With the passing of the COVID-19 pandemic economic rescue package — known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or “CARES” Act — many U.S. citizens and residents can expect to receive stimulus checks for up to $1,200 in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, however, the majority of college students won’t receive these funds.
Unless you’re over the age of 24 and have filed taxes as an independent in 2018 or 2019 (or can still do so), you’ve likely been left out of this round of coronavirus crisis-related relief. But on the other hand, the government recently announced a $6 billion distribution of emergency aid to colleges. Depending on your school’s policy, you could get some money to help cover expenses.
Here’s what you need to know about the economic relief checks and what you can do to get financial aid as a college student:
- Who is (and isn’t) eligible for a CARES Act check?
- You might get aid from your college
- Alternative ways to get relief as a college student
- Beware of stimulus check scams
To receive a CARES Act economic relief check, you must meet certain criteria for age and income. Specifically…
- Single filers who earned $75,000 or less in the previous tax year (see below) will get $1,200
- Married joint filers who made $150,000 or less will get $2,400
- Filers who reported a higher income than the above limits will see their checks reduced by $5 for every $100 earned above the thresholds.
- However, single filers who made more than $99,000 and joint filers who took in more than $198,000 won’t be eligible for any funds.
- The government will add an extra $500 for each dependent under the age of 17
The IRS will look at your tax information from the 2019 year to determine your eligibility — or if you haven’t filed yet, your 2018 return will be used instead.
Many college students are over 18 and therefore too old to count as children, but they also don’t yet file taxes as an independent — you can potentially stay on your parent’s or guardian’s tax return until age 24. As a result, they won’t receive an economic relief check, nor will their family get extra funds on their behalf.
While college students were left out of the first round of coronavirus crisis-related relief, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced plans on April 9 to release additional funds which schools can use to help their students.
Colleges are slated to receive a total of $6.28 billion in funding and will be required to use that money to provide cash grants to students. According to the Department of Education, these grants should be earmarked for expenses related to course materials, technology, food, housing, health care and child care.
How this aid is distributed could vary from school to school, but Temple University’s Hope Center proposed a set of best practices, including the removal of as much red tape as possible for students who need this aid.
As it stands now, students may need to apply for emergency grants from their college rather than expect to receive them automatically. Since this remains a developing situation, it’s worth checking directly with your school’s financial aid office to learn about your options.
Depending on your age, financial needs and other factors, you might already qualify for financial relief. Here are some possibilities, depending on your situation…
- If you’re an independent student over age 24
- If you have a work-study job
- If you qualify for a need-based federal supplementary grant
- If your your college is issuing a refund
While most college students aren’t eligible for a CARES Act rebate check, independent students over the age of 24 may qualify. As mentioned, the IRS bases your eligibility on your previous tax return.
If you didn’t make more than $12,200 last year or the year before, then you weren’t required to file income taxes. But it’s not too late — you could still file taxes using an online service such as the IRS’ Free File Program or other free third-party software.
Make sure to provide the IRS with your direct deposit information (non-filers can do so here). As long as the IRS has your bank account details, it can deposit the funds into your account within a few weeks. If it doesn’t have your details, however, you might be waiting around for months before you see any payout.
As part of the CARES Act, colleges may continue paying students whose work-study jobs were interrupted due to the coronavirus outbreak. If you had a work-study job before campus closed, you might still get the wages you would have made — check with your school for details.
While colleges typically award FSEOGs to students with exceptional financial need, the CARES Act has widened the eligibility criteria for these grants. Under this legislation, colleges can provide FSEOG funds to undergraduate or graduate students who experience unexpected expenses or have unmet financial need.
If your financial circumstances have changed due to the coronavirus pandemic, contact your school’s financial aid office about your eligibility for an FSEOG.
With the closure of campuses across the country, colleges are scrambling to determine whether to issue refunds to students. Some are prorating room and board costs from the date that campus closed and students moved out. Others are issuing credits that students can use toward future costs.
Meanwhile, some disappointed students, such as those at the University of Minnesota, have campaigned for higher refunds via petitions, according to a U.S. News report. In fact, a handful of colleges are facing class action lawsuits for failing to refund money for the spring 2020 semester.
Even if your school isn’t issuing refunds currently, it might change its stance if enough students advocate for financial relief. Be sure to look into what’s available, as a refund now is preferable to having to seek student loan forgiveness later on down the road.
With policies changing rapidly, it can be hard to keep up with the options available. But make sure you’re getting your information from trusted sources so you don’t fall victim to a coronavirus crisis-related scam.
Note that the IRS will never call, text or email you asking for personal details or bank account numbers. If someone does contact you for sensitive information, it could very well be a scammer trying to steal your money or identity.
Along similar lines, avoid clicking on links in emails that claim to have “special information” about the economic relief checks. And before sharing any personal information, make absolutely sure you’re using an official tax return service or government website.
By keeping an eye out for suspicious requests, you can protect yourself from scam artists.
For more tips and updates related to the coronavirus pandemic and student loans, head to Student Loan Hero’s Coronavirus Information Center.