Are you concerned that your financial aid award doesn't reflect your current financial circumstances? If so, you're not alone.
When you apply for aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, the federal government is very specific about which tax returns parents and independent students should submit.
But, as we all know, life happens. You may find, like families all over the country, that your financial circumstances have changed, or that you had to report tax information from a prior year that no longer reflects your actual life.
If that’s the position you’re in, there is something you can do about it. Let’s look at how to work with your school’s financial aid office, and then discuss the four times you should definitely appeal your financial aid award.
Yes, you can appeal your award
Believe it or not, your school’s financial aid workers truly want you to have the money you need for school. You should contact them any time your family’s expected financial contribution (EFC) doesn’t match your ability to pay.
If you experience a change in income or the number of people in your household between the time you earned the money reported on the FAFSA and the time the tuition bill is due, the financial aid office may determine that your family’s EFC should also change.
The financial aid office is bound by the terms of the FAFSA about what specific tax documents you must submit; but through the appeal process they can also use their expert discretion to award additional aid to students whose families experience a severe change in circumstance.
Below are four reasons to consider appealing your financial aid award:
1. Death of a family member
The loss of a family member can be incredibly hard on a family in many ways. If someone in your immediate family has passed away, you should absolutely appeal your initial award.
Because the loss of a spouse or parent’s income can significantly affect a family’s finances, schools will often approve appeals and grant these students more financial aid.
A serious illness or disability can also wreak havoc on a family’s finances, not only because of decreased income but also medical expenses.
If anyone in your family has experienced a major illness or injury in a way that has affected your ability to pay for school, you’re a good candidate for an appeal.
3. Job or income loss
If you or an immediate family member has lost your job, you should also consider appealing your award.
This can include obvious scenarios such as a layoff or reduction in work hours as well as loss of job due to incarceration or retirement.
This can also include the end of an income stream, such as the income from a rental property, alimony or court settlement.
4. Divorce or separation
Dependent children of divorced parents are only required to include the financial information of the parent they live with, while married parents must include both incomes.
If your parents are newly divorced or are living separately, your school may be willing to recalculate your award on appeal based only on your updated income and household size.
These are just some, but by no means all, of the reasons you might be approved for an appeal of your financial aid.
Don't be afraid to appeal
In general, anytime your family’s finances have significantly changed between the year of the taxes submitted on the FAFSA and the start of the school, you should consider appealing your financial aid.
You could open up new financial aid options that weren’t available to you when your award was calculated at your higher income level.
It’s very important that you reach out to the school’s financial aid office any time you are struggling with a funding gap. They can discuss your unique circumstances and give you the personalized advice you need to pay the tuition bill.
See also: Financial Aid Award Letters: How to Accept Financial Aid.