Glossary of Terms

Do youknow what all of these mean?


Academic Year
This is the amount of the academic work you must complete each year, and the time period in which you are expected to complete it, as defined by your school. For example, your school’s academic year may be made up of a fall and spring semester, during which a full-time undergraduate student is expected to complete at least 24 semester hours, usually called credits or credit hours, over the course of 30 weeks of instructional time. Academic years change from school to school and even from educational program to educational program at the same school.
For purposes of the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, an academic year is defined as one complete school year at the same school, or two complete and consecutive half years at different schools, or two complete and consecutive half years from different school years (at either the same school or different schools). Half years exclude summer sessions and generally fall within a 12-month period. For schools that have a year-round program of instruction, nine months is considered an academic year.

Confirms that the college or career school meets certain minimum academic standards, as defined by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Schools must be accredited to be eligible to participate in federal student aid programs.

Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)
You or your family’s wages, salaries, interest, dividends, etc., minus certain deductions from income as reported on a federal income tax return.

Administrative Wage Garnishment (AWG)
A tool that allows the federal government or your guaranty agency to have your employer withhold a portion of your earnings to collect unpaid non-tax debts that you owe to the federal government. If you have a federal student loan in default, up to 15% of your disposable pay could be taken by the federal government or your guaranty agency to repay your debt.

Adverse Credit History
A credit history is a summary of your financial strength, including your history of paying bills and your ability to repay future loans. To qualify for a PLUS loan, you cannot have an adverse credit history. Your credit history may be considered adverse if you are experiencing any of the following credit conditions:

Bankruptcy discharge within the past five years.
Voluntary surrender of personal property to avoid repossession within the last five years.
Repossession of collateral within the last five years.
Foreclosure proceedings started.
Foreclosure within the last five years.
Conveying your real property that is subject to a mortgage (by deed) to your lender to avoid foreclosure (deed in lieu of foreclosure).
Accounts currently 90 days or more delinquent.
Unpaid collection accounts.
Charge-offs/write-offs of federal student loans.
Wage garnishment within the last five years.
Defaulting on a loan, even if the claim has been paid.
Lease or contract terminated by default.
County/state/federal tax lien within the past five years.

Agreement to Serve (ATS)
The binding agreement you must sign to receive a TEACH Grant. By signing the ATS, you agree to teach (1) full-time (2) in a high-need field (3) at a low-income school or educational service agency that serves certain low-income schools, and (4) for at least four complete academic years within eight years after completing (or ceasing enrollment in) the course of study for which you received the grant. If you do not complete your teaching service agreement, the amounts of the TEACH Grants you received will be converted to a Direct Unsubsidized Loan that you must repay with interest charges from the date of each TEACH Grant disbursement.

Approved Drug Rehabilitation Program
A drug rehabilitation program that is:

(1) qualified to receive funds from a federal, state or local government or from a federally or state-licensed insurance company; or
(2) administered or recognized by a federal, state or local government agency or court, or a federally or state-licensed hospital, health clinic or medical doctor.

Associate Degree
An undergraduate academic degree granted after completion of two years of study. Community colleges and career colleges generally award associate degrees.

Award Letter
An offer from a college or career school that states the type and amount of financial aid the school is willing to provide if you accept admission and register to take classes at that school.

Award Year
The school year for which financial aid is used to fund your education.


Bachelor’s Degree

An undergraduate academic degree awarded for a course of study that generally lasts four years. Colleges or universities generally award bachelor’s degrees.


A legal proceeding involving a person or business that is unable to repay outstanding debts. The bankruptcy process begins with a petition filed by the debtor (most common) or on behalf of creditors (less common). All of the debtor’s assets are measured and evaluated, whereupon the assets are used to repay a portion of outstanding debt. Upon the successful completion of bankruptcy proceedings, the debtor is relieved of the debt obligations incurred prior to filing for bankruptcy.


The release of the borrower’s obligation to repay all or a designated portion of principal and interest on a student loan. Also called discharge or forgiveness of a loan.

The addition of unpaid interest to the principal balance of a loan.  When the interest is not paid as it accrues during periods of in-school status, the grace period, deferment, or forbearance, your lender may capitalize the interest. This increases the outstanding principal amount due on the loan and may cause your monthly payment amount to increase. Interest is then charged on that higher principal balance, increasing the overall cost of the loan.

Collection Agency
An entity that recovers unpaid debt from borrowers who have defaulted on their loans.

Collection Charges
See collection costs.

Collection Costs
Expenses charged on defaulted federal student loans that are added to the outstanding principal balance of the loan. These expenses can be up to 18.5 percent of the principal and interest for defaulted Direct Loans or FFEL Program loans and may exceed 18.5 percent for defaulted Federal Perkins Loans and Health and Human Service (HHS) loans.

College Aid
Financial aid from your college or career school.

Common-law Marriage
A marriage relationship made by agreement and by living together without a marriage license. Not all states allow common-law marriages and the elements required for a common-law marriage change from state to state.

The process of combining one or more loans into a single new loan.

‘Cosign’ The act of signing for another person’s debt which involves a legal obligation made by the cosigner to make payment on the other person’s debt should that person default.

Cost of Attendance (COA)
The total amount it will cost you to go to school—usually stated as a yearly figure. COA includes tuition and fees; room and board (or a housing and food allowance); and allowances for books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, and dependent care. It also includes miscellaneous and personal expenses, including an allowance for the rental or purchase of a personal computer; costs related to a disability; and reasonable costs for eligible study-abroad programs. For students attending less than half-time, the COA includes tuition and fees and an allowance for books, supplies, transportation, and dependent care expenses, and can also include room and board for up to three semesters or the equivalent at the institution. But no more than two of those semesters, or the equivalent, may be consecutive. Contact the financial aid administrator at the school you’re planning to attend if you have any unusual expenses that might affect your COA.

Credit Bureau
An organization that tracks and reports your credit, including your history of paying bills and calculates your ability to repay future loans. For example, if you default on a student loan, it is reported to a credit bureau, and other lenders may be less likely to extend credit to you in the future.