5 key takeaways for students from our Financial Aid “Ask Me Anything”

Yesterday afternoon, Take Stock in College had the great pleasure of hosting Dan Barkowitz, financial aid expert and author of the Money Man Blog, on Take Stock Connect for an “Ask Me Anything” or AMA event. We learned quite a bit about budgeting, scholarship management, and what the CARES Act has in store for our students. Here are our biggest lessons learned from the event:

1. Federal Emergency Aid Grants will be made available to colleges and universities to help students.

The Ask Me Anything began with our financial aid expert making this exciting announcement. “The Office of Federal Student Aid today released $6B of the $12B which will be available to colleges and universities to provide emergency grant assistance to students who have been impacted by the COVID-19 situation.”

Each college or university is being allocated a specific amount to help students based on their enrollments and each college may make different choices about how to award these funds. With that in mind, now is the time to let your financial aid officer know if you are struggling with tuition, housing, food and/or technology costs due to COVID-19.

How can you find out if your college has emergency funds already available? This announcement was just posted today, so most won’t yet. But students should still reach out and express their needs to their financial aid office so that when funds are ready, they will be at the top of the list. If you are curious (and who isn’t) – here is the list of funds available by college/institution for emergency grant funds.

2. There is more to the CARES Act than you might have heard.

Perhaps the most well-known aspect of the CARES Act is the “Recovery Rebates for Individuals.” It is under this provision that many taxpayers are slated to receive a stimulus check of up $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent under the age of 17. To find out how much your family can expect to receive, CNN has a helpful calculator tool; remember to type in your gross income from your most recent tax return. If you want to know if you are personally getting a check, this all depends on whether or not you are listed as a dependent on your parent or guardian’s taxes. However, no matter how much you take from financial aid, these contributions will NOT be taken into account, as Barkowitz explained last night. “CARES Act funding is specifically excluded from calculating a family’s EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) and from the calculation of other financial aid.” For a full break down of the CARES Act and all of its components, check out Barkowitz’s blog on the topic.

3.  If you or your parents have experienced a loss of income from COVID-19 closures, your Fall 2020 or Spring 2021 financial aid may be impacted.

Since financial lenders use the previous year’s taxes to determine your eligibility for financial aid, a loss of income could alter this decision. However, this is not a mandate; these decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. You have to get out there and advocate for yourself. For more on this, tune into the Take Stock in College Blog next week for tips on self-advocacy, and stay updated with The Money Man Blog’s most recent post in the meantime!

4.). All payments on FEDERAL student loans and all interest rates are suspended until September 30, 2020.

You heard that right! If you have a federal loan, your payments and interest have been put on pause until September 30th, 2020. Take this time to breathe, and make a financial plan that works for your current budget (For more information on how to budget during the recession, click here). If you have a private loan, you need to contact your loan provider. While the federal government has asked private lenders for leniency, this is not under government control—so this will vary on a private lender-by-lender basis.

5. Financial Aid answers will vary from school to school.

The truth is, we are living in an unprecedented time right now and there is no “one size fits all approach” to resolving financial aid issues. Different schools can expect different emergency funds, and you can expect different policies. If you have questions about how your financial aid package will be impacted by COVID-19, you need to reach out to the organizations that awarded you and ask questions. Additionally, you should look into the policy at your specific institution.

Additionally, black and white financial aid answers do not fit the specific circumstances for each person. For instance, most aid packages won’t be affected if you take classes Pass/Fail, however, this depends on your GPA, and how your GPA will be impacted by taking courses this way. If you were on probation for falling below a certain GPA, you might not be able to raise your GPA enough to rescue your merit scholarship if you take your classes Pass/Fail. You may have to check in with your advisor and your scholarship provider before taking classes pass/fail.

Stay tuned for more AMAs on Take Stock Connect in the future. Even though we have to shelter-in-place to break the curve, we can still come together to learn, support one another, and grow. Thank you for tuning in, and don’t forget to subscribe to Dan Barkowitz’s incredible blog for more updates!

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