Special Coronavirus Bulletin # 11: Trump Administration Imposes Limits on Federally-Funded Emergency Grants

We recently reported that thousands, if not millions of federal dollars were allocated to your postsecondary school for emergency grants to help students cover certain expenses. But just last week the Trump administration’s Education Department (ED) issued guidance limiting eligibility for these grants. Based on this guidance and the law that made the federal funds available, here are things you need to know.

Student Eligibility

The law is simple and straightforward. It says these federally-funded emergency grants are available to any student. However, ED’s new guidance limits eligibility for these grants to students eligible to participate in the federal student financial aid and loan programs. In general, this means you must be:

1. A U.S. citizen, national, or permanent resident;

2. Eligible to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — if you’ve not yet filed a FAFSA, do so, because that’s the only sure way to prove you’re eligible to file it;

3. Enrolled or accepted for enrollment in a program leading to a certificate, degree, or some other recognized educational credential;

4. Registered for selective service (if you’re male).

5. Not currently in default on a federal student loan, or not currently owing a refund on a federal grant; and

6. Making Satisfactory Academic Progress toward your certificate, degree, or other credential (if you’re already enrolled).

Payable Expenses

The law says your federally-funded emergency grant may be used for “expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus (including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and childcare).”

ED added that such a grant cannot be used to pay off outstanding and overdue bills you owe to your school, and your school can’t use federal emergency grant money to reimburse itself for expenses it ran up for you — even if they’re because of a coronavirus-related campus disruption.

Expiration Date

The law says federal emergency grant funds remain available through September 30, 2021, so you may be able to get such a grant through that date — although your school is likely to run out of its federal allocation long before that.

Delivery of Funds

ED has ruled that your school may provide these grant funds to you by check, debit card, electronic transfer to your bank account, or any other application it uses to transmit your regular federal student aid and loan funds. ED also ruled that your school cannot issue such funds to you using a credit card that’s accepted only on campus or at an institutionally-affiliated retail establishments (bookstores, athletic apparel shops, etc.).

If you have a financial predicament, but something described above makes you ineligible for a federally-funded emergency grant, what should you do? Request emergency financial help from your school anyway, because some postsecondary institutions also have other funding sources for emergency grants.

Struggling to pay expenses related to education after high school? College Affordability Solutions has 42 years experience in helping to keep postsecondary learning within the means of students and families. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com if you need some advice — no charge!

Special Coronavirus Bulletin #10: Make Suspended Payments On Your Federally-Held Student Loans . . . If You Can Afford It!

The CARES Act suspended payments you’d normally make on your student loans held by federal government agencies* with an “administrative forbearance” lasting through September 30. It also waived interest accumulation on such loans through that date. This is all automatic. You need not do anything.

But although you’re not required to make payments, you’re not prohibited from making them, either. And there are advantages to doing so.

Say you owe the average for those who borrow as undergraduates — $30,000 at a 4.69% interest rate. And say you’re paying $314 a month under the government’s Standard Repayment Plan. Make no payments between now and September 30 and what you’ll owe on October 1 will be exactly what you now owe. But keep making your $314 monthly payments and your principal balance will be $1,884 less on October 1. As a result, you will:

    Pay Less on What You Borrowed: Make no payments and the interest you’ll eventually pay on your federally-held debt will be $7,842. But keep making payments over the next six months and you’ll end up paying $6,749 — or $733 less — in interest on that debt. Why? Since there’s no interest on that debt right now, 100% of every dollar you pay will reduce your loan principal, and by diminishing principal, you’ll pay less interest.
    Eliminate Your Debt Faster: Keep making payments and your federally-held debt will be paid-in-full six months earlier than if you don’t make your suspended payments.
    Match Your Employer’s Payments on Your Debt: If your employer also makes payments on your federally-held college debt as part of your fringe benefit plan, it may only match payments you make. So before deciding whether to stop making payments on your federally-held loans, find out how your decision will affect employer payments.

Carefully scrutinize your current budget. Don’t make payments if doing so will undermine your ability to cover necessities like food, housing, and transportation. But there are definite advantages for continuing to make payments if you can afford to do so.

By the way, the U.S. Education Department says that, if you want to keep making payments by auto-debit, you should contact your loan servicer and opt out of your administrative forbearance so your auto-debit payments will resume. But not all servicers will restart auto-debit right now, so you’ll have to make payments manually. Contact your servicer to learn how to keep making payments through September 30.

* Student loans held by federal government agencies include all loans made under the Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP). They do not include (a) loans made under the Federal Perkins Loan Program unless the postsecondary schools that made those loans have turned their ownership over to the federal government; and (b) loans made under the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), also known as Stafford Loans, unless the commercial lenders that made those loans have turned their ownership over to the federal government.

To determine ways to manage you student loan debt during the current coronavirus national emergency, become a follower of the College Affordability Solutions website so you’ll always be notified about special bulletins such as this.

Special Coronavirus Bulletin #9: Emergency Grants Are Available To Postsecondary Students Who Are Struggling Financially Due To Coronavirus

Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on both the health and finances of college students and their families. So far more than 600,000 Americans have been infected and over 25,000 have died. Bloomberg Business News reports that 22 million unemployment claims have been filed since mid-March, and that economists are predicting a 20% jobless rate before this month ends. Almost every college campus has closed, and many students need new computers and software for online classes.

Does any of this describe a situation that applies to you or your student? Has this situation left you unable to cover college-related expenses for rest of this term? If so, don’t panic, drop classes, or drop out. Get an emergency grant.

In the last several years, colleges and universities have become keenly aware of how unforeseen financial problems undermine student success, obstruct student retention, and erode student opportunities to graduate. As a result, many institutions now offer their students emergency grants.

Students in need of emergency grants can usually obtain them fairly quickly, but such grants are normally limited to a few hundred dollars because institutional emergency grant funds normally don’t contain tons of money. However, these are not normal times.

In fact, depending upon the size and financial need of its student body, your college is getting federal funds ranging from thousands to millions of dollars out of $6.28 billion Congress allotted for emergency grants. To see how much Washington is sending your school, click here.

Institutions must use these federal emergency grant funds to help students to pay expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus. These include costs they can’t cover for child care, course materials, food, health care, housing, and technology.

Emergency grants are typically administered by deans of students, student financial aid, or student affairs offices. Check their websites to learn how and where to request such grants.

Recently, we recommended you seriously consider filing an appeal for additional financial aid if coronavirus-related issues have significantly cut your ability to pay necessary college expenses. Such appeals usually require you to get and submit various documents, and it may take several days or weeks for your financial aid office to make decisions about them. So if you can’t afford to wait out an appeal, seek an emergency grant to cover expenses that’ll come up until it’s decided.

Students in need of emergency grants should go get them. Don’t let coronavirus prevent the completion of your studies this spring!

Need information on how to make, and keep, postsecondary learning affordable. Start following the College Affordability Solutions website for articles and special bulletins like this.

Special Coronavirus Bulletin #8: You May Be Able To Suspend Your Private Student Loan Payments . . . If You Ask

It was recently announced that, if you owe one or more private educational loans, you may be able to suspend payments on it for up to three months. However, unlike student loan debts you may owe to the federal government, you need to contact your private student loan’s servicer to request such a suspension.

Scott Buchanan, executive director of the Student Loan Servicing Alliance (SLSA) — which represents companies private lenders hire to administer their educational loans — indicated borrowers who owe these lenders need to call their loan servicers if they’re in distress. This is because every private lender has its own payment suspension policies and procedures.

However, there’s significant pressure on private lenders to give their borrowers payment suspensions, interest waivers, and other forms of repayment relief similar to what the government’s provided to borrowers who owe federally-held student loans. Just two days ago, 12 U.S. Senators wrote to 13 of the nation’s largest private educational lenders urging them to offer such relief.

Of course, private loan borrowers can continue making payments if they don’t want them suspended. Doing so will eliminate their private student loan debts more rapidly.

Will your private educational debt’s interest accumulation be waived during a payment suspension the way it is under the CARES Act for your federally-held loans? Or will such interest end up being added to your loan balance when your payment suspension expires? Each lender decides this, too, so inquire about how your interest will be handled when you contact your servicer about a payment suspension.

And what about payment suspensions and interest accumulation waivers on state and institutional student loans? Such actions are up to the state agencies and postsecondary schools to whom such loans are owed, so contact the agency or school from which you borrowed to request a payment suspension and interest waiver.

If your financial life has been disrupted due to coronavirus, you should at least look into opportunities to put all your student loan payments on hold. Don’t be shy if you need to do this. In these days of skyrocketing illness and unemployment rates, you’re not alone!

To keep track of ways you can manage you student loan debts and other financial aid during the coronavirus national emergency, become a follower of the College Affordability Solutions website so you’ll always be notified of special bulletins such as this.

Special Coronavirus Bulletin #7: How To Suspend Payment and Interest Accumulation On ALL Your Federal Student Loans

You’ve probably heard that the new federal CARES Act has automatically suspended payments and the accumulation of interest on your “student loans held by federal government agencies” from March 13 through September 30.

This means that you need do nothing to have your federally-held postsecondary debt payments and interest put off until October — one way the federal government’s trying to eliminate financial burdens caused by economic upheavals during the coronavirus pandemic. But just what are student loans held by federal government agencies?

This term applies all Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP) Loans. It also consists of other federal college debt owned by the U.S. government, including:

How can you find out if your Perkins and FDLP Loans were sold to the federal government? Contact the loan servicer administering those loans and ask.

And if such loans haven’t been sold to Washington, is there any way for them to get the automatic payment and interest accumulation suspensions available to FDLP Loans? Yes! You can borrow an FDLP Consolidation Loan to pay them off and, in effect, turn what you owe on them into an FDLP debt. It usually takes two – three weeks for FDLP consolidations to be completed. And when it’s completed, Perkins and FFELP interest will be capitalized (added to loan principal), so to minimize the amount of interest that’s capitalized, keep making Perkins and FFELP payments you owe until you’re notified that they’ve been consolidated.

The FDLP doesn’t consolidate private, state, and institutional student loans, but an FDLP Consolidation Loan will ensure that all your federal student debt payments are suspended without any interest accumulating through the end of September. If this’ll help you weather the current coronavirus crisis, start the ball rolling for a new FDLP Consolidation Loan today!

Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com if you’re trying to figure out how to best manage your student loan debt, federal or otherwise. Let us use our 42 years of student loan expertise to work for you through our no-charge consultations!

Before College: Teaching Small Children About Money

Our children will leave for college in what seems like the blink of an eye, and among the things we need to teach them is how to work with money. There are many parts to this, of course – the nuts and bolts of day to day spending like remembering sales tax (for little ones) and keeping tabs on their bank balance (for older ones) — but how do broader concepts like debt and savings fit into it?

I believe that experience is the best teacher, and so from the time that they are quite young, it can be good to give kids the opportunity to experience both debt and saving. The key thing is to let them explore, because that is how they can learn.

How does an 8 year old learn about debt? The most likely scenario is that she will borrow some money from a sibling or friend, and then have to figure out paying it back. Some children can be quite disciplined and get it taken care of, others will find it more painful, or simply forget and need to be reminded. Either way, the important part is to not rescue them from having the experience and learning from it. It can be very interesting to see how our own issues can get triggered when our children are working through a situation, so if you feel uncomfortable, or have an urge to jump in and rescue, take a good look at that before you act!

Saving is another challenge. Teach them to save a portion of their allowance or earnings for the long term. (You can define how “long” that is – in my family we made it after they finished college.) This can be difficult. Most children will want to spend their money now; in fact, one could argue that most adults feel the same way! So be patient, but hold to it. When our sons had high school jobs we required them to save half of their earnings, and with the younger one it was easily a three-month period of daily pushback before he settled in!

The relationship between debt and savings is important. By practicing, children can learn how we build up savings, so that when they are away at college they will be able to run their finances from a cash-based rather than a debt-based approach – in other words, save up money before they buy something, rather than buy it first and then have to figure out how to pay for it. This takes patience and maturity to set up, but it will decrease both their stress and their financial vulnerability once they are at school and managing their own finances.

About Linda Matthew . . .

Today’s guest author is Linda Matthew, Accredited Financial Counselor® and owner of MoneyMindful Personal Financial Coaching, with which College Affordability Solutions has partnered since 2016. Linda has clients throughout the U.S. and Canada. She is also the parent of one college graduate and one current college student.

Linda’s new book, Teach Your Children About Money, describes age-appropriate methods for helping youngsters learn about themselves and different ways to manage their money. It also has a special section just for college.

Go to the MoneyMindful website for more about Linda, to arrange a free consultation and to order your copy of Teach Your Children About Money.

Special Coronavirus Bulletin #6: The CARES Act May Provide Temporary Breaks on Your Federal Student Aid

Yesterday the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act became law. The Act makes temporary changes to federal student aid programs that take the place of any similar measures announced by the President or ED. Here are these changes affecting federal aid recipients:

Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP)

  • Loan Payments and Interest Accumulation Suspended: The Act suspends all FDLP loan payments due and interest accumulation that would take place through September 30, 2020. Nevertheless, these months must count as if borrowers made payments when adding up the months required to qualify for all FDLP loan forgiveness and default rehabilitation programs.
  • Garnishments Suspended: To reduce their debts, ED normally garnishes (seizes) money defaulted borrowers would otherwise receive from federal benefit programs, federal tax refunds, and wages. The Act suspends all these garnishments through September 30. ED has reportedly confirmed that garnished tax refunds in process on March 13 will soon be sent to borrowers.
  • Notices to Borrowers: The Act gives ED 15 days to notify borrowers of these suspensions, and that they may still make payments if they wish. Beginning August 1, ED must provide borrowers at least 6 notices describing when their normal payments will resume, the FDLP’s income-driven repayment plans, and borrowers’ rights for switching to those plans.

Federally Funded Emergency Grants

  • Washington allocates money for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs) to postsecondary schools every year to help exceptionally-needy undergraduates. Through September 2021, the Act allows schools to redirect some or all of these allocations to emergency grants for undergraduate and graduate students suffering unexpected expenses or unmet financial need due to qualifying emergencies*. FSEOG allocations are fairly small and, at this point in the aid process, most FSEOG money has already been committed, so this may not add huge amounts to emergency grant programs.

Federal Pell Grants

  • Pell Grant eligibility is limited to 150% of the normal length of recipients’ undergraduate programs — e.g. students in 8-semester programs may get Pell for up to 12 semesters. The Act authorizes ED to exclude academic terms for which Pell Grants are received from this “150% rule” if students don’t finish them due to qualifying emergencies*.

Federal Work-Study (FWS)

  • If FWS jobs for an academic year get disrupted due to qualifying emergencies*, the Act allows postsecondary schools to pay for all or part of what students awarded FWS would have earned during that year, provided the students already began work in their FWS jobs. The Act doesn’t require schools to do this — and doing it may generate some extra costs for schools — so check with your financial aid office if your FWS job’s been disrupted.

Withdrawing Due to Coronavirus

  • Accelerated Federal Aid Repayment: Students withdrawing from school before the 60% point of the terms for which they got federal aid are immediately liable for repaying at least part of that aid. The Act exempts students from such liabilities if they withdraw due to qualifying emergencies*.
  • Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP): Students must maintain SAP, in part by completing a certain percentage of the credits they attempt, to continue receiving federal aid. The Act allows schools to exempt credits not completed due to qualifying emergencies* when determining SAP.

* Qualifying Emergencies are coronavirus-related emergencies declared by the President or Secretary of Health and Human Services. This includes the current Presidentially-declared coronavirus national emergency.

Follow this website to receive future Special Coronavirus Bulletins as additional information becomes available to College Affordability Solutions.

Special Coronavirus Bulletin # 5: Appeal for More Financial Aid If Necessary

A parent who is or soon will be helping a child pay college-related costs, but the coronavirus has led to that parent losing substantial work earnings or suffering big investment losses in the market crash. An undergraduate who’s experienced similar losses. If either of these describe you, you should submit an appeal for more financial aid.

Every student’s eligibility for the federal grants, the lowest-cost federal student loans, and Federal Work-Study jobs — plus many state and institutional grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study positions — is determined by financial need.

What’s financial need? It’s your postsecondary school’s cost of attendance minus your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). EFC is based on the income and asset data reported on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). For academic terms beginning before July 1, this was the 2019-20 FAFSA. It was the 2020-21 FAFSA for terms beginning July 1 or after.

If coronavirus-related earnings and/or investment losses have significantly impaired your ability to pay college-related costs, you may submit an appeal asking the financial aid office to recalculate your EFC and, if drops, additional aid need-based aid could become available.

Aid offices must have various documents to prove that financial circumstances have changed since you filed your FAFSA, so look on your aid office’s website or call it to get instructions on how to submit an appeal.

Warning! It typically takes aid offices a few weeks to take up and review appeals, so you should submit yours as soon as possible, especially if additional aid is needed to stay enrolled during the current term.

Unfortunately, not every successful appeal results in lots more grant or scholarship money. Many aid offices have already committed all these funds to other students at this point. But don’t let that stop you! Appealing may at least lead to emergency aid or a low-cost loan.

Get the financial aid needed to keep getting a postsecondary education. Don’t let coronavirus disrupt this basic 21st century necessity!

Struggling to put together an appeal like this? Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com to arrange a free consultation.

Special Coronavirus Bulletin #3: Payment Suspensions and Interest Waivers on Your Federal Student Loans

If you have federal student loans, you should know that federal policy makers are moving fast to extend debt relief to you during the current coronavirus national emergency.

Federal Student Loan Payments Suspended:

  • Today, the U.S. Education Department (ED) announced that you’re allowed to obtain an “administrative forbearance” suspending your FDLP debt payments. This forbearance took effect last Friday, March 13. It’ll last at least 60 days. To get it, you must request it from your FDLP loan servicer, either by phone or online.
  • Are you pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)? Think carefully before requesting this administrative forbearance. Any month in which you make no payment doesn’t count toward the 120 “qualifying months” you need for PSLF.
  • ED’s announcement also disclosed that you’ll get a forbearance suspending any of your payments that were more than 31 days late as of March 13, or that become more than 31 days late after March 13. You need not contact anyone to get this forbearance. Your loan servicer will automatically apply it to your loans.

Interest Waiver on Certain Federal Student Loans:

  • The President recently announced that interest on all student loans held by the government is waived until further notice. Today, ED issued guidance on it’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) office’s coronavirus website confirming this waiver’s effective date as March 13. It’ll be given automatically so you needn’t apply for it.

Student Loans Held By The Government:

  • These include all FDLP Loans, but usually not Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) Loans, normally held by commercial lenders, or Federal Perkins Loans, normally held by postsecondary schools. So this interest waiver is off the table for them.
  • However, under certain circumstances, the holding of such loans may have been transferred to ED, in which case they’ll get this interest waiver.
  • Ask your loan servicer if you’re unsure about who holds your federal student loans. If your FFELP or Perkins Loans are held by lenders and schools, ask your loan servicer about consolidating them into the FDLP to get their interest waived.
  • The government never holds private student loans, so their interest won’t be waived unless their holders do interest waivers.

Interest Waiver Impact:

  • Normally, during a forbearance, you’re not required to make payments on loans held by the government, but interest keeps accumulating on them. At forbearance-end, unpaid interest gets added to your loan principal, and thereafter interest accumulates on your enlarged loan principal.
  • However, because of the interest waiver, there’ll be no post-March 12 interest to capitalize if you get a forbearance. Also, if you choose to make a payment while in a forbearance, 100% of it’ll get used to shrink your loan principal.

More guidance is coming. We’ll issue additional “special coronavirus bulletins” as it does. So keep checking this website, or FSA’s coronavirus website, for additional news. Meanwhile, stay healthy!

Special Coronavirus Bulletin # 4: Call Your U.S. Senators Right Away About Federal Student Debt Relief

Today U.S. Senators are negotiating the contents of the next coronavirus-related economic stimulus bill. Those negotiations are focused on numerous issues — including relief for the millions of Americans with federal student loan debts.

As reported in Special Coronavirus Bulletin #3, the President and U.S. Education Department (ED) have already announced two student loan relief measures:

  • Allow all Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP) borrowers who ask to get their payments suspended for at least 60 days beginning March 13; and
  • Automatically waive interest accumulation on student loans held by the government (mostly FDLP Loans).

However, competing plans in the U.S. Senate would go beyond these actions. If you like one or the other of these plans, call your Senators’ offices immediately and let them know. Look here for their phone numbers.

Senate Republicans

They want to:

  • Require payment suspensions and interest waivers for 3 months instead of 60 days; and
  • Allow the Education Secretary to extend these suspensions and waivers for another 3 months if she considers it necessary.

Senate Democrats

They’d go far beyond anything described above. For the duration of the coronavirus national emergency declared on March 13, they’d:

  • Require ED to make all monthly FDLP and Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) payments borrowers owe — payments that’d be tax-free and count just like borrower-made payments for forgiveness and default rehabilitation purposes;
  • Require ED to ensure that it’s paid no less than $10,000 for each borrower; and
  • Forbid FDLP and FFELP interest capitalization and the garnishment of social security benefits, tax refunds, and wages.

Make your voice heard to your Senators so they can take it into account as they decide which of these plans to support!