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Colleges nationwide are closing their doors and moving to online-only learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re left in the lurch, the federal stimulus provides some student loan relief, but you’ll want to turn to your college for answers, too.
All students with federal loans qualify to delay payments, interest-free, through September. Some private lenders are offering forbearance as well.
Here is additional financial help for college students that may be available.
Independent students can get a stimulus check
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, most undergraduate college students will not receive a stimulus check. That’s because your parents might have claimed you as a dependent on their tax return, and dependents don’t qualify. Most students under age 24 are considered dependents.
But students who are independent — like many graduate students and undergraduates older than 24 — will get the full $1,200 one-time amount if they have an income of $75,000 or less. Students who are married with no children will receive a total $2,400 if their combined income is $150,000 or less. Those with children can receive an additional $500 per child.
The amount phases out for those earning $99,000 as a single person, $136,500 for heads of household (usually single parents) or $198,000 for married couples.
You might qualify for unemployment benefits
If you worked part-time or full-time while enrolled, and you were laid off — or if you’re a gig worker whose work is affected by the pandemic — you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. On top of that, you could receive an additional $600 of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation per week. The benefits will last up to 39 weeks.
Compensation will vary by state. Contact your state’s unemployment office to apply for benefits, usually online or over the phone.
You can still receive federal work-study
If your school or employer closes and you lose your federal work-study job, you may be eligible to receive multiple payments or a one-time grant for the remaining period you were set to work.
The amount you receive will be based on your award amount rather than hours worked. Contact your college to find out how they are carrying out this policy.
You may get reimbursed if your campus closes housing
If you had to leave campus and are now learning remotely, you may be able to get some of your money back. Most schools are reimbursing students for some of their non-tuition costs, such as housing, meals and facility fees.
Don’t count on a tuition discount if your college switches to online learning. But ask about potential refunds for classes that can’t be held remotely, such as physical fitness or hands-on lab courses.
Getting a reimbursement will be similar to returning a purchase — you’re either going to get a credit to use for a future payment to the school or a direct refund, and it all depends on the school’s policy.
Any amount you receive back into your account or as a future credit will be prorated, meaning you’ll receive a portion of the overall costs you paid according to how much time is left in the semester.
You can keep refunds from unused loans, but it’s still borrowed money you have to repay. Consider returning those funds to your lender, especially if you have an unsubsidized federal loan, PLUS loan or a private loan, which all accrue interest while you’re in school.
Few colleges have canceled classes entirely without moving to remote learning. Berea College, a nontraditional working school in Kentucky, closed its doors and will offer prorated refunds to students. If it happens to your school, you’re likely to be reimbursed for all costs for the rest of the semester, including tuition.
Not every school will provide a refund. For example, Georgetown College, also in Kentucky, has stated it cannot offer a refund for room, board or parking passes.
Check with your school’s financial aid office if you have questions.
You could still stay on campus if you have nowhere to go
If your dorm is your primary residence, contact your college housing and financial aid offices to find out your options for remaining on campus.
Colleges are making concessions for students with extenuating circumstances, such as those who are low-income, homeless or are international students from countries with travel restrictions.
Northeastern University in Boston, for example, is not requiring students to move out. Neither is Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. At Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, students who have nowhere else to go can apply to continue receiving room and board.
Your school may keep a certain portion of housing open, but contact your school’s housing office to find out if meal services will continue and about your options for food.
Emergency aid may be available
Colleges may have emergency funds already available, and the CARES Act provides $7 billion in funds to colleges specifically designated for emergency financial aid.
The CARES Act also mandates that schools can use Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant funds to provide emergency aid to students experiencing a qualifying emergency due to COVID-19. This could include emergency grants, loans, scholarships or vouchers to cover expenses related to schooling and housing.
Some colleges, like Columbia University in New York City, are offering an emergency fund for students who need help with travel or storage expenses in order to leave campus.
Loan and Pell Grant limits are waived
For those who don’t complete college this semester, the CARES Act calls for colleges to waive lifetime limits on certain aid, including Pell Grants. That means any federal direct loan or Pell Grant money you used for school this semester won’t count toward your lifetime limit for either aid type.
You can request more financial aid. Even if you have already filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, you can appeal your award. This is useful if your family’s finances have changed due to events like job loss or medical expenses.
To update the FAFSA, sign in to fasfa.ed.gov and click on “Make FAFSA Correction.” Enter your FSA ID, make changes and submit. You can make changes up until the FAFSA deadline — June 30 after the school year you need aid. So if you need more aid to help out with expenses this school year, you have until June 30, 2020, to do it. To update your FAFSA for 2020-21 you have until June 30, 2021.
You can also contact your school’s financial aid office with your request for more aid via email or phone. Include a request for a specific additional sum you’ll need and supporting documents.