Keeping the Promise: New Tools for a Better-Than-Ever Aid Experience

This was cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Personalized Repayment Simulation

Just a couple months ago, I promised to keep you updated about all the ways Federal Student Aid (FSA) is making your experience with us better. I’m excited to share that today we launched a few incredibly beneficial tools that make it easier than ever to understand the aid you’ve received and navigate your repayment options.

You’ll see our first enhancement the moment you log in to our website; now, you’ll see a whole lot more detail on your student aid dashboard. We’re collectively calling this information Aid Summary. It gives you much more information about the grants and loans you’ve received and shows your remaining grant and loan eligibility. This may seem like a lot of information at first, but take a closer look. I think you’ll find the Aid Summary to be a go-to tool to help you manage your aid while you’re enrolled and after you leave school.

If you’re a borrower already making payments on your loans, Aid Summary also shows you how much progress you’ve made toward paying off your debt. Another new feature shows borrowers who have submitted an Employment Certification Form (ECF) the progress they’ve made toward earning Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). We know that regularly submitting an ECF is the best way to stay on track for PSLF, and we want to ensure you have access to information about your eligibility and number of qualifying payments. This is just one step that we’re taking this year to arm you with better information.

Along those lines, we’ve also built a brand-new tool that I think you’ll really like. See, I came from the Air Force, where we use flight simulators to help our pilots navigate the skies. Now, FSA has Loan Simulator, which will help you chart your path through successful loan repayment! We have lots of  repayment plans to choose from, and we realize it can be hard to figure out which one best fits your financial situation and goals. That’s why we’ve built a feature that lets you specify if you want to pay down your loans as quickly as possible, get the lowest possible monthly payment, or reduce the interest that you’ll pay in the long run. You can change your preferences at any time to see how your recommended plan changes, and we’ll even give you direct links to the forms that you need to access certain plans.

One of our goals is to make it possible for you to make student loan payments on, our website. To learn the best way to make that happen, we’re launching a new pilot. Starting today, about seven million customers will be able to Make a Payment from their dashboard. If your loan servicer is Nelnet or Great Lakes, you can now make a regular monthly payment through on your computer or mobile device instead of logging in to your servicer’s website. Over the course of this year, we’ll build out additional functionality in the Make a Payment pilot, and eventually, all federally managed loan borrowers will be able to pay their balances through

Finally, we’re launching a collection of resource articles on These articles will give you—our students, parents, and borrowers—the information you need to successfully apply for and manage your federal student aid.

I can’t wait for you to check out all of these new features. I look forward to updating you again in the next couple of months, when I’ll introduce you to a new step you’ll take when you want to take out more loans: The Annual Student Loan Acknowledgement. Until then, I hope you take advantage of all these new features on

Mark Brown is Federal Student Aid’s Chief Operating Officer

Keeping the Promise: Announcing a New



Hi. I’m Mark Brown, the chief operating officer at Federal Student Aid (FSA). Today marks my first post on the Homeroom blog, and do I have exciting news for you!—your trusted source to learn about, apply for, and manage your federal student aid—is all new and better than ever! Let me explain …

Each year, FSA’s top-four websites are visited more than 120 million times. These sites offer a wide variety of information, tools, and resources:

  • provides information and videos about all of the federal student aid programs.
  • Borrowers go to to complete loan documents and counseling, as well as recertify for income-driven repayment plans.
  • At, students, parents, and borrowers can create an account username and password to log in to U.S. Department of Education systems.
  • The NSLDS® website provides students, parents, and borrowers with specific information about their federal grants and loans and eligibility.

Now, the new combines functionality from,, and into a single, one-stop shop for you. Think of it like a new “digital front door,” welcoming you to learn all about and manage your federal student aid.

When you visit the new, you’ll more clearly see information about the federal student aid you’ve received. You can now complete multiple tasks, like learning about what types of aid are available to you, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form, completing loan counseling, and finding the right repayment plan for your situation.

Some students, parents, and borrowers will be introduced to a virtual assistant named “Aidan.” Get it? Aidan? We’re thrilled to pilot this digital resource that uses artificial intelligence to learn how we can better help you get answers to some of your most frequently asked questions. As Aidan learns and is able to answer more specific questions, we’ll roll it out to even more customers.

We’re also implementing some behind-the-scenes features that will improve the way we deliver personalized information and solutions to you. When you’re logged into the new, we’ll be able to directly provide you with information about your federal student loan application.

We’re not stopping there! Now, you only have to call one number—1-800-4-FED-AID—to be connected to all of FSA’s contact centers. And, we’ve made enhancements to our mobile app, myStudentAid, so you can seamlessly switch between completing tasks on the mobile app and web.

We’re making all of these improvements for you, the students, parents, and borrowers, we’re proud to serve. These and other enhancements are part of a big initiative we call “Next Gen FSA,” where we’re modernizing and simplifying how you interact with your federal student aid.

I know how important it is that we get this right for you. I come from a working-class family. My mother and I tried to figure out the best way to get money for college. Through a combination of federal student loans and grants, along with help from the United States Air Force, I was able to pursue my educational dreams.

At FSA, we’re committed to helping you pursue yours. That’s a promise we intend to keep, and today is a big step in our journey.

Throughout the next year in this “Keeping the Promise” blog series, I’ll update you about our Next Gen FSA progress. Until then, I invite you to check out the new, and let me know what you think.

Mark Brown is the Chief Operating Officer of Federal Student Aid

5 Things to Know When Evaluating a Financial Aid Offer

This post was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

April is National Financial Capability Month and understanding the terms of your financial aid offer and making smart decisions about paying for college can be a good indicator of your financial capability.

Many schools use the term “award letter” which can be misleading and make it sound like all the aid that is listed will all be awarded to you. This notification (paper or electronic) is an offer, which means that you are not obligated to take all the aid you are eligible for and you should review the offer and know what you are agreeing to.

Financial aid packages can be confusing partly because each college uses their own forms and terminology. Understanding how to interpret a school’s financial aid offer letter is a pivotal financial decision-making moment that can impact your financial situation for years to come.

Be sure that you are able to answer the questions below before you make any decisions on how to pay for college:

  1. What is the total cost?

Total estimated cost which includes both direct and indirect expenses, which may also be referred to as Cost of Attendance (COA). Direct costs like tuition and housing and a meal plan, if you plan to live on-campus, will need to be paid directly to the school. Other estimated personal and educational expenses such as books, transportation, possible child care, and other living expenses are your responsibility and are sometimes referred to as indirect costs.

  1. How much free money has been awarded?

Grants and scholarships are financial aid funds that do not have to be repaid and may be considered an award. These funds can be need-based or be based on performance or affiliation. Each grant and scholarship may have specific requirements to maintain eligibility.

  1. What will you actually have to pay?

This is sometimes referred to as net cost or out-of-pocket cost. This is the remaining amount after grants and scholarships are subtracted from the total cost. This includes any loans, money paid directly to the college, and additional personal and educational expenses paid throughout the year. Pay attention to how schools show loans in the offer. It may appear they are reducing what you will have to pay, but keep in mind that they will have to be paid back later.

  1. Is work-study an award?

Work-study is a federal program that schools administer to provide students part-time jobs. It is not a guarantee. You will need to find an eligible job and work in order to earn the money. The full amount is not awarded up-front so work-study compensation won’t help to pay expenses that may be due at the beginning of an academic period.

  1. Is the best financial aid offer the one that says $0 dollars owed?

Financial aid offers will likely include loans of varying types. Loans are borrowed money that must be paid back, with interest. Take a look at Federal Student Aid’s Financial Awareness Counseling Tool for more details about budgeting, borrowing, and repayment. Some loans, like Parent PLUS need to start to be repaid immediately.

Taking the time to understand your financial aid offer can have long-lasting benefits as you pursue higher education. Student loans are a vital source of financing for students and if managed appropriately, can be a worthwhile investment. If you are still unclear about the terms of your financial aid offer, its recommended that you reach out to the school and ask for clarification.

Financing a College Education

Over the past year I have had the opportunity to meet with students, parents, educators and community leaders across the country to discuss the importance of education. I have seen first-hand the remarkable impact leadership, engagement and a rigorous education can have, not only on a student but on an entire community.  I have also seen the devastating impact associated with the lack of educational opportunity and access, in particular for families who strive to reach the middle class.

During a town hall discussion at a high school, I was reminded of just how critical access to information and awareness of the various financial aid resources that exist can be: in a room filled with 200 high school juniors and seniors, when asked how many had filled out the FAFSA™ form, only 3 hands went up. When asked how many were college bound, the same 3 hands went up.  When asked why so many were not thinking of college, the question of affordability was at the forefront of their hesitation.  While Latinos have made significant strides in high school completion and college enrollment, there remain challenging gaps that have resulted in only 15 percent of Latino adults graduating with a bachelor’s degree.

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