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How to Use StudentAid.gov to Take Control of Your Federal Debt
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Once upon a time, student borrowers accessed four websites when managing their federal loans — StudentAid.gov, StudentLoans.gov, fsaid.ed.gov and nslds.ed.gov. Now the services of all four websites are consolidated into the one-stop-shop version of StudentAid.gov.
This means you can complete multiple tasks — including filling out your FAFSA, learning about the different types of aid you can get, receiving counseling and managing your repayment plans – all on one site.
For more detail on how to use StudentAid.gov to manage and repay your student loan debt, let’s go over the following topics:
Among other tasks, the FSA ID will allow you to:
- Apply for repayment plans
- Complete loan counseling
- Use the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Help Tool
In order to sign up, you’ll have to have your Social Security number handy, as well as your phone number and/or email address. You will also have to create a username and password, as well as answer security questions so you can retrieve your account information just in case you forget either one. Once you create your FSA ID, you will be able to instantly access the site in order to fill out the FAFSA, but you’ll have to wait up to three days in order to access it for anything else, including managing your student loans.
Here are eight key ways you can manage your student loan debt on StudentAid.gov. You won’t necessarily need to (or want to) do all of them, but each is worth at least knowing about:
1. Find and manage your student loans
2. Use the Loan Simulator Tool to optimize your repayment plan
3. Apply for an IDR plan
4. Complete mandatory counseling
5. Apply for student loan consolidation
6. Track your progress toward loan forgiveness
7. Find information on avoiding delinquency and default
8. Find forms and get more help
You can find all your federal loan information on StudentAid.gov. The site displays information from the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), a database that has information on federal aid for students and parents across the U.S. You will not have any kind of history until your loans have been dispersed to you.
You can also locate your student loan servicer’s information through the site. Your loan servicer is assigned to you by the Department of Education, and is designed to assist you with repayment and other services related to your student loan. You can find a list of all federal student loan servicers here, along with their contact information. You can also call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243.
The StudentAid.gov site notes that you may be assigned a repayment plan to start, but you can always change your repayment plan, for free. In order to do so, you’ll want to directly contact your loan servicer to discuss repayment plan options.
Typically you will make payments directly to your loan servicer. However, at press time, the developing NextGen student loan services platform from StudentAid.gov is promising to move repayment to one place for all student loan borrowers. As of now, StudentAid.gov notes that it is accepting direct payments if your loans are serviced by Nelnet and its subsidiary Great Lakes, both of which will be discontinued as servicers past 2021. That said, at press time, you could still make those payments directly to each servicer.
If you want to figure out the best repayment plan for your situation, StudentAid.gov features a Loan Simulator Tool to help you do that. This tool allows you to get a look at the plans for which you may be eligible and see estimates for your monthly payments before you contact your student loan servicer about specific plans.
Based on the information you provide, and your specific needs and goals, the tool will recommend a repayment plan and also allow you to look into options such as making extra payments or consolidating your loans. If you are already making payments and struggling with them, you can use the tool to figure out whether you should temporarily stop payments, or lower your monthly payment.
At press time, the site said the tool would soon offer a simulator to find out what may happen if you decide to borrow more money for educational expenses, including if you are looking to return to school or if you are going to graduate later than originally planned.
Using the Loan Simulator Tool may inspire you to switch to an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. These plans limit your payments to a percentage of your income. If you do decide you want to take advantage of one of these plans, you will apply through StudentAid.gov.
For borrowers new to IDR
You can apply for one of the federal government’s four IDR plans and limit their monthly payment to a percentage of their income. You may choose one of these plans:
Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment (REPAYE)
Pay As You Earn Repayment (PAYE)
Income-Based Repayment (IBR)
Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)
The application takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.
If you are married and you and your spouse routinely file a joint tax return, your payment will be determined by your combined income. That explains why IDR applications must be cosigned by a spouse, if you have one. This requirement can also be completed on StudentAid.gov.
As long as the spouse has their applicant’s reference code and Social Security number, he or she can enter their information and digitally sign the IDR request within around 10 minutes. Unlike when borrowers use a traditional federal loan cosigner, spouses aren’t promising to repay the loan by signing their name.
For borrowers already using IDR
This section of StudentAid.gov allows returning applicants to:
- Provide updated income and family-size information to recertify an IDR plan
- Request to reduce your monthly payment because of a change in income or family size
- Switch from one IDR plan to another
Recertification is required annually, while you can request a lower payment or switch IDR plans at any time.
You can complete mandatory entrance and exit counseling through StudentAid.gov. This counseling helps students prepare to repay their loans. You must complete exit counseling if you have received a subsidized or unsubsidized federal loan and you have left school for any reason, including graduation, or dropped below half-time enrollment. There is separate exit counseling for any students who have received a TEACH grant.
There are also optional resources, such as Finance Awareness Counseling, that could be helpful for new borrowers. Similarly, credit-deficient applicants for PLUS Loans can fulfill their own federal requirement: Sitting through a PLUS Credit Counseling session.
If you’ve decided to consolidate your federal loans into one Direct Consolidation Loan, StudentAid.gov is the place to get it done. It only takes 30 minutes to fill in the application, as long as you have all the needed information ready.
You will need your FSA ID, as well as personal and financial information. You should know the following details of your loans (even those you don’t plan to consolidate):
- Loan type
- Full name and mailing address of the loan holder or the servicer
- Account number (found on your statement)
- Estimated amount needed to pay off the loan
You could also indicate that you’d like your consolidation delayed until your grace period expires. This is a nice option for recent grads who are planning ahead. You can delay consolidation between one and nine months.
After completing the application, you’ll select your loan servicer. For borrowers with a particular distaste for an existing servicer, being able to choose your own is a plus. You cannot typically choose your federal student loan servicer unless you are consolidating or refinancing your loans. Refinancing replaces your existing debt with a new loan, and you typically must switch to a private lender when refinancing federal loans.
If you don’t want to complete the application digitally, there are instructions to do so on paper. This will require downloading, printing and mailing your documents to your servicer.
- Understand more about the program and how you might qualify to have the remaining balance on your loan forgiven after you have made 120 qualifying payments.
- Figure out whether your employer qualifies for the program (often you will have to work in a service profession, such as teaching or the medical field, in an underserved area).
- Help you decide which form you should submit.
- Generate a partially completed form for your employer to sign for you to submit to FedLoan Servicing, the servicer that handles all forgiveness loans.
You can track your progress toward forgiveness on the site, once you’ve submitted your Employment Certification Form.
The site also provides information on how you might be able to eliminate your debt through teacher loan forgiveness, a closed school discharge, a Perkins Loan cancellation and discharge, a total and permanent disability discharge or discharge in bankruptcy (very rare but sometimes possible).
The one thing you always want to avoid when it comes to your student loans is going into default. This can have a terrible effect on your credit, and even cost you your dream job. Your federal loan is considered delinquent if you don’t make a payment for 90 days, and is in default if you have missed payments for 270 days. Once your loan is delinquent, your servicer may report it to the three major national credit bureaus.
StudentAid.gov offers this section to help borrowers understand delinquency and default, and what to do if you are mistakenly put into default. Always remember that your student loan servicer can work with you on reworking your payment plan or going into deferment or forbearance if you are struggling to make your payments. Because of the relative flexibility offered by student lenders, you should never have to go into delinquency or default.
If you can’t get a task completed or a question answered on StudentAid.gov, the site will tell you where you can find some of this information. It suggests, for example, to contact your school’s financial aid office for questions about a loan’s disbursement date and your loan servicer for questions about your balance.
If you’re not sure how to find a particular form – or don’t know which form you need – head to the site’s Forms Center. Here you can find downloadable application forms for anything related to repayment, deferment, forbearance and discharge and forgiveness.
You can also be directed to the appropriate document or documents by answering a series of questions about your situation. Someone who can’t afford a current monthly payment and needs to press the pause button, for example, would be directed to a list of deferment and forbearance options.
The site also features a virtual assistant called Aidan. At press time, the tool was in beta, meaning it was only available to some users. As of now, the tool is able to answer questions such as “What is my account balance?” and help you find specific pages on the site, access customer support information, find your servicer and more. To find out if you have access to Aidan, log into your account and look for the Aidan owl icon in the bottom-right corner of any page on the site.
The main phone number for StudentAid.gov is 1-800-433-3243. You can also email them at [email protected], or live chat directly on the site.
Telephone support is available Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
StudentAid.gov is a valuable one-stop resource shop to help you manage your loans. Take advantage of all the information and tools offered there to help you better manage your student loan debt.