Get the Upperhand on Financial Aid Prep With This Powerful Tool

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Financial aid planning can seem like a daunting task for students and families looking to find financial aid for education after high school. And while the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a vital tool, most families wait until a student’s senior year to explore the impact that federal financial aid can have on their educational plans.. Regardless of a family’s income, the FAFSA helps families and schools connect and see what financial aid packages are available for students if they attend a chosen school.

Families can get a head start on on planning as early as middle school thanks to the FAFSA4caster, a free financial aid calculator that provides an early estimate of federal student aid eligibility.

It’s a great planning tool for anyone who either is getting ready to file a FAFSA, but also for those who aren’t ready to file a FAFSA just yet. That means high school juniors can get a head start on their FAFSA planning. Even families of middle schoolers can get an early idea of what financial aid options might be available down the road and start planning accordingly.

Parents of younger students can use the tool to receive early estimates, create scenarios based on future earnings, and then establish college funding strategies. Adult students also can use FAFSA4caster to get an idea of what aid they might receive.

The FAFSA4caster is pretty easy to use. Just answer the same types of financial questions that are used in the FAFSA to estimate your federal student aid eligibility. While some questions might be easy to answer, others may require referencing personal records such as federal tax information or bank statements. Using the most current information you have will help give the clearest estimate, but an estimate or guess will take care of other questions. Either way, be sure to answer all the questions on FAFSA4caster to get the best financial aid estimate.

After completing the questions, FAFSA4caster displays a worksheet to help determine the net cost of attending a chosen school:

  • At the top of the page, enter the school’s cost of attendance (there is a link to College Navigator in case you need to look up the cost).
  • Next, a number of sources of college funding are listed. FAFSA4caster indicates estimated Federal Pell Grant amount (if any), Federal Work-Study amount (based on the average nationally), and maximum Direct Subsidized Loan and Direct Unsubsidized Loan eligibility.
  • Other fields allow for amounts of expected (or anticipated) state and college aid and private scholarships.
  • Click “Calculate,” and FAFSA4caster summarizes the cost, the total aid entered and the difference (the net cost of attending college). It will also show the estimated Expected Family Contribution (EFC). With this information, families can compare schools by changing cost of attendance, adjusting state aid, amending the amount of aid available from the school, and so on.

FAFSA4Caster is not only a great tool for students and families preparing to complete the FAFSA this year, but a way for families of all students to consider their financial aid options at any point in their student’s education, as they prepare for college.

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