Student Loans

Federal college student aid applications are about to change. Here's what families can expect

The number of questions on federal student aid applications will drop from 100 to about 40, and the deadline is changing too.

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Whether you have a child starting college or starting the college search, higher education is costing families a higher amount of money.

According to the Education Data Initiative, Illinois has the fourth-highest in-state tuition and fees for public universities in the nation at almost $15,000 a year.

And when it comes to paying tuition, families should know there are big changes coming to the free application for federal student aid, known as FAFSA, which determines how much financial aid kids can get from the federal government.

The biggest change this year is the deadline to apply.

“Normally it’s available Oct. 1. Now it’s not going to be available until sometime in December. They’re not even committing to an actual date,” said Donald Kerr, a student lending specialist with AAA, which helps educate families about college planning and funding options.

The number of questions on federal student aid applications will drop from 100 to about 40, and the formula for determining the "expected family contribution" will be different.

“For example if you have a family with two kids in college at the same time, that was favorable on your [application] before. That’s now not gonna be as favorable. You’re not gonna get the same break," said Kerr. "They’re trying to offset that by giving you more protection on some of the other things such as assets and some of your wages."

With the average student loan debt in Illinois at roughly $37,000, according to the Education Data Initiative, it’s easy to see why there’s such a need for student aid.

But if you already have student loans, remember that the pause on student loan payments that began in March 2020 ended last month.

Now is the time to ask about options for repaying.

“[There are] income-driven repayment plans; they have extended payment plans, graduated repayment plans. The great thing about the federal student loan program is that they will work with you,” said Kerr.

In August, the Biden administration announced the SAVE plan for borrowers, which may be able to provide significant relief to some families.

The plan allows borrowers whose original principal balances were $12,000 or less to receive forgiveness after 120 payments.

Student loan repayments are impacting millions of Americans, so a heads up, if you’re hoping to speak to your student loan company, be prepared for a wait time of between three to six hours.

If you’re facing issues with your student loan provider, the consumer financial protection bureau provides an avenue for filing complaints. For more information, visit:

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