Colleges and universities closed their campuses for the spring term and students are switching to online only classes in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. This, and many other changes happening across the globe, is naturally making students nervous during this time of uncertainty.
On top of keeping yourself physically and emotionally healthy, students need ways to make sure they have their financial situation in order. There are lots of questions buzzing around the stimulus package and financial aid funding.
Here is the financial checklist every college student should take a look at during this time:
Am I Eligible For The Stimulus Package Payout?
This is a big question for working college students. The answer is based on whether or not your parents claim you as a dependent on their taxes. It is legal for your parents to claim you as a dependent until you turn 25. If they claim you as a dependent, unfortunately, neither you or your parents will receive a payout from the stimulus bill related to you being a student. The bill only pays for dependents under the age of 18 years old.
If you are eligible to receive the stimulus money — make sure to put that money towards any rent you pay, bills (including credit card payments), and other necessary living expenses. If you still have money left over, funnel it towards a high-yield savings account as a starter emergency fund.
Will Cancellations Affect My Federal Student Aid?
There are a few ways to answer this question. Most colleges have switched to an online format and therefore have a way to continue to educate their students remotely. In this case, as long as your classes haven’t been canceled, there shouldn’t be a large effect on your federal student aid.
However, if you have a class that is canceled, such as a sculpture art class that might not do as well in a virtual setting, you might want to check with your school’s policy. The good news? At this point, colleges do not need to verify the amount of credits you are registered for due to coronavirus interruption.
Finally, students whose financial situations have been drastically changed due to COVID-19 are allowed to appeal for additional financial aid before beginning the new term. These appeals can be submitted at any time to your financial aid office.
Can I Get a Refund For Room and Board Fees?
As campuses shut down and ask students not to return to campus in order to “flatten the curve,” colleges and universities are approaching this in a few different ways. A few have been completely silent on the matter. Some colleges and universities are offering prorated refunds concerning dorm fees.
Bottom line: colleges and universities cannot charge for services that they are not providing. There are still many unknowns about how colleges are choosing to handle this, but talk with your school to negotiate a refund. Colleges will need to swiftly address this financial matter.
I Get My Financial Aid Through A Federal Work-Study Position — What Now?
The good news is that if you are currently employed by your university or college and have a federal work-study position, you likely will be eligible to continue receiving payments if you have already started the position. This is contingent on your college or employer closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some Federal Work-Study positions may be continued remotely. The payment will be based upon the award money and not the hours that you work. The guidelines released did not specify how the student will get paid, which can result in a lump sum payment or regularly scheduled payroll. Contact your institution for their policy if you are part of a Federal Work-Study Program.
What Happens To My Study Abroad Trip?
Sadly these are probably canceled. If you’ve already paid for part of your trip, get in touch with your international university to request a refund. Alternatively, you might ask if you could use the money for future study abroad enrollments, and delay your trip.
If you’ve already booked air travel or lodging, most have flexible refund policies due to the pandemic.
Be Aware of Financial Phishing Emails
Unfortunately, during a crisis, there are many people trying to take advantage of the situation. The FBI has released warnings about several investment scams that are being advertised to the public and phishing emails claiming that they have a miracle cure to the disease.
Keep your personal information safe — do not release your data unless you trust the person asking for it. Most scammers will not reveal their identities, and it’s important to notice that as a red flag. A good rule of thumb: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Avoid Going to Banks for Financial Transactions, Use Online Banking Instead
Right now is a time for social distancing and keeping yourself, as well as others, safe from exposure to the coronavirus. Luckily we live in a time where technology allows us to continue to function relatively well. If you need to reach your bank due to your personal finances outside of federal student loans, try to use online banking as much as possible.
Online banking allows you to see all your accounts with that institution in one place. Large banks often have ways to dispute suspicious transactions and lock cards from their desktop and mobile apps. Many platforms include a secure messaging system which is useful to track important conversations while avoiding long wait times over the phone and in-person
Continue to Follow Personal Finance 101 Guidelines
College tuition and dorm fees may not be the only financial worries that you have. Some students support themselves financially throughout pursuing their higher education. Evaluate how much money you have saved to cover your living expenses and check in with your employer to see if any hours will be cut.
If it looks like work might be slowing down, communicate with your landlord, roommates, if you have any, and utility companies to see what their coronavirus hardship policies are in place. You can even try to negotiate your bills and credit card interest rates during this time.
The silver lining to this pandemic is that we are all in the same boat. Many individuals and companies are finding ways to help the community stay afloat until this time of uncertainty smoothes over. Take a deep breath and work your way through this financial checklist one step at a time.