Pain in the FAFSA

Planning for College Doesn't have to be a Pain in the FAFSA* - New Government Tool Helps Military Families Plan for College

By Sean Naron
Administrative and Advocacy Associate at Consumer Federation of America (and recent College Graduate)

College is expensive. Really expensive.  The cost of tuition, board, books (and beer) seems to go up every year and between loans, grants, work study, and the other myriad forms of financial aid (including the dreaded on-campus job), it can nearly impossible to figure out what you will owe for four years of fun higher education.

For many veterans, returning from service and adjusting to life back home can be enough of an overwhelming experience without having to worry about the skyrocketing cost of higher education.  In the next few years, over 100,000 servicemembers will be returning from active duty, many of whom will consider taking advantage of their military benefits and returning to school. Many more are planning to transfer their benefits to family members to help pay the exorbitant costs of college or graduate school.

Unfortunately, financial aid information can be difficult to understand as it is jargon-filled and often unique to each institution.  This can make it nearly impossible to evaluate costs and loan options in comparison to other schools. Additionally, factoring in military benefits can provide more paperwork and create confusion about how much debt families may actually take on.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently launched the next phase of its Know Before You Owe student loan project by releasing the Financial Aid Comparison Shopper, an interactive, online tool designed to help families plan for the costs of post-secondary education.

The beta version of the Financial Aid Comparison Shopper has more than 7,500 schools and institutions in its database, including vocational schools and community, state, and private colleges. It draws information from publicly available data provided by government statistical agencies. Most importantly, it provides a great tool for military families called the “Military Benefit Calculator.”

“Student loan debt has crossed the $1 trillion mark and tuition continues to climb,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Now more than ever, students and their families need to know before they owe. Our Financial Aid Comparison Shopper helps students make apples to apples comparisons of their offers and pick the one that works best for their financial future.”


With the program, veterans and their families can compare the following across multiple financial aid offers including:

  • Estimated monthly student loan payment after graduation
  • Grant and scholarship offers
  • School-specific metrics such as graduation, retention, and federal student loan default rates
  • Estimated debt level at graduation in relationship to the average starting salary

Best of all, with a click of a mouse, families can now estimate the educational benefits for servicemembers, veterans, and their families. The calculator factors in military tuition assistance and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and automatically updates the estimated costs for all selected schools.

“This new CFPB tool will be a great resource for military families because it really streamlines the financial aid process and will help veterans realize the savings of military benefits,” said Military Saves Coordinator Andia Dinesen. “It’s really makes this process so much simpler. I’m planning on using this tool to help my daughters plan for college one day.”

So take a deep breath, and sit back and enjoy the FAFSA.

The Financial Aid Comparison Shopper is available here:

To find out more about the CFPB’s work to help students and families make choices about college financing, visit:


On July 24th, 2012 the White House Department of Education and the CFPB unveiled the final version of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.  Schools will be encouraged to adopt the new form, which will tell college applicants exactly how much they will be spending on their education and will allow them to compare financial aid offers.  While colleges only voluntarily comply at the moment, in April President Obama signed an executive order requiring all schools accepting Tuition Assistance and G.I. Bill funding to provide the form to military financial aid recipients in 2013-2014.  See what the final product will look like here.

*FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

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