You can now get an estimate of how much financial aid your child will qualify for before you actually apply. The U.S. Department of Education offers an online financial aid tool to help families better prepare for the cost of college. Called the FAFSA4caster (catchy, isn’t it?), it’s modeled on the government’s official aid application, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The tool examines a family’s financial data and estimates how much aid a student might expect to get. To use the tool, visit www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov.
- Social Security numbers
- Federal tax information or tax returns, including W-2 information
- Information on savings, investments, and business and farm assets
- Records of any untaxed income (such as Social Security or welfare benefits)
To get as accurate an estimate as possible, you should answer all the questions on the tool, even if you have to estimate or guess.
Using the FAFSA4caster isn’t exactly a quick process, but when you’re ready to apply officially for federal aid, the FAFSA4caster will automatically transfer all of your data (that’s password protected and saved securely) to your online FAFSA application, saving you the hassle of keying in all your information again. And, if your financial circumstances change, you’ll get the opportunity to update any answers on the FAFSA that you originally submitted on the FAFSA4caster.
By providing an advance estimate of federal aid eligibility, the FAFSA4caster can help you forecast how much money you and/or your child may need to come up with to meet college costs–information that can also come in handy in the college selection process. By having an idea of the numbers ahead of time, you can help minimize unwelcome surprises. You can also work with your child sooner rather than later to fill the gaps between financial aid and the cost of their desired school.