-driven repayment plans — as federal student loans. Because of this, private loans are generally considered after borrowers have reviewed all of their other financing options.

Recommended: A Guide to Private Student Loans

To apply for private student loans, potential borrowers will need to fill out an application directly with the lender of their choice. The loan’s terms and interest rates will be influenced by factors including the borrowers financial situation and credit history, among others.

The Takeaway

Borrowers with Federal Direct Subsidized Loans are not responsible for the interest that accrues while they are enrolled in school at least half-time or during the grace period or other qualifying periods of deferment. The interest is subsidized by the U.S. government. To qualify for this type of federal student loan, borrowers must be qualifying undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need.

Other options for students looking to pay for college may include Direct Unsubsidized or PLUS Loans, scholarships and grants, or work-study. After reviewing those options, borrowers still looking for resources to pay for school may consider private student loans as an option.

SoFi offers private student loans for undergraduate and graduate students or their parents and there are no fees — that means there are no late fees, no application fees, or origination fees.

Interested in learning more about using a private student loan to pay for college? See what SoFi has to offer.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

How to Talk to Your Children About Student Loans: 6 Key Points

Many parents lecture — er, talk to — their teenagers about being responsible. Don’t text and drive. Do try to spend that summer job money wisely. As children approach college, talking about student loans might be a smart idea.

For one, the topic is pretty complicated.

And second, even if you plan to help repay any student loans, most qualified education loans are taken out in the student’s name, and there’s usually no escape: Even bankruptcy rarely erases student loan debt.

Maybe your student-athlete or scholar is counting on a full ride. While confidence is a wonderful thing, full rides are exceedingly rare.

Here are six student loan concepts you can discuss with your aspiring college student.

1. Here’s What We Think We Can Contribute

It might be uncomfortable to talk frankly about your family finances, but they almost always determine the amount and types of financial aid your child may qualify for.

It can be important for parents to discuss what they’re able to contribute in order to help their young adults wrap their heads around the numbers, too.

2. Let’s Forge Ahead With the FAFSA

The first step to hunt for financial aid is to complete the FAFSA®, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It takes most people less than an hour. Students helping their parents fill it out will get a look at the expected family contribution: the family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits.

Based on financial need, a college’s cost of attendance, and FAFSA information, schools put together a financial aid package that may be composed of scholarships and grants, federal student loans, and/or work-study.

Awards based on merit (scholarships) or need (grants) are free money. When they don’t cover the full cost of college, that’s where student loans can come in.

If your income is high, should you bother with the FAFSA? Sure, because there’s no income cutoff for federal student aid. And even if your student is not eligible for federal aid, most colleges and states use FAFSA information to award nonfederal aid.

About 400 colleges and scholarship programs use the CSS Profile, a financial aid application in addition to the FAFSA. It determines eligibility for institutional scholarships and grants.

3. Interest Rates: Fixed and Not

Your soon-to-be college student may not know that there are two types of interest rates: fixed and variable.

Fixed interest rates stay the same for the life of the loan. Variable rates go up or down based on market fluctuations.

You can explain that all federal student loans borrowed after July 2006 have fixed interest rates, which are set each year, and that private student loan interest rates may be variable or fixed.

4. Federal vs Private Student Loans

Around now your young person is restless. But press on.

Anyone taking out student loans should learn that there are two main types: federal and private. All federal student loans are funded by the federal government. Private student loans are funded by some banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

If your child is going to borrow money for college, it’s generally advised to start with federal student loans. Since federal student loans are issued by the government, they have benefits, including low fixed interest rates, forbearance and deferment eligibility, and income-based repayment options.

Private student loans have terms and conditions set by private lenders, and don’t offer the generous repayment options or loan forgiveness programs of federal loans, but some private lenders do offer specific deferment options.

Private student loans can be used to fill gaps in need, up to the cost of attendance, which includes tuition, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and personal expenses. A student applicant often will need a cosigner.

5. Another Wrinkle: Subsidized vs Unsubsidized

Financial need will determine whether your undergraduate is eligible for federal Direct Subsidized Loans. Your child’s school determines the amount you can borrow, which can’t exceed your need.

The government pays the interest on Direct Subsidized Loans while your child is in college, during the grace period (the first six months after graduation or when dropping below half-time enrollment), and in deferment (postponing repayment).

With federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans, interest begins accruing when the funds are disbursed and continues during grace periods, and the borrower is responsible for paying it. Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to both undergraduate and graduate students, and there is no requirement of financial need.

Borrowers are not required to pay the interest while in school, during grace periods, or during deferment (although they can choose to), but any accrued interest will be added to the principal balance when repayment begins.

There are annual and aggregate limits for subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Most dependent freshmen, for example, can borrow no more than $5,500.

6. Soothing Words: Scholarships and Grants

It’s important to not overlook the nonloan elements of the financial aid package. They can (hooray) reduce the amount your student needs to borrow.

Scholarships and grants are essentially free money.

While some schools automatically consider your student for scholarships based on merit or other qualifications, many scholarships and grants require applications.

You may want to assign a research project to your college-bound young adult to look into all of the scholarship options they may qualify for.

The Takeaway

Debt isn’t the most thrilling parent-child topic, but college students who will need to borrow should know the ins and outs of student loans: interest rates, federal vs. private, subsidized vs. unsubsidized, and repayment options.

If federal aid doesn’t cover all the bases of college, your student can consider a private student loan with SoFi.

SoFi Private Student Loans come with competitive rates, flexible repayment options, and no fees. A student can apply entirely online, with or without a cosigner.

See your interest rate in three minutes. No strings attached.


SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

Options for When You Can’t Afford Your Child’s College

Every parent wants to help their child succeed. But when it comes to paying for college, it’s not always possible.

Fortunately, depending on the circumstances, you and your child may have several options to help them pay for school. First off, there are a variety of resources for students designed to help them pay for college. This includes things like federal student loans, scholarships, and grants.

Beyond that, students could look into getting a part-time job or paid internship. This could potentially boost their resume while offering an opportunity to earn money to pay for college.

From there, parents can consider options including borrowing a loan to help pay for college.

Options for Parents and Students

Parents and students can work together to create a plan to help pay for college. Here are some ways you can both work together to pay for college.

Fill Out the FAFSA

If your student is a dependent, the FAFSA® or Free Application for Federal Student Aid requires both your child’s information and yours as their parent. Work together to fill out the form. The FAFSA is used to determine eligibility for federal student aid including federal student loans, some scholarships and grants, and the federal work-study program.

The FAFSA needs to be filled out annually.

Choose a More Affordable School

Enrolling in a more affordable school may relieve some of the financial burden facing your family. Depending on your child’s interests and career goals, they may be able to enroll in a community college for the first two years of study to cut down on tuition costs.

Living at Home

If your child’s school is local, you can also offer to have them stay home, so room and board are covered. If your child’s school is not close to home, you can still review housing costs. While some schools require first-year students to live on-campus, after, students may find that living in off-campus housing may be more affordable than paying on-campus rates. Explore the realities for your student.

Options for Students

There are a variety of funding sources available to students. When triaging, focus first on the options that don’t need to be repaid, such as scholarships or grants. Then, there are things like part-time work and student loans that can be used to pay for college. Here are a few options to consider.

Applying for Scholarships and Grants

Depending on the school your child is planning to attend and their grades and activities in high school, they may be able to qualify for an academic or merit-based scholarship .

Grants, on the other hand, are generally based on your child’s financial need. Students typically aren’t required to repay scholarships or grants, so they’re a great option if you can’t pay for college on your own and want to avoid debt as much as possible.

It’s also possible to get scholarships through private organizations. Websites like Scholarships.com and FastWeb allow you to search through thousands of scholarships, making it easier to find one for which your child might qualify.

There are also scholarships available for current college students, so your child can continue to apply for those options even after he or she is enrolled.

Work-Study Program

When filling out the FAFSA, you can specify whether you are interested in participating in the work-study program. This program offers part-time jobs to students who demonstrate financial need. Depending on the school, students may be assigned a job or have the option to apply for a job.

One major perk of the work-study program is that the money earned won’t count toward income totals when filling out the FAFSA for the next school year.

Part-Time Job

Attending classes, doing homework, and establishing a social life are all important elements of a college experience. But working a few hours a week can help relieve some of the stress of dealing with the expenses that come with that experience.

For example, let’s say your child gets a job working eight hours a week and earns $10 per hour. Over the course of four years, assuming they don’t change their schedule, they could earn around $16,640. Even after taxes, that might help reduce the amount they would need to borrow or spend for college by thousands of dollars.

Borrowing Student Loans

Both federal and private student loans are available to students. The U.S. Department of Education provides student loans to college students without requiring a credit check (except for PLUS loans). And federal loans come with relatively low fixed interest rates, plus access to some special benefits — such as income-driven repayment plans or the option to pursue Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

As mentioned above, to apply students need to fill out the FAFSA each year. Undergraduate students may qualify for two types of federal loans: subsidized or unsubsidized. Direct Subsidized Loans are awarded to students based on financial need. The government subsidizes, or pays for, the interest on these loans while the borrower is enrolled in school and during the grace period and other qualifying periods of deferment.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are not awarded based on financial need and borrowers are responsible for paying all of the interest that accrues on this type of loan.There is no credit check when applying for these types of federal student loans.

Recommended: Private vs Federal Student Loans

Students can also look into borrowing a private student loan, though it’s worth noting that these loans may lack the benefits and protections afforded to federal student loans (like income-driven repayment plans) and are therefore generally considered as a last resort option.

Private student loans are offered by private lenders and to apply, students will have to fill out an application directly with their lender of choice. Each lender may have different terms and rates so it can be worth shopping around to find the best option for your personal situation. Lenders will generally evaluate a borrower’s financial situation and creditworthiness when determining how much to lend and at what rates. If a student does not qualify for a private loan on their own, they may be able to add a cosigner to the loan.

Options for Parents

As a parent, it can be frustrating and stressful when you feel like you can’t afford your child’s college tuition. Take the time to consider what you can afford without sacrificing your own important goals, including retirement.

Here are a few actions that could help you assist your child pay for their college education.

Borrow a Loan

Parents can consider borrowing a private student loan or a federal student loan. Parent PLUS or private student loans.

Parent PLUS Loans are federal loans that are available to parents. The interest rate on these loans is a bit higher than for Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized Loans and a credit check is required. In order to qualify, parents must not have an adverse credit history . In the case that a potential parent borrower does not qualify for a Parent PLUS loan on their own, they may be able to add an endorser to their application.

If you need extra help funding your children’s
education, you can look into private
parent student loans from SoFi.

Private lenders may also offer parent student loans. Parents can apply directly with the lender, and as mentioned above, it can be worth shopping around to see what types of rates and terms for which you may qualify. SoFi offers parent loans that can be applied for directly online and are fee free.

Cosign a Student Loan

If you do not want to borrow a loan to pay for your child’s college education and your child has exhausted their federal student loan options, you could cosign a private student loan with them. Keep in mind that, as already noted, private student loans are generally considered an option only after all other sources of aid and funding have been exhausted. This is because they don’t offer the same borrower protections as federal student loans.

Cover What You Can

Another way is to find other expenses you can cover. You may consider footing the bill for their textbooks every semester, or maybe you have enough income to help with their monthly rent or college-provided room and board fees. While covering a smaller expense may feel anticlimactic, it can still make a difference to your student.

The Takeaway

If you’re struggling to pay for tuition costs, you’re not alone. As you consider ways to help your child pay their way through college resources like scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans are all options to consider. In some situations, you and your child may consider transferring or enrolling in a less expensive school or cutting costs by living at home.

If those options aren’t enough — some students and their families may consider private student loans. In the spirit of complete transparency, if you do need to resort to student loans, we want you to know that we believe you should exhaust all of your federal grant and loan options before you consider SoFi as your private loan lender.

If you do decide a private student loan is the right fit for your education, know that SoFi’s private student loan process is trusted, easy, and fast. We offer flexible payment options and terms, and there are no hidden fees.

Learn more about SoFi’s private student loans; get a rate quote to see what kind of terms you might qualify for.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

What Are College Tuition Payment Plans?

According to the 2021 Sallie Mae survey “How America Pays for College,” nearly 80% of students and their families eliminated a college based on cost when determining which school to attend.

If the cost of college tuition is one of the determining factors in your decision process, it could be worth looking into tuition payment plans. College tuition payment plans are offered by colleges and allow tuition to be paid over an extended period of time. Typically, it is not difficult to qualify for a school’s tuition payment plan, but there may be a fee in order to enroll.

These plans are offered by some colleges and could help make tuition payments more manageable for students and parents.

What Is a College Tuition Payment Plan?

Instead of paying for college tuition at the beginning of each year, semester, or quarter, college tuition payment plans — also known as tuition installment plans or deferred payment plans — allow students and their families to spread out the cost of tuition over a period of time.

Depending on the school, the plan may allow payments to be made over the course of the semester or over the full year.

While you’ll generally have to start making payments right away, programs frequently offer the option to spread payments into monthly installments. Some schools also offer programs that break the payment into a few equal payments throughout the semester.

How Do Payment Plans Work?

Some colleges run their own tuition payment plans. Others use an outside service to administer the plan.

Typically these payment plans only cover the direct costs charged by and paid to the college, such as tuition and fees. Sometimes the cost of housing and meal plans will also be included under a tuition fee payment plan. The cost of things like textbooks and school supplies are not usually included in these payment plans.

Many tuition payment plans require an enrollment fee, which may fall around $50 or $100, although it may be lower. These plans don’t usually charge interest, which can potentially make them less expensive than taking out a student loan, as long as you are able to make the monthly payments.

What Types of Colleges Offer Payment Plans?

Many schools offer some sort of tuition payment plan. Qualifying for the plan isn’t generally very difficult. However, some schools do have specific enrollment periods. Check with the school you plan to attend to determine when you need to enroll and what is required to do so.

What if My School Doesn’t Offer a Payment Plan?

For many students and their parents, paying for school upfront isn’t possible. Sometimes even with a payment plan, the burden of tuition is still too high for students and their families.

Consider some of the following options when planning to pay for college tuition. While these ideas might not be enough to help you cover the full cost of tuition on their own, a combination of a few could do the trick.

Federal Aid

Federal aid for college encompasses grants, scholarships, student loans, and work-study. To apply, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA® ) each year.

The schools you apply to will use this information to determine how much aid you receive. You’ll typically receive an award letter detailing what types of federal aid you’ve qualified for and the amounts.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans can be either subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are awarded based on need. The Department of Education covers the interest that accrues on these loans while you are in school at least part-time, during the grace period after leaving school, and during periods of deferment or forbearance.

Unsubsidized federal loans are awarded independent of need. Borrowers are responsible for paying the interest that accrues on these loans while they are in school and during periods of deferment, like the grace period.

Payments are not required on either unsubsidized or subsidized loans while you are actively enrolled more than part-time in school.

There are also PLUS loans available to parents who are interested in borrowing a loan to help their child pay for college.

Work-Study

The federal work-study program provides jobs for undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate financial need. The amount of work-study you receive will depend on factors like when you applied, your level of determined financial need, and the amount of funding available at your school.

The money earned for work-study won’t count against you when you fill out the FAFSA, so it shouldn’t jeopardize future financial aid awards. Each time you fill out the FAFSA, it’s worth indicating that you’re still interested in receiving work-study as part of your financial aid award (that is, if you are still interested).

And it’s important to remember that your financial aid award may change from year to year, depending on you and your family’s circumstances.

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants don’t typically have to be repaid, which makes them one of the best options for students trying to pay for school. Some scholarships and grants are awarded by schools based on the information you provided in the FAFSA, but there are scholarships and grants available that aren’t based on financial need.

Taking some time to comb through online databases that catalog available scholarships, like FastWeb or Scholarships.com , could prove helpful. Each scholarship will have different application requirements.

Some might require an essay or additional supplementary materials, but the effort could be worth it if you’re able to fund a portion of your tuition costs.

Private Student Loans

Sometimes federal aid, scholarships, and your savings aren’t enough to cover the full cost of tuition. In those cases, private student loans could be an option. Unlike federal student loans, which are offered by the government, private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions, or other private lenders.

The private student loan application process will vary slightly based on lender policies, but will almost always require a credit check.

Lenders will review your credit score and financial history as they determine how much money they are willing to lend to you.

In some cases, students might need the help of a cosigner to take out a private student loan. This could be the case if they have little to no credit history.

Some parents may also be interested in taking out a loan to help their child pay for their education.

The Takeaway

Tuition payment plans, which extend the payment for college tuition over a fixed period of time, can be helpful for parents and students as they navigate how they’ll pay for the cost of education. Spreading tuition payments over the semester or year can help make them more manageable.

Private student loans could be worth considering after you’ve exhausted your federal aid options, and if things like tuition payment plans aren’t financially feasible. If you decide a private student loan is a good option for you, consider SoFi as your lender.

SoFi offers student loans for undergraduate students and their parents. If you qualify to borrow a private student loan with SoFi, there are no fees. The application process can be completed entirely online. You can also choose one of four flexible repayment plans for undergraduate student loans.

Want to learn more about the private student loans offered by SoFi? See your rates and find out if you pre-qualify right now.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

Can you get a student loan with bad credit?

Students discussing before class.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Even if you have bad credit, you can still get student loans. Most federal loans don’t require a credit check, which means you can borrow funds for education regardless of your credit history. Additionally, private loans may be available to you if you are able to get a cosigner or work with a lender that considers your course of study to be potentially lucrative. 

Coming up with the money to pay for higher education can be difficult, but loans—especially those based on financial need—are often helpful in providing support up front. Even if you have a low credit score or a less-than-perfect credit history, student loan options are still available to you.

Read on to learn more about how to find federal student loans or private loans with bad credit as well as tips for improving your credit if you need a higher score to secure a loan.

How to get a student loan with bad credit

Getting a student loan with bad credit means taking one of two paths: applying for federal student loans or finding a cosigner for a private student loan. 

  • Federal student loans are funded by the U.S. Department of Education, and they’re available to many people regardless of credit history.
  • Private student loans are offered by a variety of non-government financial institutions, and they’re often limited to people with higher credit scores or cosigners. 

Both of these options could work well for your situation, but it’s generally useful to apply for federal student loans first, as they tend to have more benefits and lower interest rates.

Applying for federal student loans

Federal student loans are an excellent option for many people, including those with bad credit, because they are based on financial need rather than credit scores.

How to apply for federal student loans

Before applying for federal student loans, you’ll need to make sure you meet the eligibility criteria, which include the following:

  • Demonstrate financial need (for some loans)
  • Be a U.S. citizen (or eligible as a noncitizen)
  • Be accepted or enrolled in a degree or certificate program
  • Have a valid Social Security number

These are just a few of the requirements that the government mandates for anyone looking to get federal student loans.

If you do meet the criteria, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine what options are available to you.

You may be eligible for any of the following types of federal student loans:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans: These loans are available based on financial need, and they include the benefit of having the Department of Education pay interest while you’re enrolled in school.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These loans are offered regardless of financial need, and they will accrue interest even when you’re enrolled in school. 
  • Direct PLUS Loans: These loans are available to graduate students or the parents of undergraduates, and they are the only federal loans that require a credit check. 
  • Direct Consolidation Loans: These loans enable you to combine all of your federal loans into a single loan, which can reduce the complexity of your payments. 

Since the majority of federal student loans don’t require a credit check, they are an excellent option for those who have poor credit or no credit history. 

Federal student loans also offer other protections, like forbearance (in case there are periods you can’t make payments) and income-based repayment plans (which may offer loan forgiveness after a certain number of qualifying payments). Additionally, federal student loans offer fixed interest rates, which means you’ll have predictable payments for the entire life of the loan. 

Federal student loans are a good option for people with bad credit.

Federal student loans generally cover somewhere between $5,500 and $12,500 per year, although that amount can vary depending on your tax filing status and year in school. If that amount is not sufficient to cover your education costs, you may need to look into private loans.

Applying for private student loans with a cosigner

If you have bad credit, it will likely be difficult to apply for private student loans on your own. Even if you were to qualify for a loan with bad credit, it’s possible the interest rate would be so high that you’d be unable to make payments while you were studying. 

Typically, a better option if you do need a private student loan is to use a cosigner. If your cosigner has a high credit score and steady income, they’ll be able to secure better terms for the loan. That said, ensure you have a solid relationship with your cosigner, as they’ll be equally responsible for your debt if you cannot make payments.

Regardless of what kind of student loan you end up getting, working to improve your credit score can set you up for success down the road as you continue your education. 

Set yourself up for success by improving your credit score

Just as your education opens up opportunities for advancement in your career, improving your credit score can unlock better interest rates—which makes it easier to do things like get a new car or buy a house. As you work through your studies, try out some of the following tips to build your score.

  • If you don’t have any credit history, try a secured credit card. It’s hard to get a credit card without any credit, but responsible credit card usage might be a good way to build credit. One solution is a secured credit card, which works like a regular credit card but requires a cash deposit—so they don’t usually involve a credit check. 
  • Keep up with your student loan payments. If you have unsubsidized loans, you’ll accrue interest even while you’re in school, so you may want to start making payments if possible. After you graduate, look into income-based repayment plans or forbearance if you’re having trouble making monthly payments.
  • Have a strategy for paying down your debt. Especially if you need to take on other debt—like a car payment—make sure you have a solid plan for how you’ll make payments as you start out in your career after college. 

Additionally, you’ll want to take a close look at your credit report as you’re working to improve your score. If you notice any inaccurate or misleading information, it could be bringing down your score unnecessarily. In that case, you may want to work with a credit repair professional to file a dispute with the credit bureaus and have the misleading information removed. 


Reviewed by Horacio Celaya, Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Horacio Celaya was born in Tucson, Arizona but eventually moved with his family to Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. Mr. Celaya went on to graduate with Honors from the Autonomous University of Baja California Law School. Mr. Celaya is a graduate of the University of Arizona where he graduated from James E. Rogers College of Law. During law school, Mr. Celaya received his certificate in International Trade Law, completing his thesis on United States foreign direct investment in Latin America. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Celaya has worked in an immigration firm where he helped foreign investors organize their assets in order to apply for investment-based visas. He also has extensive experience in debt settlement negotiations on behalf of clients looking to achieve debt relief. Mr. Celaya is licensed to practice law in New Mexico. He is located in the Phoenix office. 

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

A Guide to Unclaimed Scholarships and Grants

Maybe you’ve heard that billions of dollars’ worth of scholarships and grants go unclaimed every year. Unfortunately, some money is, yes, left on the table each year, but billions in merit- and need-based aid are claimed.

Of the federal government’s annual budget of $32 billion for student grants, $2 billion is unclaimed, according to researchers at EducationData.org.

The beauty of scholarships and grants is that you almost never need to pay them back. Who doesn’t love gifts? But acquiring them will take at least a little effort.

Two Types of Aid to Lay Claim To

Financial aid can be need-based or merit-based.

Need-Based Aid

Federal need-based aid is determined by the expected family contribution, as calculated by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

The Pell Grant, the Department of Education’s biggest grant program, is geared toward students who demonstrate significant financial need, but the total cost of attendance at a particular college also plays a role.

It doesn’t get much better than grants for college, like snagging a Pell Grant as high as $6,495 for the 2021-2022 award year.

It has been estimated that more than $2 billion in annual Pell Grant money goes unclaimed, but applying for the Pell is simple: by filling out the FAFSA®. In fact, schools must determine a student’s Pell Grant eligibility before calculating eligibility for other federal student aid programs, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Any student who could use even a little college financial aid has nothing to lose by filling out the FAFSA. And even if you are not eligible for federal aid, realize that most states and schools use FAFSA information to award non-federal aid.

FAFSA information will also determine whether a student qualifies for federal work-study, when undergraduate and graduate students with financial need are given part-time jobs.

Some private colleges and universities will also want students to fill out the CSS Profile, which determines eligibility for institutional awards and grants.

Merit Aid

Merit scholarships are awarded by colleges, employers, individuals, businesses, nonprofits, states, religious groups, and professional and social organizations to academic or athletic achievers, as most of us are aware, but merit aid also may be determined by community involvement; level of dedication to a field of study; race; gender; teacher recommendations; and other criteria.

The awards are not based on financial need.

The biggest source of “free money”? Colleges, according to a recent College Board Trends in Student Aid Report. Thanks to competition to attract students , nearly every college and university in the country offers merit-based aid in some form.

So it could be worth researching different schools’ merit aid offerings.

To sniff out unclaimed private scholarships like a truffle hunter, you could start by thinking about all the ways you have, well, merit; making lists of opportunities and eligibility criteria; and pursuing only the scholarships you’re best qualified for.

There are all kinds of scholarship search sites out there, from BigFuture to Unigo. (Be aware of sweepstakes on some sites that masquerade as scholarships.)

The Department of Education recommends the following tactics to find scholarships:

•   Talk to your high school counselor.

•   Use the Department of Labor’s scholarship search tool to sort more than 8,000 opportunities for student aid.

•   Inquire at the financial aid office at your college of choice.

•   See if your employer or your parents’ employers offer assistance.

•   Head to your local library’s reference section.

•   Look for scholarships offered by foundations, religious or community organizations, local businesses, or civic groups, as well as organizations (including professional associations) related to your field of interest.

Why Would Any Scholarships Go Unclaimed?

So is it true there are obscure scholarships left unclaimed? There is no database that can give precise answers, but it makes sense that when specific parameters exist around a particular scholarship, fewer students will qualify.

For example, scholarships exist for North Korean refugees who are permanently living in the United States. Applicants must have been born in North Korea or the child of someone born in North Korea.

Let’s say you don’t fit those parameters. Other unusual opportunities include the following:

•   If you dazzle your friends with your ability to make prom outfits using only duct tape, then you could win a $10,000 Stuck at Prom scholarship . Seriously.

•   Or maybe you have the best plan ever to survive the zombie apocalypse. If so, you could apply for the Zombie Apocalypse Scholarship ($2,000).

•   If you live in the Phoenix area, you’re a tall graduating senior, and, if you’re a finalist, you’re game for being interviewed and measured for the chance to gain all of $250, you could stand up to the challenge of the CATS Tall Club program.

Keeping an Eye Out for Scholarship Scams

Plenty of scholarship and grant money is out there waiting to be claimed. Unfortunately, though, there are also financial aid scams , including scholarships that aren’t legitimate. The Department of Education offers tips to protect yourself, including:

•   Know that you don’t need to pay to find scholarships or any other form of financial aid.

•   Check information about scholarship offers at a public library and/or online.

•   Talk to the financial aid department at your college of choice to verify legitimacy.

Also, before students begin a search, they may want to be aware of “scholarships” that are actually sweepstakes because their information may be sold to third parties.

The Takeaway

Finding unclaimed scholarships and grants — free money — is the ideal way to fund college. To cover all costs, many students will then need to take out federal student loans, and some will turn to private student loans.

Although private student loans do not carry the benefits and protections of federal student loans, they can fill gaps when you’ve considered all of your federal grant and loan options but your expenses still exceed your means.

SoFi offers private student loans with competitive rates, flexible repayment options, and no fees.

It takes just three minutes to check your rate.


SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
SOSL18237

Source: sofi.com

The Differences Between Grants, Scholarships, and Loans

Grants, scholarships, and student loans can all help you pay for your education, but there are key differences between the three — namely, how they award funds and whether you need to repay those funds. Grants and student loans often depend on financial eligibility and need, while scholarships tend to be merit-based. Additionally, whereas both grants and scholarships do not need to be repaid, student loans do.

Here’s a breakdown of how student loans, grants, and scholarships work, as well as some of their key differences.

Student Loans

Very simply put, a loan is money borrowed that has to be paid back (usually with interest). You can take out a loan from a friend, a family member, a bank, an online lender, a college or university, or the state or federal government. So, how do student loans work?

Loan terms for college can vary based on a few different factors: whether they’re federal (offered by the government) or private (offered by a financial institution), whether you choose fixed or variable interest rates, how long it takes to pay the loan back, and how much can be borrowed. Loans offered to you could be based on your credit score or the personal financial information you supply on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

To determine your eligibility for a student loan from the federal government, you must fill out the FAFSA. States and colleges may use information from your FAFSA to determine state and school-specific aid, as will some private financial aid providers.

To fill out the FAFSA form, you’ll need a few pieces of information, including:

•   Your Social Security number or alien registration number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

•   Your driver’s license number (if you have one)

•   Federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned

•   Bank statements and records

•   Records of untaxed income (if applicable)

•   Information on account balances, investments, and assets

•   FSA ID for electronic signature (this is your username and password needed to access and submit your FAFSA online)

If you are applying as a dependent student, you will need all of the above information from your parent(s) as well.

What Is the Difference Between Unsubsidized and Subsidized Loans?

There are two primary types of federal student loans: unsubsidized loans and subsidized loans . The main difference between unsubsidized and subsidized loans is how the interest accumulates through the life of the loan.

What Is an Unsubsidized Loan?

Unsubsidized loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of any financial need. An unsubsidized loan starts accruing interest as soon as the loan is dispersed.

That means if you accept an unsubsidized loan during your freshman year of college, the loan will accumulate interest throughout the rest of your time in school. Ultimately, that means the interest will capitalize — in other words, it will be added onto the principal of your student loan.

When Do I Need to Pay Back an Unsubsidized Loan?

You are responsible for starting to pay back an unsubsidized loan six months from when you graduate or if you drop below half-time enrollment. Because of the interest capitalizing on your unsubsidized loan from the day it’s disbursed, your loan balance will likely be more than what you originally borrowed if you don’t make interest payments while you’re in school.

What Is a Subsidized Loan?

A subsidized loan is a need-based loan available to undergraduate students on which interest accumulates only after you begin repayment. The government will pay the interest while you’re in school at least half-time or until you graduate and for the first six months after, as well as during a period of deferment.

When Do I Need to Pay Back a Subsidized Loan?

Like unsubsidized loans, repayment for a subsidized loan typically occurs after a six-month grace period from when you graduate or drop below half-time enrollment. You are responsible for paying back the total outstanding balance, plus interest. There are plenty of ways to pay off federal loans , from the standard 10-year repayment plan to income-based repayment plans.

Grants

A grant can be beneficial to students because it is financial aid that does not have to be repaid. Grants may be obtained directly from your university, the federal government, state government, or a private or nonprofit organization. It is important to note that you may be required to meet certain financial eligibility criteria, depending on the grant.

What Is a College Grant?

A college grant is financial aid money awarded to a student that does not have to be paid back. Grants are typically awarded based on need, not on academic achievement or merit.

One popular type of college grant is the Pell Grant . Pell Grants are given to undergraduate students with significant financial need, which means they are typically awarded to low-income students.

Do You Have to Pay Back Grants?

In most cases, you do not need to pay back grants as long as you maintain eligibility . If, for example, you decide to drop out of school, you might be required to pay back certain grants.

You might also need to pay back grants if you withdraw early from a program in which the grant was awarded, or if you did not meet a service obligation, as is required for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant , for example.

Scholarships

Scholarships are a great way to finance higher education, simply because there are thousands of available scholarships based on financial need or merit. Scholarships can come from a variety of sources and typically do not need to be repaid.

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed with the amount of time it takes to hunt for scholarships — here are a few tips to help you find scholarships to apply for:

•   Start by combing scholarship databases for any scholarship that may align with your interests or background. Don’t be afraid to tell people you know that you are looking for scholarships either — your best friend, neighbor, or even your crazy uncle may have heard of a scholarship that you could be eligible for.

•   Take a look at your academic achievements. Have you maintained a certain GPA or did you make the Dean’s List? There could be a scholarship for that. List out your community involvements and start researching whether your softball league, for example, offers scholarships.

•   Make a list of all the things that make you who you are. List out your heritage and things that your family have been involved with over time. Perhaps your grandmother belongs to the National Corvette Club or your grandfather was a veteran, both of which could present scholarship opportunities.

Once you have your list, it helps to stay organized by adhering to deadlines and application requirements. Stick to what feels doable so you can knock out several applications in a row. Scholarship application formats vary from essay writing to creating a video to simply filling out a form.

Important documents you might need when applying for scholarships include birth certificates, SAT/ACT scores, academic transcripts, certifications, or ID cards. Be sure you have those handy prior to hitting search engines and applying for the next available scholarship you find.

Grants vs. Scholarships vs. Loans

Now that you have a grasp on all three forms of financial aid, let’s examine the main differences between grants, scholarships, and loans.

What Is the Difference Between a Loan and a Grant?

A student loan—whether it is unsubsidized or subsidized, federal or private — must be repaid with interest. A grant typically does not need to be repaid as long as you maintain eligibility requirements.

What Is the Difference Between a Grant and a Scholarship?

The primary difference between a grant and a scholarship is that a grant is typically need-based while a scholarship is usually merit-based. You might receive a scholarship for a number of things, such as high academic achievement, organization or club involvement, or ancestry. A grant is typically awarded based on financial need and can be specific to certain degrees, students, and programs.

How Is a Student Loan Different from a Scholarship?

A student loan is different from a scholarship primarily in that a student loan must be repaid and a scholarship does not need to be repaid. Scholarships can come from a variety of sources, including nonprofit organizations, private companies, universities and colleges, and professional and social organizations. Student loans may come from private lenders, federal or state governments, or colleges and universities.

The Takeaway

With a good understanding of scholarships, grants, and student loans under your belt, you can better determine which form of financial aid is right for your situation. Remember that you don’t necessarily have to choose just one.

Once you’ve maximized the money you can get from grants or scholarships that you likely won’t have to pay back, you may consider bridging the remaining gap by taking out a student loan.

Focus on your degree, not your debt, by searching for low-rate loans you can pay back on your own terms.


External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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Do You Have to Pay FAFSA Back?

If you’re wondering “do you have to pay back FAFSA® loans?,” what you really want to know is whether you have to pay back your federal student loans that you may be eligible for after filling out your FAFSA. In short, you will have to pay back loans you get through completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), but other types of student aid you get through FAFSA likely don’t need to be repaid.

Aside from federal student loans, you can also use FAFSA to apply for grants and scholarships as well as work-study jobs, for which you’d get funds you usually wouldn’t need to pay back. If you have loans through FAFSA and need to pay them back though, read on for information on the three general types of federal student loans and your repayment options.

Direct Subsidized Loans

With Direct Subsidized Loans, the government (more specifically, the U.S. Department of Education) pays the interest while you are still in school at least half-time. That’s what makes them “subsidized.”

The maximum amount you can borrow depends on whether you are a dependent or an independent student, as well as what year of school you are in. However, it is ultimately up to your school how much you are eligible to receive each academic year.

Not everybody qualifies for a subsidized loan. You have to be an undergraduate (not a graduate student) demonstrating financial need and attending a school that participates in the Direct Loan Program. Additionally, the academic program in which you are enrolled must lead to a degree or certificate.

You also should check how your school defines the term “half-time,” as the meaning can vary from school to school. Contact your student aid office to make sure your definition and your school’s match completely. The status is usually based on the number of hours and/or credits in which you are enrolled.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

You will have to pay back all the interest that accrues with Direct Unsubsidized Loans, because these loans are “unsubsidized.” That means the government doesn’t cover your interest while you’re in school like they do with a subsidized loan.

You do not have to prove a financial need in order to qualify for a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. Additionally, these loans are available to graduate students as well as undergraduate students. Again, you need to be enrolled at least half-time in a school that will award a degree or certificate.

Direct PLUS Loans

There are two types of Direct PLUS Loans:

•   Grad PLUS Loans: These are for graduate or professional degree students

•   Parent PLUS Loans: Parent PLUS Loans can be taken out by parents for as long as their qualifying child is a dependent or undergraduate student

Unlike most other loans, PLUS loans require a credit check, and you cannot have an adverse credit history . If you or your parents have bad credit, a cosigner on the loan application may be an option.

With Direct PLUS Loans, you can borrow as much as you need (subtracting the other financial aid you’re getting). However, the interest rate for PLUS loans is generally higher than it is for the other types of federal student loans.

Do I Get a Grace Period on My Federal Student Loan Repayment?

Whether you get a grace period — time after you graduate (or drop below half-time enrollment) during which you do not have to make loan payments — depends on what type of federal student loan you have, as not all federal student loans offer one. Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans offer a grace period of six months, whereas Direct PLUS loans don’t offer a grace period at all.

Grace periods are meant to give you time to find a job and organize your finances before you have to start making loan payments. They are usually one-time deals; in most cases, you often can’t get a second grace period ​once the initial one ends.

Additionally, not all grace periods are exactly alike. Different loans may offer different grace periods. Policies vary. Check with your loan servicer so that you know for sure when your grace period begins and ends.

Keep in mind that grace periods are usually not interest-free. Some loans accrue interest during grace periods, which means that the interest will “capitalize,” or be added to the principal when the grace period ends. Many students subscribe to the strategy of making interest payments even during the grace period. Doing this can ultimately lower the amount you owe, and interest payments are generally more affordable to handle than principal payments.

Also remember that loan servicers are paid by the Department of Education to handle billing and other services for federal loans. The government gives you a loan servicer; you don’t get to choose one yourself. The loan servicer you get is the one you should contact if you have questions regarding your loan.

Federal Student Loan Standard Repayment Plan

Once you graduate, your repayment plan will depend on various factors, but most of the time the government will place you on its Standard Repayment Plan . The general rule here is that you’re expected to pay off your loan over the course of a decade, and your payments will remain the same for the duration.

Before you are placed on that Standard Repayment Plan, the government gives you a chance to choose a few other repayment options (which we’ll discuss below). If you don’t choose one of those, you’ll automatically be placed on the Standard Repayment Plan.

Additional Repayment Options

Here are a couple of your other repayment options beyond the Standard Repayment Plan:

•   The Extended Repayment Plan: The Extended Repayment Plan can extend your term from the standard 10 years to up to 25 years. To qualify, you must have at least $30,000 in outstanding Direct Loans. As a result, your monthly payments are reduced, but you could be paying way more interest.

•   The Graduated Repayment Plan: Another option, the Graduated Repayment Plan lets you pay off your loan within 10 years, but instead of a fixed payment, your payments start low and increase over time. This may be a good option if your income is currently low but you expect it to increase over time.

Keep in mind that although you can choose these repayment options, you cannot refinance a federal student loan with the government on your own (you can, however, consolidate them). That’s because those interest rates are set by federal law , and they can’t be changed or renegotiated.

Difference Between Refinancing & Consolidating Student Loans

While you can’t refinance your federal loans with the government, you can do so with a private loan company. Before you consider refinancing, be sure to know the difference between refinancing and consolidating student loans:

•   Refinancing means taking out a brand new loan so that you can pay off your existing loans. To refinance, you’ll choose the loan company you feel is best, with (hopefully) better interest rates and repayment terms. Refinancing can be done via a private lender and can be used for both federal and private loans. Keep in mind that when you refinance federal loans with a private lender, you lose access to federal benefits and protections like loan forgiveness programs and repayment plans.

•   Consolidation means placing all of your current loans into one big loan. Doing this typically extends your loan term so that your monthly payment is lowered. The problem with consolidating student loans is that it could mean you wind up paying additional interest. This is because when you consolidate multiple federal student loans, you’re given a new, fixed interest rate that’s the weighted average of the rates from the loans being consolidated.

Refinancing (as opposed to consolidating) your school loans may be a good option if you have high-interest, unsubsidized Direct Loans, Graduate PLUS loans, and/or private loans. Refinancing your existing loans with a longer term can reduce your monthly payments. Alternatively, you may be able to lower your interest rate or shorten your term.

Before you apply for that refinancing plan, it’s a good idea to check your credit score, as it is an important factor that lenders consider. Many lenders require a score of 650 or higher. If yours falls below that, you may consider a cosigner on the loan.

Lenders typically offer fixed and variable interest rates, as well as a variety of repayment terms (which is often based on your credit score and many other personal financial factors). The loan you choose should ultimately help you save money over the life of the loan or make your monthly payments more manageable.

The Takeaway

If you only got grants, scholarships, or work-study funding through FAFSA, you don’t have to worry about paying FAFSA back, so to speak. But if you got federal student loans through filling out FAFSA, you will have to pay those loans back.

Luckily, you have a number of options to do so. If you have high-interest loans, consider looking into refinancing to see if you can reduce your monthly payments.

Whether you are looking to borrow for school or refinance your student loans, SoFi can help. See your interest rate in just a few minutes—with no pressure to sign up.


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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF JANUARY 2022 DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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