Federal Student Loans

A student's guide to applying for government assistance

When considering financing options for post-secondary education, federal student loans deserve a good, hard look. They offer competitive interest rates, flexible repayment plans, and will not accumulate interest during periods of deferment. Whether you are just entering college or university, or you're a current student looking to obtain a better loan, the following information will help you start the application process with focus.

The FAFSA

The first step in applying for federal financial aid is submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. But before you can do this, you need a personal identification number (PIN). Your PIN is required to "sign" your FAFSA application. You can apply for your PIN at www.pin.ed.gov. Once you have your PIN, you can either complete the FAFSA form on the web or submit a paper copy.

FAFSA on the web

Submitting your FAFSA on the web is the best option for a number of reasons. When you apply using the web you will:

  • Get your results back as much as three weeks earlier than using the paper FAFSA form.
  • Have the benefit of detailed help screens for every question.
  • Be able to identify inconsistent answers detected by the website.

The FAFSA website uses encryption when transferring data, so your information is guaranteed to be kept safe. You can find the FAFSA form at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

Eligibility

Once your FAFSA has been processed, you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR contains your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) which ultimately has the most bearing on how much aid you are eligible for. The EFC takes into account factors such as your parents' income and assets, as well as your personal financial situation. Depending on the result of your EFC, you might also be eligible for supplementary government grants.

Apply early

One last thing to keep in mind: it's always best to apply for a student loan as early as possible. This way, you can ensure you have your funding secured by the time school starts. It is also a good idea in case there are any problems in the processing of your application. For a term beginning in September, you can apply for government loans as early as January of the same year.