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Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-04-2007, 10:56 AM   #1
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Help with Financial Aid Decision

Here's how the financial aid system works at DD's college (Wash U in St. Louis). Each year I supply information about income, assets, etc. If the financial aid office feels we deserve it, they will increase our financial aid award to meet the increase in tuition. They will not increase it any further unless I appeal the award, the appeal usually being based on a change in financial status. Last year I appealed, and we got a significant increase.

In our case, tuition for next year increased by $1,700, and they increased our award by $1,700. Total tuition and fees will come to about $46,400, the scholarship award is $11,700, with student loans totalling $9,500.

Because I went from semi-retired to retired in 2006, our AGI went from $44,500 in '05 to $15,300 in '06.

It may seem obvious that I should appeal, but since the decrease in income was due to my voluntarily retiring, it doesn't seem quite right to me. That is, I feel like by "Help us, we only made $15K!" I'm misrepresenting the facts.

Also, if I do appeal, do I say "I only made $15K because I retired." or simply not bring it up?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this.
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-04-2007, 11:06 AM   #2
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

Quote:
Originally Posted by TromboneAl
it doesn't seem quite right to me
When I am at my best, the above would answer the question for me.

I am not always at my best, but I am trying to be at my best more often.

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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-04-2007, 11:16 AM   #3
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

Retired? Why not tell them the truth: you are unemployed!

Is whether or not your employment status is voluntary something you are required to disclose? If not, is it any of their business?

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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-04-2007, 11:50 AM   #4
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

Do whatever you feel is right. I always thought financial aid was for those who "need" it. I guess its up to you to define need.
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-04-2007, 12:00 PM   #5
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

Purely, my opinion but,,,

I believe you are thinking correctly. What your DD gets someone else may not. And they may be the DD of a single parent working 3 jobs to pay their portion.

I would guess you bugeted for the cost years ago as part of your RE planning. Thus can you truly make ends meet without the additional help . If so, I believe you will feel better about this in the future.

My opinion only.
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-04-2007, 12:57 PM   #6
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

Quote:
Originally Posted by TromboneAl
It may seem obvious that I should appeal, but since the decrease in income was due to my voluntarily retiring, it doesn't seem quite right to me. That is, I feel like by "Help us, we only made $15K!" I'm misrepresenting the facts.
2 cents... from a disgruntled student loan payer...

You are not misrepresenting anything. You've made it to where you are by being smart with you money and just because you are smart with your money doesnt mean you should feel that others are "entitled" to the money more than your daughter. Financial Aid is determined based on need and there is a system in place to determine that need. Emphasis- your daughter's need.

My folks weren't able to help out and I had to pay for my entire education. Anything you can do to get your daughter set up in a better situation doesnt seem very selfish to me.
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-04-2007, 03:13 PM   #7
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

I'm with the (at the moment) majority of the poll takers in thinking you should appeal. Frankly, I'm surprised you have to. This year's aid should be based on your 2006 tax returns. I'm sure if your income had shot up last year, you would have been greeted by a significant reduction in your daughter's aid package.

I'm just now dipping my toe into the world of college financial aid, having twins that will be starting college in the Fall. I'm a relatively young dude with many years before retirement, but I'm putting DW on semi-retirement during these next 4 years. As a self-employed worker, between state, federal, and self-employment taxes, she only nets about half her income. Financial aid then takes half of her after-tax income and adds it to our EFC (Both the tax figures and financial aid figures are based on her income being stacked on top of mine... I hope that was obvious.). The net result is that we pocket roughly 25 cents of every dollar she earns. With three other kids at home (four if you include me ), I'd much rather she spend her time holding down the fort and caring for our younger ones. I was fortunate enough to receive a big fat raise early this year which will make up for DW's loss of income and keep us afloat. I suppose some would look at our situation and cry foul because we aren't earning as much as we could be this year, and thus will enjoy a bigger (or, really, less smaller) financial aid package next year as a result. I have a hard time feeling bad about it though. We're playing by the same financial aid rules everybody else does, in fact I'd bet we're more honest about our finances than many others who hide self-employment income, low-ball home valuations, or what have you. The increase in financial aid only amounts to about half of the additional after-tax income that could have been earned, so this isn't a profit making venture here. We are simply living a LBYM lifestyle that affords us the "luxury" of not having to fight and scrape for every possible nickel of income to make ends meet. The scenario of the single mom working 3 jobs to pay her EFC smells fishy to me. Why does she need to work so much? I can only assume it is because she has a lot of expenses the financial aid officers don't take pity on: big honking mortgage, credit card bills, new car loans, weekly getaways to Vegas, whatever. I suppose someone in that position needs financial aid more than I do, but why are they in that position in the first place? It's annoying to see spendthrifts rewarded with larger financial aid packages while savers get to cough up 6% of their net worth each year. I think it's only fair that guys like Al and I get to enjoy a larger financial aid package from cutting back on earnings today, which we are only able to do because we didn't spend ourselves silly in the past.

I'm not big on the "but you don't need it" argument either. People who LBYM have been living their entire lives not needing everything they get. That doesn't mean they shouldn't get it, does it? Everybody that's turned down a raise or promotion because they didn't need it, raise your hands.

Al, appeal your financial aid package and be free of guilt. If you really don't need and want the extra money, I'm sure you can find a worthy person or cause to give it to. Just remember, if you save it, it's going to increase your EFC for next year!
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-04-2007, 04:15 PM   #8
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

Quote:
Originally Posted by TromboneAl
Because I went from semi-retired to retired in 2006, our AGI went from $44,500 in '05 to $15,300 in '06.
Al, I don't have an opinion as to how it should be worded. However, I wonder if a mistake was made somewhere? I would imagine that your EFC would be very low because of your 06 income. Judging from the awarded 21K (scholarship & loan), your EFC was determined to be around 25K (46-21). That seems too high in relation to income.
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-04-2007, 04:48 PM   #9
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

Quote:
Originally Posted by TromboneAl
Because I went from semi-retired to retired in 2006, our AGI went from $44,500 in '05 to $15,300 in '06.
It may seem obvious that I should appeal, but since the decrease in income was due to my voluntarily retiring, it doesn't seem quite right to me. That is, I feel like by "Help us, we only made $15K!" I'm misrepresenting the facts.
You're pointing out to the college that your situation has changed and that they should re-assess your situation. IOW you're playing completely by their rules.

"Our finances have changed since last year's financial aid. Our AGI has dropped from $44,500 to $15K which reduces our EFC on our FAFSA by $___." End of discussion, and probably all they want to hear anyway.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TromboneAl
Also, if I do appeal, do I say "I only made $15K because I retired." or simply not bring it up?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this.
Unless they ask you shouldn't volunteer.

It's none of their business whether you're lounging on your Caribbean yacht between midwatch Cigarette boat deliveries or eating cat food in a beach tent while hoping to afford your dialysis treatments. They have the financial picture (including your assets as well as your income) and they have their rules. If they have to choose between you and the single parent working three jobs then they can contact you for more tiebreaker info.

But this is not a zero-sum situation requiring someone to "lose" as much as you "win". Some other kid will not get kicked out of school just because your financial aid is adjusted.

At a local college-planning seminar a couple months back I was told that until the 1990s the FAFSA required you to list the value of your home. It took quite a while for the people running the program to realize that this was adversely affecting those who lived in high-cost areas. Similarly you shouldn't be punished for deciding to stop work. As far as they can tell it's for the best of mental/physical health reasons...
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-04-2007, 06:20 PM   #10
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

These are good arguments on both sides. Let me put down some devil's advocate responses:

Quote:
It's none of their business whether you're lounging on your Caribbean yacht between midwatch Cigarette boat deliveries or eating cat food
Since they are deciding who to give money to, you could make a pretty good argument that it is, literally, their business.

Quote:
this is not a zero-sum situation requiring someone to "lose" as much as you "win".
I do picture it as a zero-sum situation. That is, they have a certain amount allocated for aid, and if we get more, there will be less for someone else (either this year or later). How do you figure that it's not? Perhaps there's so much in the bank, they they just allocate a little more for scholarships this year?

--------------

One way to look at it, do we go with the letter of the rules, or the spirit? The letter of the rules is imperfect, in that there's no provision for someone who's retired. Is it ethical to take advantage of that shortcoming? OTOH, the letter of the law also doesn't doesn't take into consideration a LBYM type who has saved, as compared with a spend it all type. The kid down the street got a full ride because her parents were over-consumers who spent $1,000 per year on fireworks.

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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-04-2007, 08:15 PM   #11
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

Sometimes it sucks to have a moral conscience, doesn't it? Your question is not about finances, the financial decision is clear, appeal. The moral question is more difficult, what is your financial responsibility to your child's college costs and do you have a larger responsibility to society's costs? Only you can answer those questions in whatever way it helps you sleep at night. In my situation, I made a decision to pay for my kid's college costs up to resident tuition status, considerably less than the 47k you quote, and it was their decision to either attend a state school or get a scholarship. Two of them got scholarships, but one of their scholarships ran out and they are still paying off their school loan. But I sleep at night, because we knew the rules going in, I didn't try to change my financial status or give them more money.

As far as the second question, it may sound hard nosed, but the financial world is dog eat dog and college aid is no different. I would not lie or pull any trickery to get more aid, but you made your decision to retire, to live within a certain budget, and that's it. Someone else makes a decision to get a second job, to do whatever, and that's their choice.
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-04-2007, 08:26 PM   #12
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

Al,

These folks do this stuff all day, every day. If theres someone more deserving, they'll give them the money. Or maybe they're as dysfunctional and idiotic as most of the service folks I deal with, and they'll give the money to people who dont deserve it at all.

Either way, follow the rules, disclose what they ask and get what they decide you're due.

On the other hand, i'm the guy who applied for low income telephone and electric plans for the 2 years after I "retired" and had no earned income, and by the rules laid out, I qualified.

When I started "earning" income again, I called them both up and told them to put me back on the regular rate plans. They were shocked. "Nobody EVER gets off these plans, they always sit on them until we catch them and drop them off...you must be the most honest guy on earth!".

Not exactly.
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-05-2007, 12:18 AM   #13
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

A main issue with FAFSA and EFC calculation is that they use last years income to project next year's expenses. Any major changes not reflected in the FAFSA should be appealed. The system relies on "professional judgement" of the Fin Aid office to make an adjustment where appropriate. The adjustment could simply be qualifying for a bigger loan, which is no handout by any measure..............appeal.
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-05-2007, 09:27 AM   #14
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

The problem with deciding to ignore the loophole created by the rules is that if you don't take advantage of it, the money will probably go to someone else who is taking advantage the loophole.

This like refusing to take Social Security because you don't really need it.
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-05-2007, 11:10 AM   #15
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

Quote:
Originally Posted by TromboneAl
Here's how the financial aid system works at DD's college (Wash U in St. Louis). Each year I supply information about income, assets, etc. If the financial aid office feels we deserve it, they will increase our financial aid award to meet the increase in tuition. They will not increase it any further unless I appeal the award, the appeal usually being based on a change in financial status. Last year I appealed, and we got a significant increase.

In our case, tuition for next year increased by $1,700, and they increased our award by $1,700. Total tuition and fees will come to about $46,400, the scholarship award is $11,700, with student loans totalling $9,500.

Because I went from semi-retired to retired in 2006, our AGI went from $44,500 in '05 to $15,300 in '06.

It may seem obvious that I should appeal, but since the decrease in income was due to my voluntarily retiring, it doesn't seem quite right to me. That is, I feel like by "Help us, we only made $15K!" I'm misrepresenting the facts.

Also, if I do appeal, do I say "I only made $15K because I retired." or simply not bring it up?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this.
Al, appeal it. You're not doing anyything illegal, unethical, immoral, or otherwise. You're playing by the rules that they established. As long as you are honest with them, you can't be faulted.

Believe me, as someone paying off $76,000 in loans (locked in at 1.625%! - but that's for another thread) I wish I had done a number of things differently in school. I can only speak for the schools I went to, but my impression is that the clear majority of students do not "need" financial aid, in the strictest sense. That is, they will still be able to get an education even if they do not receive as much aid as they would like. There will always be another lender willing to loan $$, and they will simply finish school with a bunch of debt, like me.

You're right -- it may be a zero sum game. But you're competing with other people who do not strictly "need" the aid. Everyone in this boat is looking for anything to get an edge up on their peers.

Also, if the school/lender truly was concerned about people in your situation violating the spirit of the rules, they could very easily close that loophole. That they have not leads me to conclude either (1) they don't care about the loophole or (2) it is not a loophole at all and they intend for people in your situation to receive (relatively) preferential treatment.

Go for it. I wish I had been more aggresive (still playing by their rules) in seeking aid.

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Old 05-05-2007, 01:17 PM   #16
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And Don't Forget...

...not all college financial aid is what most of us think of as "aid". DW and I now have daugher #3 in college - with daughter #4 to start in about 16 months. Having gone throught the FAFSA ritual about 10 times now, and listening to a number financial aid discussions by our daughers' colleges (both public and private), this has been the universal message for at least the past 10 years:

Always apply for student aid regardless of how much money you earn or have, as you don't know what will be available. Colleges have already set aside money for truly financial needy students. Most schools - especially private colleges - have a lot of non-financial aid based money left that goes to those who apply.

Subsidized (and non-subsidized) student loans are considered financial aid. Are your student loans subsidized? That can make a big difference for your DD with regard to how much has to be paid back.

Not every student who gets financial aid finishes school. Heck, I got 2 scholarships after my freshman year from two students who dropped out of college before the end of their freshman year. I asked about additional money and they said no one else had asked for additional help, so I got what was left.

The system is set up so that everyone is to apply for financial aid, even if all you want are loans. The system is also set up to make the decisions based on certain financial information. Retirement accounts (401(k) and so forth) are specifically EXCLUDED from the formula.

So, I voted you should appeal. As others have pointed out already, since appealing is part of the rules (and the game) of college financial aid, why is this considered some sort of ethical dilemma? After all, they don't have to say yes...
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-05-2007, 01:30 PM   #17
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

T-Al,

I'd like to amend my answer. I think you should really examine your innards and figure out why it feels wrong to you. Either one of two things will happen, I think: You will realize that there is a real ethical issue there somewhere that makes appealing go against your moral fiber, or you will realize that receiving a benefit from a system where you don't feel like you really need it simply is a surprise to your Puritanical work ethic. If it is the former, I stand by my previous advice not to appeal. If it is the latter, appeal away.

Personally I have been in both situations.

There was a tax situation with my ex where if I was fair I would have to pay her about $600, but if I just stubbornly stood my ground it would not have made sense for her to fight me on it, and I would have kept the $600. I searched my heart and decided being able to say I did the right thing to myself was more valuable than the $600. I had another situation years ago where somehow a check I wrote on my brokerage account managed to pay off a credit card bill but wasn't deducted from my brokerage account balance. I pursued that for five months before they finally agreed to take the money out of my account.

I've also got student loans and government grants that I didn't absolutely need but they were offered to me within the rules and so I took them. I borrow money from credit cards at 0% and invest the money at Amboy Direct and Amtrust Direct, too.

I personally have decided that I can both argue that the current system isn't set up correctly and do what I can to change the system for the better while still taking advantage of the system as it exists today. In fact, one could argue that taking advantage of the system could be a catalyst for change. For example, my low rate long repayment period student loans may have in some small way catalyzed the government to raise student interest rates last year. But if we the people through our government decide to subsidize student loans and I'm a student, who am I to argue with the majority opinion?

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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-06-2007, 11:05 AM   #18
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

Thanks for all the help guys. Here we are at the results show for Financial Aid Idol.

TromboneAl, you sang "Should I appeal the amount?" REWahoo said "You are unemployed." HelpMeRhonda said "What your DD gets someone else may not." Nords said "you shouldn't be punished for deciding to stop work."

Well, America voted, and you are safe to appeal!

Ha ha, but seriously, I decided to appeal the financial award amount. My main reason is that it's a bit silly to second guess their criteria for who gets aid.

Here is the first draft of my appeal letter. Please let me know if you have any comments.

Code:
Thank you for increasing DD's 2007-2008 financial award to match Wash Uís increase in tuition. I am writing to appeal the amount of the award due to a significant change in our financial situation, namely, a decrease in our income. 

Our adjusted gross income decreased from $44,453 in 2005 to $15,307 in 2006. As a result, our FAFSA-calculated EFC has dropped from $21,234 to $10,519. With the current award, however, instead of $10,519, we would need to contribute approximately $24,800. This figure does not include the $9,500 in new student loans that DD will be taking on.

Thanks for taking the time to consider our appeal. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Sincerely

TromboneAl
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TromboneAl, I Agree With Your Letter
Old 05-06-2007, 01:49 PM   #19
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TromboneAl, I Agree With Your Letter

Keep it short and to the point. If they want more info, they know how to get in touch with you
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision
Old 05-06-2007, 04:53 PM   #20
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Re: Help with Financial Aid Decision

Quote:
Originally Posted by TromboneAl
Thanks for all the help guys. Here we are at the results show for Financial Aid Idol.

TromboneAl, you sang "Should I appeal the amount?" REWahoo said "You are unemployed." HelpMeRhonda said "What your DD gets someone else may not." Nords said "you shouldn't be punished for deciding to stop work."

Well, America voted, and you are safe to appeal!

Ha ha, but seriously, I decided to appeal the financial award amount. My main reason is that it's a bit silly to second guess their criteria for who gets aid.

Here is the first draft of my appeal letter. Please let me know if you have any comments.

Code:
Thank you for increasing DD's 2007-2008 financial award to match Wash Uís increase in tuition. I am writing to appeal the amount of the award due to a significant change in our financial situation, namely, a decrease in our income. 

Our adjusted gross income decreased from $44,453 in 2005 to $15,307 in 2006. As a result, our FAFSA-calculated EFC has dropped from $21,234 to $10,519. With the current award, however, instead of $10,519, we would need to contribute approximately $24,800. This figure does not include the $9,500 in new student loans that DD will be taking on.

Thanks for taking the time to consider our appeal. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Sincerely

TromboneAl
TAl,

Nice letter. Short and to the point.

If you'll allow the editor in me to come out, I would suggest shortening the last sentence in the first paragraph to read:

"I am writing to appeal the amount of the award due to a significant decrease in our income."
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