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Can You Appeal for More Student Financial Aid in the Middle of the Academic Year?

Mark Kantrowitz

September 26, 2011

My husband lost his job recently. My oldest son did not qualify for student aid for college this year except for federal loans. Is there any way my son could now receive financial aid until my husband finds a new job? — Sonja R.

Ask the college for a professional judgment review. Some colleges call it a special circumstances review or financial aid appeal.

Families can appeal for more aid in the middle of the academic year, not just after receiving the financial aid award letter. Any change in family financial circumstances may provide the college with sufficient justification for an adjustment. Job loss is the most common reason for a mid-year appeal for more financial aid. Other common reasons for a mid-year adjustment include illness or injury, casualty losses, a significant change in income, and the addition of dependent care expenses for a child or elderly parent.

After the college makes an adjustment to the financial aid package, ask about the possibility of increasing your son’s unsubsidized Stafford loan limits. If the parent of a dependent student is ineligible for the Parent PLUS loan because of an adverse credit history, the dependent student becomes eligible for the higher unsubsidized Stafford loan limits available to independent students. While the definition of an adverse credit history does not consider job loss, the regulations at 34 CFR 685.203(c) give the college the authority to increase a dependent student’s loan limits under “exceptional circumstances”. Some colleges will consider job loss or other evidence of the parents’ inability to repay the debt as sufficient justification for increasing the student’s loan limits. The regulations define exceptional circumstances as including (but not limited to) receipt of public assistance or disability benefits, incarceration of the parent or if the parent’s whereabouts are unknown. Note that if a dependent student receives the higher unsubsidized Stafford loan limits, the student’s parents will not be able to borrow from the Parent PLUS loan program. If they do borrow from the Parent PLUS loan program the college will reduce the student’s unsubsidized Stafford loan limits.

After I filled out the initial FAFSA form, I lost my job due to the downsizing of my company. That changes our financial picture drastically, as I am now unemployed. Can I now go back and fill out another FAFSA form with updated information? — David I.

You can’t change the original FAFSA, since the income figures on the FAFSA are based on last year’s income and were correct as of the date the FAFSA was filed. Likewise, you can’t file a new FAFSA to reflect the change in income. If you do either, it will trigger verification.

Instead, contact the college’s financial aid office and ask for a professional judgment review. Mention the job loss on the phone when you ask about how to file an appeal. You will need to provide the financial aid office with documentation of the job loss, such as a copy of the layoff notice or a copy of a recent letter from the state unemployment office demonstrating the receipt of unemployment benefits within the last 90 days. The college will also want information about any severance pay. The college financial aid administrator has the authority to switch your FAFSA from last year’s income to an estimate of this year’s income. Most colleges will make such an adjustment.


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