Getting help with college financial aid amid coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic began at the time when many students and their parents were finalizing college plans. While there are still so many questions about the fall, one thing is clear: no matter what school will look like, you need to make sure your college choice is financially feasible.

The financial picture has changed for so many families due to the COVID-19 shutdown so Consumer Reports has tips on how to get more financial aid even if the deadlines have already passed.

John Emanuel was weighing acceptance offers and financial aid packages from colleges early in the spring, just as the coronavirus was bearing down. And then his mom lost her job.

"And it's unfortunate because it affects him, the student, you know, the person who's worked hard to go to your school and now the final decision is based on whether mom can afford to pay for it or not," explained John's mom, Florangel Emanuel.

If your family was financially affected by the coronavirus pandemic, you can appeal for a financial aid offer, even if you've already accepted a package.

"My mother getting laid off was something that we could use as a reason to get more aid," said John.

"Contact the financial aid office and ask for the aid officer to take new information into consideration and adjust the award," said Penny Wang, Consumer Reports money editor.

"Going back and forth with the financial aid offices, and fighting and appealing and appealing and re-appealing. I think we appealed maybe 3 or 4 times," said Florangel.

It's a good reminder to keep all documentation about your current financial situation handy and up to date.

You can also ask about emergency grants from your school. Enrolled college students who receive federal financial aid who were affected by the pandemic may be eligible for extra help through the coronavirus relief package.

If you still need to cover some of the costs for college and need to get student loans, interest rates on federal loans are 2.75%, a record low.

"Your best bet is to stick with federally backed loans, which have fixed interest rates and more flexible payment options compared with private loans," said Wang.

As for John, they were able to work out a financial aid package that he and his mom could afford and he'll be attending Fordham University in New York later this fall.

While there are colleges still undecided on whether they'll offer the in-person classes in September that many students look forward to in their college experience, make sure you understand your college's refund policy before putting any money down.
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