A new government online "Financial Aid Comparison Shopper" tool includes a feature that allows service members, veterans and their families to compare the costs of post-secondary school, factoring in tuition assistance and GI Bill benefits.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau launched http://www.consumerfinance.gov/payingforcollege/">the tool on Wednesday, allowing all students to compare the costs of their education — including the long-term impact of loans on their finances.
After entering their schools for comparison, service members and veterans can click on "Military Benefit Calculator" at the right, and answer a few questions about their service, such as how many months they have served since Sept. 11, 2001. They can choose to have those military benefits automatically applied to the calculations for each school.
More than 7,500 schools and institutions are in the database, including vocational schools and community, state and private colleges. The information is drawn from public data provided by government statistical agencies, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Student loan debt has surpassed $1 trillion nationwide, and tuition costs keep climbing, said Richard Cordray, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director.
Students can look at general comparisons of costs across schools to find information about:
* Estimated monthly student loan payments after graduation.
* Grant and scholarship offers.
* School-specific indicators such as graduation rates, retention rates, and federal student loan default rates.
* Estimated debt level at graduation in relationship to the average starting salary.
Students also can enter their own specific information about financial aid offers they have received — to include the military benefit calculator — for a closer comparison of their actual costs.
"Now more than ever, students and their families need to know before they owe," said Cordray. "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."