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 Jan. 31, 2021. 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
Most undergraduate college students did not receive a stimulus check under the original Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, and the same goes for the second coronavirus relief package that passed in December 2020 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 $600 one-time amount under the second COVID relief package if they have an income of $75,000 or less. After that, the amount you receive phases out (minus $5 for every $100 over $75,000). Students who are married with no children will receive a total $1,200 if their combined income is $150,000 or less (the head of household maximum is $112,500). Those with children can receive an additional $600 per child.
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.
Compensation will vary by state. Contact your state’s unemployment office to apply for benefits, usually online or over the phone.
Under the second coronavirus relief package, you may be eligible for additional supplemental unemployment insurance on top of other unemployment benefits.
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 full payment 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 your campus closes due to COVID-19, you may be able to get some of your money back. In spring 2020 most schools reimbursed 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.
Check with your school’s financial aid office if you have questions.
You could stay on campus if you have nowhere to go
If your school closes campus in spring 2021 and the dorm is your primary residence, contact your college housing and financial aid offices to find out your options for remaining on campus.
During the spring and fall 2020 semesters, colleges made concessions for students with extenuating circumstances, such as those who are low-income, homeless or are international students from countries with travel restrictions.
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 second coronavirus relief package provides funding to colleges specifically designated for emergency financial aid.
As part of the most recent aid package, the Department of Education is giving $20.5 billion to public and not-for-profit colleges. Proprietary (for-profit private) colleges were allocated $681 million and must use the total amount for financial aid grants for students.
Colleges must use some of the funds mandated by the relief package 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.
Loan and Pell Grant limits are waived
For those whose schools closed due to the coronavirus, both relief packages call 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 in the spring or fall semesters won’t count toward your lifetime limit for either aid type.
You can get discounted broadband access
If you're a college student with financial need, you could get a discount on broadband. A new measure in the second coronavirus relief package authorizes a discount off normal broadband rates of up to $50 per month for households with at least one person receiving reduced or free school lunch benefits, unemployment benefits, a Pell Grant or any other need-based financial aid from the federal government or state.
You can apply for more financial aid
You can request more financial aid even if you have already filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. 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, 2021, to do it.
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.