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HEROES Act of 2003

HEROES Act of 2003

The HEROES Act aims to ensure service members don't lose out on federal student aid due to service.

April 21, 2009

The Higher Education Relief Opportunities For Students (HEROES) Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-76) is intended to ensure that service members who are receiving Federal student aid are not adversely affected because of their military status and to minimize the administrative burden placed on such individuals.

The HEROES Act allows the Secretary of the US Department of Education to waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provisions relating to Title IV student financial aid in times of war or military operation or national emergency. It was signed into law on August 18, 2003. The waivers originally expired on September 30, 2005, but were extended by Public Law 109-78 (HR 2132) until September 30, 2007. The HEROES Act was made permanent on September 30, 2007 by Public Law 110-93.

The US Department of Education published the waivers and modifications in the Federal Register 68(239):69312-69318, December 12, 2003. This was extended by Federal Register 70(202):61037, October 20, 2005 through September 30, 2007.

Affected individuals include the following, as well as their spouses and dependents:

  • Active duty military personnel serving during a war, military operation or national emergency.
  • Members of the National Guard performing a qualifying duty (i.e., called to active service by the President or Secretary of Defense for a period of more than 30 consecutive days) during a war, military operation or national emergency.
  • People who reside or are employed in an area declared a disaster area by any Federal, State or local official in connection with a national emergency.
  • People who suffer economic hardship as a result of a war, military operation, or national emergency.

National emergencies must have been declared by the President. Disaster areas can include those caused by a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado.

The waivers for affected individuals include:

  • Need Analysis. Schools may substitute estimated award year income information (i.e., the first calendar year of the award year) for prior tax year information in the calculation of the expected family contribution (EFC). This will allow the financial aid administrator to consider changes in the financial circumstances of the affected individual and his/her family.
  • Professional Judgment. The requirement that Professional Judgment be applied on a case-by-case basis is waived for affected individuals and their families. Financial aid administrators are also encouraged to choose the method of determining financial need that is most beneficial to the affected individual and his/her family. For example, financial aid administrators may consider prior tax year information, estimated award year information, and the information after applying professional judgment, choosing whichever yields the most aid for the affected individual and his/her family.
  • Grant Overpayments. When a student withdraws from college because of his/her status as an affected individual, the “Return of Title IV Funds” requirement that grant overpayments be repaid is waived.
  • Verification. When an affected individual is selected for verification, there are several additional methods of satisfying the requirements to provide a copy of US income tax returns.
  • Oral Requests in Lieu of Written Requests. Certain requests and authorizations are required to be made in writing, such as a request for a leave of absence. These requests may be made orally by an affected individual. Requests may also be made by a member of the borrower’s family or other reliable source.
  • Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). SAP requirements may be waived for an affected individual.
  • Exclusion of Interruptions. The time during which a borrower is an affected individual (up to three years) is excluded from the grace period, and affected individuals are entitled to another full grace period upon completion of the excluded period of service. Likewise, the in-school deferment status may be extended for up to three years while a borrower is an affected individual. The time during which a borrower is an affected individual is also excluded from the 3-year cumulative limit on the length of a forbearance. Loan cancellation requirements that service be continuous may exclude interruptions due to the borrower’s status as an affected individual. Likewise, requirements for consecutive on-time payments for loan rehabilitation or consolidation of defaulted loans may exclude interruptions due to the borrower’s status as an affected individual.
  • Collection of Defaulted Loans. Collection activities on a defaulted education loan may be halted for the time period during which a borrower is an affected individual.
  • Parental Signatures. Various requirements for a parental signature are waived when the parents are unable to provide a signature because of their status as an affected individual. The high school guidance counselor or the financial aid administrator may sign on behalf of the parent.

Affected individuals and their families should promptly notify the holders of their student loans and their schools (including the financial aid office and VA counselor) of their status as an affected individual in order to receive timely relief. It is best to provide documentation, such as a copy of the order to active duty.

Members of the National Guard or Reserve who have been called to active duty may experience problems with their schools. If they need help resolving the problems they should contact the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC), a consortium of higher education associations and more than 1,350 colleges who have agreed to intercede on their behalf. For more information, write to Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, 1307 New York Avenue, NW, Fifth Floor, Washington, DC 20005-4701, call 1-800-368-5622, fax 1-202-667-0622 or send email to socmail@aascu.org.

This article originally appeared on FinAid.org.


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