Trust, but verification

Trust, but verify“. Or in Russian, “Doveryáy, no proveryáy.” It rhymes in Russian. Cute, huh? But where does it come from?

This expression, popularized by Ronald Reagan in the context of nuclear disarmament talks with the Russians, has become a reference to being willing to believe what someone (with qualifications – namely checking to make sure it is the truth).

You could say that the same principle exists within Financial Aid as well. Federal Student Aid trusts, but verifies. They call this process “verification.”

What is moneyman talking about? When you complete the FAFSA, you enter information used to calculate your eligibility for financial aid (your EFC) such as your income, your federal taxes, the number of members of your family, and the number in college (among other items). Remember, your income is based on the last tax year available before the application year opens (so the 2020-21 application year opens on October 1, 2019, so the last tax year available at that time is 2018). Your personal information like marital status (of you and your parents), your assets and your family size on the other hand are as of the date you fill out the FAFSA.

The FAFSA takes the information provided by you and using the formula moneyman has described on this blog, comes up with your expected family contribution which determines if you qualify for a Pell grant and is used in the awarding of other need-based financial aid. But how do we know that the information you provided on the FAFSA is accurate?

Welcome to “doveryáy, no proveryáy“. While the FAFSA trusts you to enter the information, a number of applications (generally not to exceed 30% of those who apply) are selected by the government to go through a process called verification. It is a way of proving what you answered on the FAFSA by providing additional information.

When you are completing the FAFSA you have the opportunity to link your tax information directly to the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (or DRT). The DRT allows Federal taxpayers to import data directly from the IRS system and answer the associated FAFSA questions. This makes the process of completing the application much easier and faster.

As an additional benefit, if you use the IRS DRT you do not have to verify your income information from another source since you have already done so by transferring information over. If you did not link your application to the IRS DRT, and you are selected for verification, you will need to provide a copy of either your Federal Tax Return transcript (available from or a signed copy of your paper Federal Tax Return.

How do you verify information other than taxes and income? If you re selected, colleges and universities will provide you with a verification form which you must complete to prove the information you filed on the FAFSA. If there are differences between the two sources of information, the school may contact you and ask you to explain the difference. These forms often additionally ask for untaxed income since much of that information cannot be determined from a copy of your tax return.

There is one additional type of verification for which you may be selected, and that is when you are asked to provide your identity by providing documents including proof of citizenship and high school graduation, as well as indicating that you understand that the financial aid you are receiving is for an educational purpose. This is done through another form also provided by your financial aid office.

Some schools (especially those who have a lot of their own grant or scholarship funds to distribute) may select all of their students to go through verification. This is usually because they want to be sure that the amount of funds they provide to students (which is often much more than that provided by the Federal government) is given to those who need the funding. Remember, “trust but verify.”

Verification tends to be a stumbling block for a number of student financial aid applicants. We will explore why in some coming posts, but keep in mind this generally is a requirement of Federal Student Aid and it is just a way to confirm the information provided on your financial aid applications.

Three paragraphs that changed the world…

IMPORTANT NOTE: Yup! You guessed it. The guidance in this post was contradicted by later guidance from the Department of Education. See here for the most recent guidance. This post is left as it was originally published for historical purposes (and because, who knows, we may be back here again).

Well, sometimes, despite your best efforts, the world changes around you, And it happened tonight… Again…

Hello rug. Goodbye everything you thought you knew…

Tonight at about 7:00, the Department of Education published the following three paragraphs on their CARES Act / Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds page throwing a big curve ball into what we thought we knew:

Updated statement 5/21/2020:The Department has stated on its guidance portal that “guidance documents lack the force and effect of law.” See U.S. Department of Education’s Guidance Homepage, (“Guidance documents represent the ED’s current thinking on a topic. They do not create or confer any rights for or on any person and do not impose any requirements beyond those required under applicable law and regulations. Guidance documents lack the force and effect of law.”); compare, e.g., OPE Guidance Documents, (“Guidance documents lack the force and effect of law.”). On February 26, 2020, the Department published a Federal Register notice stating this principle along with an announcement of the existence and location of its guidance portal. Notice of Guidance Portal, 85 Fed. Reg. 11056, The statement applies to all of the Department’s guidance except as authorized by law or as incorporated into a contract.

This includes, for example, the statements in response to question 5 of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund Institutional Frequently Asked Question document located here and question 9 of the HEERF Student FAQ document located here explaining that only students who are or could be eligible to participate in programs under Section 484 in Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, may receive emergency financial aid grants. HEERF Institutional FAQs at 2, HEERF Student FAQs at 4. The Department will not initiate any enforcement action based solely on these statements because they lack the force and effect of law. In contrast, the underlying statutory terms in the CARES Act are legally binding, as are any other applicable statutory terms, such as the restriction in 8 U.S.C. § 1611 on eligibility for Federal public benefits including such grants.

In addition, the Department reiterates its guidance that although emergency financial aid grants under Section 18004(c) of the CARES Act may only be given to those who are or could be eligible to participate in programs under Section 484 in Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), but emphasizes that that guidance is specific to the distribution of emergency financial aid grants and does not apply to the use of HEERF institutional allocations to cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus. The Department continues to consider the issue of eligibility for HEERF emergency financial aid grants under the CARES Act and intends to take further action shortly.

So what does this mean? Remember what I said about having to be eligible for section 484 of the Higher Education Act? Just kidding. The Department of Education has been facing lawsuits about narrowly interpreting the actual language from the CARES Act so they re-positioned. What they are saying is that their guidance still stands, but they are not enforcing it. So basically schools do not need to follow this rule. Anyone who is enrolled is qualified to receive CARES Grant (sort of like I said at first).

Except (new wrinkle) you have to be a US Citizen or Eligible Non-citizen to qualify (in other words, you cannot be undocumented or international). This is the reference to 8 U.S.C. § 1611 which specifically prohibits “an alien who is not a qualified alien” (their words, not mine) from receiving public benefits (like the CARES Act HEERF money. So, this money can only be awarded to US Citizens or Eligible Non-citizens.

Except (see paragraph 3) when it comes to the institutional portion of the funds. Money that an institution spends out of its allocation in emergency grants still have to follow these (amended) rules, but if an institution is doing something that doesn’t directly give cash grants to students (like paying for online services, or buying laptops), undocumented and international students can qualify for these programs.

Oh, and by the way, they are still working on more guidance.


So what is a student to do? Check with your school and see where they are in the process. If you were not eligible before because of SAP, defaulted loans, or some other 484 issue, ask again. Oh, and be kind to your financial aid officer. They just had the rug pulled out from under them.

Coming Back to a New Normal (and Leaving Behind the Old One)

States are beginning to reopen. Restaurants in some areas have moved to 25% or 50% capacity, some retail establishments that have been shuttered are starting to make steps towards a new shopping experience, and (in the major Orlando-area news) theme park shopping areas (like Disney Springs and Universal Citywalk) are starting to allow guests to shop and dine.

You might be curious – when are colleges and universities opening?

(Image courtesy of

It might be a while.

What we do know: most colleges and universities are holding courses this summer in virtual mode (in fact, moneyman hasn’t heard of any college operating face-to-face classes this summer). And most colleges have yet to announce a phased reopening of their campuses (although many colleges have begun internal discussions all about reopening).

If the local K-12 school district isn’t opening in the Fall, it would be extremely unlikely that the campus would hold classes (keep in mind, faculty and staff have kids that need some place to go during the day). Even if face-to-face classes resume, it is likely that there will be an increased number of online courses, and that the in person classes will have announced contingency plans if (and when) a second wave of infections occur and a new quarantine needs to be implemented either locally or nationally.

So what does this mean for you (the student) about your plans for the Fall? If you are a continuing student and you are commuting to school from a local residence, not much will change. You may have all online courses, or you may have a limited lab course, but otherwise things will look much like they did at the end of the Spring term. If you live far way from campus, or you are a first-time student heading off to school in the Fall, it is time to think about your back-up plans. Are yo comfortable if all Fall classes are online and you are still at home? What if residence halls don’t open for the Fall? Will you stay near home or find an apartment near the university? Before you commit to the cost of a residence hall or dining plan, what protections has the institution put in to manage your costs and expenses if there is a need to close down again?

None of these considerations are pleasant to think about, but all are important. And colleges and universities will likely be announcing their Fall plans in the next few month as we all wait to see how the opening of states impacts the infection rates locally and nationally.

While we are talking about announcements, we need to mention the breaking news from the Department of Education on Friday night: the release of more guidance for college and university financial aid staff on parts of the CARES Act. You will remember that in a previous post, we considered the impact of the CARES Act, and discussed how there were many parts of the Act for which there was no guidance yet. We have some now, and it is pretty OK for students (it is a little confusing for Financial Aid Officers, but that is why moneyman is here for you!).

Some important parts of the guidance:

  1. Colleges and universities have been authorized to offer classes online or in virtual mode (distance education) through the Fall term of 2020. Normally this would have to be approved by an accreditor, but this requirement is waived.
  2. It may be hard for some students to get proof of high school completion (which can be an admissions requirement and a requirement for some students in verification). In the case the student cannot get this information, the financial aid office can accept a signed and dated statement from the student instead of formal documentation
  3. HEERF Funds through the CARES Act are not taxable income for students.
  4. A reminder of the option to offer Leaves of Absence to students, and how to treat financial aid when a student returns to a program after a Leave of Absence.
  5. For students who withdrew from all classes during the Spring term, the start of guidance on the treatment of Return to Title IV (waiving the requirement that the college return Federal funds to the government if the student withdrew before the 60% point of a semester). The most helpful part of the guidance for students is that the Department has said that for students whose classes changed from in-person to online, any withdrawal after the point at which the mode of instruction changed will count as related to COVID-19. This means that for students who had to withdraw, there will be no financial penalty.
  6. Guidance on SAP, and specifically how to treat courses from which a student withdrew during the emergency. Since Satisfactory Academic Progress is a requirement of financial aid eligibility, and specifically a student’s completion rate (number of credits earned divided by the number attempted), this guidance makes sure that students won’t be penalized for having to withdraw from courses this past Spring.
  7. TEACH Grant clarifications for teachers who move from full-time to part-time or are let go due to the pandemic so that their service counts when measured against the service requirements for this grant.

NASFAA has done a great job of evaluating the guidance and raising some additional questions (for those of us who work in financial aid). While we have some answers provided, there are still lots of questions left so that we can best meet the needs of students during this unusual time.

Speaking of unusual times, what are you doing now with your summer? What are you thoughts about the Fall? When do you think your school will reopen? How do you feel about the reopening? Moneyman is here so let’s start a dialogue!

Why do you still have so much interest in my interest?

Hello all!

Just a quick note to share some information that may be of “interest” to you, specifically great news on student loan interest rates for 2020-21.

Interest rates going down, down, down…

You may know (or you may not know) that Federal student and parent loans (Subsidized, Unsubsidized, Parent PLUS and Grad PLUS) have interest rates that are fixed for the life of the loan. Each year when you borrow a loan, your interest rate for that particular annual loan is based on that fixed rate (and it will not change during the time that you pay that loan). This does mean that if you borrow one loan each year of your four year undergraduate career, you could have four different loans with four different interest rates.

Well, the interest rate is set annually based on (wonky stuff coming) the auction rate for 10 year Treasury bills in early May. And, guess what? We are in a tough economic time, so the T-bill rate is at an historic low, so that means student loan rates will also be at an historic low in 2020-21.

How low?

Subsidized Student Loan and Unsubsidized Student Loan interest rates for undergraduates will be 2.75% (down from 4.53% in 2019-20). Parent and Graduate PLUS Loan rates will be 5.3% (down from 7.08% in 2019-20). And Graduate Unsubsidized Student Loans will be at 4.3% interest rate (down from 6.08% in 2019-20).

Of course, remember that currently Federally held student loans have an interest rate of 0% through September 30 anyway, but this is a major reduction in rates which will leave this year’s borrowers feeling some economic impact from the pandemic throughout the lifetime of their repayment.

More information on these rates can be found at CNN or Forbes.

Graduating on to graduate school

“Graduate school? Really? But I just finished my undergraduate degree and now you want me to keep on going? Moneyman, what are you thinking?”

Great questions. And I’m here to answer them. Also the ones you didn’t ask: “How am I going to pay for it?” and “Shouldn’t I go out in the workforce first before I go on to graduate school?”

The choice is yours. Sort of…

In our current economic situation, some of you may be thinking that going on to graduate school after you finish your undergraduate degree is a good choice, and moneyman isn’t going to argue that! Especially if your chosen field is one where advanced degrees are a requirement for later promotions or for entry level interviews, a graduate degree now may be a wise investment.

If we look at data from the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), we can see that a graduate degree pays off (on average) in two ways: increased weekly earnings, and lower unemployment. In fact, in 2019 the income difference between an undergraduate and a master’s degree was $236 per week (or about $12,300 a year). The difference is much higher for a professional degree, like a Law Degree or MD (an average of $686 more per week than an undergrad, or a total of $35,700 per year). Again these are only averages, but they are important to understand the financial potential impact of graduate education.

So if you want to go “back” to school to get your graduate degree, what should expect when it comes time to pay for it? Well, first, let me introduce you to an old friend — the FAFSA. The same form you have been using to apply for financial aid as an undergraduate is also required from you as a graduate student with a few important differences.

  1. You are automatically independent when you apply for financial aid as a graduate student. Even if you aren’t yet 24 years old, your FAFSA can be completed without parental information when you apply for graduate school financial aid (BUT — here is a warning — some law schools and medical schools may ask you to fill in the parental information anyway so that they can use this information to determine if you qualify for their scholarships).
  2. Your application for Federal financial aid will be for loans. The Federal government does not offer any widespread graduate scholarships (like the Pell Grant for undergraduates). Mostly you will do the FAFSA as the first step in qualifying for your Federal loans.
  3. Check to see if your graduate school requires any other financial aid application, either one of their own or using a third-party application system. If they do, fill it out since this may qualify you for scholarship or grant money.

You can likely pick up where I am going here. For graduate school, much of the money available is loans. In fact, you can take a look at Sallie Mae’s report on How America Pays for Graduate School and see that (at least in 2017) about 53% of graduate school costs were covered by student borrowing. The College Board’s Trends in Student Aid 2019 places the percentage paid through loans slightly higher (at 66%).

The “good” news is that between the Direct Unsubsidized Student Loan and the Graduate PLUS Loan you can qualify to borrow the entire cost of graduate education. In addition, there are minimal credit standards for these loans, so no cosigner will generally be needed unless you have an adverse credit history. Of course, these are loans that need to be repaid so you won’t want to borrow more than you can afford to repay.

But what if you want to minimize loans? Well, there is some better news here. Both the College Board and Sallie Mae agree; there is some grant and scholarship money available here (between 15 and 21%). Generally though these scholarships are based on merit and not need. In addition, some of these grants-in-aid may come with requirements for work (like teaching assistantships who lead undergraduate study groups as TAs, or research assistantships where graduate students serve as lab assistants or research fellows). Departments in graduate schools also often have funding sources of their own, so be sure to check with your department head (or better yet their administrative assistant) to see what other funding options are available.

As an example, take a look at UF’s and FIU’s webpages for graduate financial aid and you will see that they match the processes outlined above. And don’t forget the good advice moneyman offered you about private scholarships. Many private funders support graduate education, so make sure to apply for these opportunities.

There is no reason to put off graduate school, especially if you don’t have great luck right now in the job market. Of course, if you are working you also want to take a look at your employer’s benefit package — do they offer graduate school tuition for free? For example, Disney’s Aspire program offers free graduate degrees in a number of career pathways for hourly cast members (and the benefit is even extended during the current closure and furlough). Don’t forget that another great employer may be the university itself (and often tuition reimbursement or remission is a benefit of employment).

What questions about financial aid in graduate school are left unanswered? Let moneyman know by asking a question in the chat.

Please pass… the COLA.

Please pass

For many of you, final grades are in and the Spring semester has ended (in fact, some of you may already enrolled in Summer classes). Hopefully your Spring grade were what you wanted them to be and you are looking at a great end to your semester.

Pass the New Grading Options, please!

I recognize though that some of you may have had a difficult semester, especially with classes moving completely online, the changes in living and working situations, and the need to return home from your campus.

Remember, your grades have great impact on your eligibility for financial aid. Previously, I wrote about the Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements for Federal Aid (and if you missed the post, I recommend going back and reading it). As a reminder, we look at three things when we examine your SAP:

  1. Your completion rate (Federally required to be 66.67% or above).
  2. Your cumulative GPA (required to be 2.00 or better).
  3. Your maximum timeframe (150% of the number of credit required for the degree program you are pursuing).

Also remember that if you were already on Financial Aid Warning or working under a Financial Aid Academic Plan while on Probation, you may find yourself with a need to appeal this semester because of your academic difficulties. In a previous post on the CARES Act, I indicated that this semester the Federal Government has offered an opportunity for colleges to ignore classes for which you withdrew if the reason was related to the pandemic. There has been no final guidance offered from the Feds on this yet however so if you withdrew from classes this semester and you are now on a negative SAP status (like Suspension), I would advise speaking to your financial aid officer and letting them know about the CARES Act exemption.

Even if you didn’t withdraw from classes, this is definitely a semester to write an appeal for consideration from the consequences of negative SAP. If your school processes appeals, they can let you know how they prefer these forms or letters to be submitted (ask them or look on their web page), but don’t give up! Of all times, we understand this last semester was tough on you; it was tough on all of us!


I also wanted to share a little more advice in this post for those of you looking at post-graduation jobs. With the recent April jobs report showing losses in every part of the job market, it may seem like the most difficult time to be looking for work. That may be true, but the national story is not the story of every part of the country. State and local metro unemployment rates (not yet updated for April) show that different parts of the country have differences in their experience of job losses.

Graduation from college is a time in your life where you can reinvent yourself; this may be the time to think about moving to a new part of the country, or even a different part of the state. You may want to think about relocating to a major city or metro so you can experience urban life if you haven’t done so before, or you may want to try something different than your big city and find someplace more suburban or rural.

Before you run off to start your new life, though, you want to make sure you understand the difference in COLA!

No, not these kinds of COLA

When I say “COLA”, I mean a Cost of Living Adjustment. Think about it this way: a $30,000 income is very different if you earn that in Pensacola, FL vs. Manhattan (NYC), NY. In fact, to maintain the same lifestyle in New York City you would need to earn slightly more than $78,000 (more than twice as much).

Why is that? Well groceries, housing, taxes, transportation, health care – it’s all more expensive in New York City. You may have intuitively known that, but how do you put a number behind that analysis?

Here is where I can help. There are lots of great calculators online that can help you figure this out. Try CNN’s, or the one at Nerd Wallet, or if you know the area of work you want to do, you may want to try this one at

Just don’t forget that costs matter. As you are comparing salary offers and trying to decide whether a move to a new city is worthwhile, check the COLA.

Upcoming Plans

Just a reminder that we have a few more topics in our exploration of life after college! Coming up in the next posts: applying for financial aid as a graduate student, creating a post-college budget, and managing those “adult” things — like an apartment lease, car loan, etc.

Feel free to post your questions and suggestions. I’m here for you!

Managing the Interzoom

Hey all. It’s been a few days. And during that time, moneyman has been spending a LOT of time on Zoom! (and Teams, and Skype, and GoToMeeting, and On24…). My entire day seems like a series of videoconferencing; so much so that some days it starts at 8:00 am and doesn’t finish until 6:00 pm.

Your parents will understand this reference!

This image might seem familiar to you too. Maybe you are participating in online classes this way, or maybe you’ve been talking with family or friends via Facetime or one of the web-based platforms that have seem to have taken over our ways of communicating with each other.

Chances are that if you are looking for a job right now, your entire interview process may be held via one of these platforms as well. Interviewing in person? That’s so 2019!

So what do you do? How do you prepare for an online interview? What traps should you look out for? Let’s continue our exploration of the job market for those of you who have graduated or are graduating that we started before with a focus on The Interview!

Securing an interview is the goal of your application, resume and cover letter. The interview is as much your chance to get to know the company as it is their chance to get to know you. With that said, it is very important that you take the time to prepare for your interview.

Some companies will use a preliminary screening interview with an HR (Human Resources) staff person, or an online interview tool (like HireVue or SparkHire). If you are asked to do an online pre-interview chances are it will be asynchronous (meaning you will be able to do this at a time of your choosing and there will not be someone else of the other end of the video connection). Your interview answers will be recorded and will be viewed by members of the committee to determine if they want to advance you to the next round of interviews.

Usually the 2nd round of interviews are done in person, although in our current reality they may be live interviews using a web-based meeting solution (like Zoom or Skype). This will allow you to connect with the hiring manager (the person ultimately responsible for making the decision about who to hire and quite possibly your ultimate boss) and the other members of the hiring committee.

Regardless of whether you will be completing a preliminary, first or (possibly) second round interview, there are some common tips or tricks moneyman recommends:

  1. Dress for the job. You want to look professional. Even if your interview is “just” online, make sure to wear a professional attire. Your appearance makes an impression, and proper dress and grooming are expected for a professional job. Of course, if you are interviewing to be a caterer, the attire is different than if you are interviewing to be a banker. Wear something appropriate.
  2. If you are doing your interview from home, make sure that you are in a private space with a neutral background, and make sure you won’t be interrupted. Let your spouse / roommate / parents / fur-baby know that you need some private time and cannot be interrupted. You definitely don’t want to have to end your interview or be pressured to rush to finish because you need to answer your door or let someone into your room.
  3. Find out who you will be meeting with. If you can, ask who the members of the interviewing team will be and get their names and their titles. There are a few reasons for this: you want to write a thank-you note after your interview (more on this later), AND you want to do some research on the members of the interview committee before you walk in to the room. Look for members of the interviewing committee on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Do a Google search on them. Find out if they have been profiled in their company publications or if information about them is on the webpage. The reason for this is that it provides you a way to connect with each of them when they ask you a question (or when you answer one). For example, if a Ms. Jones is a member of your committee and you know that she enjoys watching college football, you may be able to connect this in some way to an answer you provide in the interview.
  4. Just as you are doing research on your interviewers, you should assume they are doing research on you. You need to go back through your Social Media feeds (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and remove those photos and posts you wouldn’t want your mom to see (and if you cannot or don’t want to remove them, mark them private). (Read this article for more information on what employers are looking for on your social media profile).
  5. Have a well thought out list of questions to ask your employer about the job and about the workplace (and make these more than just about the hours and conditions of work). This post offers 22 good questions to ask during an interview and while I support most of them, you need to make sure that the final question (what is referred to as “The Final Steps”) feels natural and not uncomfortable to you as you are asking it (for example asking about the next steps in the process may feel very natural, but asking what concerns the interviewers have about your fit for the job may not feel as comfortable).
  6. If you have your phone with you, silence it. Do not open your phone, look for notices, or pull it out during your interview. Doing so is a sign that you aren’t really interested in the job.
  7. Arrive early. If the interview is online, test your connection the day before and show up to the virtual meeting at least 10 minutes early. If your interview is in person, arrive 20 to 30 minutes early to the site, find parking and where you are going, and be in the interview room at least 10 minutes early.
  8. Be prepared for a writing test, or some aptitude test. Especially for entry-level jobs, it is possible that you could have a written test to check for your written communication. You may be asked to pretend to respond to a customer email, or provide an answer to a question in written essay form. Practice this beforehand by doing research on the company, industry and particular job for which you are applying.
  9. After the interview is over, thank the interviewing committee for their time. Don’t be afraid to take notes during the interview (ask if the committee minds if you do so first). Make notes about what individual interviewers have asked you, or particular responses that stand out to you. This way you can make sure to include this information when you write your thank you notes.
  10. Send thank you notes to every member of the interviewing committee. Make sure each email is individual and personalized. Reflect back on a question that particular interviewer asked you, or something they shared personally. Sadly, many candidates do not send thank you notes; this will make you stand out from your competition and will serve as another way for you to restate why you would be the best candidate for the job. Make sure to send these notes within the first 24 hours after your interview.

There are many more tips I could offer, but this is a good start. It is also wise to practice your interviewing technique with some friends or family members to get a sense of the rhythm of the interview. The University of Mary Washington in VA has a listing of some common generic interview questions you can use to prepare. While you don’t want to memorize specific answers to questions (this is not a dramatic performance), it is a good idea to think about how you might answer several of these in case they come up.

What questions do you have about interviewing? What horror stories can you share about interviews that have not gone well for you? What great tips do you have that I haven’t covered?

Next time we will talk about building your post-college budget and determining the difference in Cost of Living between two different metro areas.

When it rains, it doesn’t just pour… (More CARES Act News)

IMPORTANT NOTE: The guidance in this post was contradicted by later guidance from the Department of Education. See here for the most recent guidance. This post is left as it was originally published for historical purposes.

…Sometimes it seems like it might be a hurricane.

More television coverage than the Weather Channel

One day this week in moneyman’s hometown it rained. More than rain, it felt like a torrential downpour. Thunderstorms, tornado watch, lightning flashes and even some small hail. And that was just from some of the phone calls I was part of on Tuesday! The bad weather came through later in the week!

On Tuesday, the Department of Education released more information on the CARES Act emergency funding for students and institution (they have also started to refer to this funding by the name Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund – or HEERF – so we will be too). The information that was released contradicted some of the guidance that had been issued before (including the guidance I shared on the blog). So here is the latest update. Keep in mind this guidance is our best understanding at this time and could be contradicted by later issued guidance.

  • Although previous announcements indicated no limitation on which students could receive HEERF funds (“Recipient retains discretion to determine the amount of each individual emergency financial aid grant…” from the agreement), new guidance in the FAQs shows that the Department does not want international students or DACA / Dreamers to qualify for this funding.
  • To qualify for HEERF funding, students must have completed or been eligible to complete the FAFSA (and also meet all conditions for financial aid eligibility under section 484 of the Higher Education Act [HEA]). We’ll talk below about what that means, but for now it is important to know that if you want to qualify for this money you will need to complete the FAFSA.
  • Students who qualify for HEERF funding will receive this money as a cash grant from their school; the school cannot use the money to pay for tuition or school charges, although once you receive the funding, you can do what you want to do with it (including sending it back to the school to pay for your charges if you so desire).
  • Students who were exclusively enrolled in online programs will not qualify for HEERF funding. This does not eliminate students in online courses, just those for whom their entire program is online.

So you may be asking: moneyman, why do I care about any of this? Here’s why: if you have been impacted by the fact that your school’s campus(es) had to close and your classes have had to move exclusively online (and who hasn’t been impacted), you could qualify for a grant to help with your living expenses during this time. Remember from the CARES Act, the point of this $12B program (half of which was to go directly to students) was “to provide emergency financial aid grants to students for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus (including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care).”

So how do you qualify? Wit the guidance provided on Tuesday, many schools are going to require that you file your FAFSA (or have already done so) and (as I said before) meet the requirements under section 484 of the HEA. What are those requirements? According to NASFAA’s COVID-19 HEERF page, these include:

  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in a degree or certificate program. 
  • Not be enrolled in elementary or secondary school.
  • For currently enrolled students, be making satisfactory academic progress.
  • Not owe an overpayment on Title IV grants or loans.
  • Not be in default on a Title IV loan.
  • File “as part of the original financial aid application process” a certification that includes
    • A statement of educational purpose.
    • Student’s SSN.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or national, permanent resident, or other eligible noncitizen.
  • Have returned fraudulently obtained Title IV funds if convicted of or pled guilty or no contest to charges. 
  • Not have fraudulently received Title IV loans in excess of annual or aggregate limits.
  • Have repaid Title IV loan amounts in excess of annual or aggregate limits if obtained inadvertently.
  • Have Selective Service registration verified.
  • Have Social Security Number verified.
  • Not have a federal or state conviction for drug possession or sale, with certain time limitations.

Most of these items are covered by just filing a FAFSA and being an enrolled student, so if you are eligible to file a FAFSA and haven’t yet done so, you should now! Notice it says nowhere above that you have to have “financial need” for the funds. The HEERF funding is meant for “everyone” – as long as you aren’t an international or DACA / Dreamer student.

If you get the sense that moneyman is disappointed in this, you would be correct. It is very frustrating that the government added this limitation more than a week after the initial release of guidance which said none of this. I imagine many schools already had made plans on how to share this funding with all students regardless of citizenship status, and now they have to rework their plans (and come up with ways to support the students who don’t qualify under the new rules but still have significant needs.

So how do you ask for this money? This is going to depend by school. At some schools, you won’t have to ask; a small number of schools may just provide money to students who qualify. Most colleges are likely to have an application you will need to complete in order to request funding. FIU’s application is already live (although you must be able to log into their portal to see it). UWF already has their application live as well, although unlike FIU you will need to provide back-up documentation to support your request for funding.

From moneymman’s research, while some schools may ask for back=up documentation, many will just accept your application and your certification as your indication of your need for funds. These will likely be “small” grants (somewhere in the range of $500 to $1000) so many schools may not want to make it too difficult for students to apply. (And I know how ridiculous it is to say that $500 is “small” but when the Pell Grant is over $6000 at its maximum, this is much smaller in comparison)

So be kind to your schools if they haven’t placed their application online yet. We all just got final guidance on Tuesday. It’s been raining ever since.

“…Our Regularly Scheduled Programming”: Life After College

It’s a television cliche: “we interrupt this broadcast for the following breaking news announcement”. After three minutes of an update that you likely already knew because of your phone notification, another announcement: “we now return to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress”.

If only it were so easy.

Sorry for the interruption!

With some states beginning to make first steps towards reopening (see South Carolina and Georgia), it may feel like we are starting to head back into regular schedules, but moneyman has his doubts. At moneyman’s employer, students will be taking courses online this summer, and it looks like staff won’t be returning to campuses until at least the end of summer. So is a return to normalcy really possible?

Some of you may not have a choice. If you are graduating from your undergraduate education you face a dilemma: enter into (what may be) a difficult job market, or begin graduate school. In the next few posts, I plan (key word here – plan – since breaking COVID-19 financial aid news could derail my plan) to talk about life after college. We are going to talk about building a budget, applying for financial aid as a graduate student, managing what might possibly be your first apartment lease, and how the cost of living may impact your city of residence.

But today I want to start by talking about jobs. In this environment, how do you go about looking for jobs? Where do you begin? How do you interview? What should you expect?

Let’s start with looking for work. In the “old days”, you used to be able to take a look at the “Help Wanted” section of the newspaper (particularly the Sunday edition) and look at all of the employers offering work. Obviously things have changed. Most employers list their jobs right on their websites (including, often, their salary ranges, their benefits and the particular job responsibilities). As an example, take a look at UF’s job page. While you will notice that at the moment they are in a hiring freeze, you can see the information about the staff and student positions or faculty and post-doc positions.

If you have a particular interest (say banking or higher education), chances are there is a website that collects job opportunities nationwide for you in your chosen field (see the links above). You may also want to look at professional associations (particularly national ones) who will often have their own lists of jobs (as an example: actuaries or financial aid officers).

Check out your campus career center. Some of them may have online tools that can connect your academic interest with live job postings (SJR State’s Career Coach page is a great example of a friendly tool that can help you explore options in their service area).

Also make sure to network with friends, family, former employers, faculty and your other favorite people to see what connections they might have. Networking with people you have met during your journey is always a great way to learn about new job opportunities.

Finally, never overlook the opportunity to do an informational interview. This is where you choose someone who has the kind of job you want to have, ask for thirty minutes to an hour of their time, and interview them about their history and experience. This is a great way to learn about the avenues into a career, and provides you some insight into what skills and talents you will need to build to be successful in your chosen field. Berkeley has a great page with suggestions on planning and having an informational interview! Their best suggestion: like I said above, reach out to those you know since there are likely many contacts you didn’t even know you had.

If you haven’t built a professional resume (or haven’t looked at it recently), now is the time do so. FSU’s Career Center has a list of online resources for great resume building. Here are some of moneyman’s tips:

  1. Be sure to get a professional email address. Nothing discourages potential employers more than seeing a resume with as the response address (read the article).
  2. Make sure to save your resume as a pdf, especially if you are using a font other than Times Roman or Calibri. You don’t want your beautiful professional resume (which is perfectly formatted) to be viewed in a messy unorganized manner. More on the choices in this article.
  3. Always write a cover letter. The cover letter is your chance to show how your experience on your resume perfectly matches what you read in the job description. Here is a great description of the pros and cons of the cover letter. A great cover letter matters!
  4. Like your essays in college, spelling and punctuation matter. Most managers make a decision within 10 seconds of seeing your resume and you want your resume to stand out, but not in a bad way.

OK so this post is running longer than I thought it would, so we will cover the job interview next. For now, where are you searching for and finding job postings? What are your favorite tricks to identify new opportunities?

“The greenbacks are coming, the greenbacks are coming…”

IMPORTANT NOTE: The guidance in this post was contradicted by later guidance from the Department of Education. See here for the most recent guidance. This post is left as it was originally published for historical purposes.

With apologies to Paul Revere. He was much more concerned with the Redcoats (aka the British). Today, we’re much more focused on the “greenbacks” – aka the moolah, the Benjamins, the bread, the dough, (I could go on like this for a while) – or to put it simply, the money.

“And the money came riding in…”

As in, when will the money from the CARES Act (which I discussed here) and how will students apply for it and receive it?

Well, your friend moneyman has some answers, and lots of questions. Here goes!

On Thursday afternoon, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, released a letter to college presidents (and copied to Directors of Financial Aid and Chief Financial Officers) nationwide explaining that the Department of Education was putting a priority on delivering 1/2 of the Emergency Stabilization Funds that were promised by the CARES Act to schools. Which half? The half that is going to students!

If you remember, this money has to be spent on students to help with expenses related to their education moving online (from the Act – “…expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus (including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care).”)

So how much will colleges receive? Take a look at the list provided by the Department of Education to find your school to see how much your school is receiving (and remember that the list is in school code order). The list shows both the total allocation as well as the amount specifically for students. If you are interested to see how these amounts were calculated, you can find the answer here.

The amounts are large here, but what does it mean for an individual student? So while the agreements that schools have to sign to receive this money (and the money will be available as soon as Wednesday) are also published, there are very few limitations on how the school can award this money.

For example, students don’t have to file a FAFSA to qualify. You don’t have to show financial need, and you don’t even need to be a US Citizen (or Permanent Resident). These funds can be awarded by schools to any attending student therefore, and in addition any amount awarded doesn’t have to follow the normal rules for overaward (or scholarship displacement). So the money gets to go straight to the student and will have no impact on other financial aid.

There is also no limit or requirement placed on the amount of the award which a school can make for a student (although the Secretary recommends no more than the Pell Grant maximum – currently $6,195). The funds must be spent by the college within one year of the date they sign the acknowledgement form.

So to go back to the main question, how do students apply for these funds?

The Secretary doesn’t specify and schools can choose their own process. Schools can also decide how they want to apply these funds (tuition, technology costs, fees, textbooks, etc). This means that for students you are going to need to speak with your individual financial aid office to find out how they are planning on offering this aid, and that there may be a delay while your school figures it out.

At moneyman’s college we are carefully examining the rules and options for these funds and will probably have a combination of some kind of online application for funds, and some categories where we will automatically award funds to students. We will hope to have some decisions in the next week.

So if you are a student, and you need some emergency funds, moneyman’s best advice right now is to be in touch with your school’s financial aid office and let them know that you have need for funds. Ask if you can be placed on a waiting list, or if there is some kind of application you can add your name to. There will be more information coming from your school, you can be sure!!

In the meantime, what other questions do you have?