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If you’ve been the victim of a natural disaster, you probably don’t have to worry about how to pay tuition or make your next student loan repayment. But if your family’s financial situation changes as a result of an emergency, you may be eligible for additional financial assistance or a disruption in student loan payments.
“You don’t want to get over this situation only to find your credit is shot because you don’t make your loan payment,” says Betsy Mayotte, president of the Institute of Student Loan Advisors, a nonprofit organization which offers free advice on student loans.
Here’s how you can get natural disaster assistance in college.
What current students can do
If you are currently in college and have new financial needs due to a natural disaster, contact your school’s financial aid office first. You may be eligible for a reassessment of your financial aid.
“Schools always use what is called professional judgment, which is dealt with on a case-by-case basis,” explains Mayotte.
Your school may also have its own emergency financial assistance – tuition waivers, short-term loans, or emergency grants – to help you stay in school during a crisis, such as a natural disaster, family emergency or medical situation. You will likely need to submit an application and other documents to prove why you need the help.
Any federal assistance that you or your family receives as a result of a natural disaster will not count as additional income that would negatively affect your existing assistance. If you have questions about how your Federal Student Aid may be affected in a situation like this, call 800-4FEDAID.
What Federal Loan Borrowers in Repayment Can Do
In response to natural disasters, the US Department of Education generally advises federal student loan services to offer flexibility in loan repayments to affected borrowers.
Right now, federal student loan borrowers are in the midst of a automatic abstention until the end of the year. You do not have to do anything to benefit from this payment break.
At the end of automatic forbearance, you can contact your maintenance agent to submit to administrative forbearance. You can ask if you are a student loan repayment borrower, if you are not in default, and have an account address in a federally declared disaster area, Mayotte says. This means that you won’t have to make loan payments for up to three months. However, interest will still be charged during this time, so it’s best to make interest payments only if you can. It will not affect your forbearance status.
Borrowers whose accounts are placed in administrative forbearance should receive a letter indicating this; those who wish to opt out will need to respond to their lender or agent once they receive the letter. To request a forbearance if your loan is not automatically put on hold or in default, or if you cannot receive your mail, contact your lender or service agent.
For up-to-date information on disaster assistance from the U.S. Department of Education, visit his website.
What private borrowers can do
Private loan borrowers may have a harder time deferring payments after a natural disaster, as private loans tend to offer less protection than federal loans.
However, Mayotte says private lenders often offer forbearance for up to three months in the event of financial difficulties. Contact your private lender or service agent to find out what options are available.