Student Loans, Taxes, and More: What You Need to Know About the Government Shutdown

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UPDATE: The Senate voted to move the government funding bill forward. Sixty votes were needed to clear the hurdle, and the measure passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support, 81 to 18.

“After several discussions, offers, counter-offers, the Republican leader and I have come to an arrangement,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said prior to the vote. “We will vote today to reopen the government to continue negotiating a global agreement, with the commitment that, if an agreement isn’t reached by February 8, the Senate will immediately proceed to consideration of legislation dealing with DACA.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed to schedule a vote on a Dreamer bill, designed to codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — known as DACA — program. The DACA program has been a sticking point between Republicans and Democrats in recent months, with Democrats demanding a “clean” bill that grants legal status to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Republicans want to include increased border security measures, and tighten current immigration policy as part of any legislation designed to permanently protect Dreamers.

The Senate’s funding deal will keep the government open until February 8. However, because the funding bill passed by the House last week was designed to keep operations open until February 16, this new measure will have to pass the House before it goes to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Over the weekend, the big news was that, as of the night of January 19, a government shutdown is underway.

Despite calling it a “shutdown,” essential services are still being carried out. Each federal agency has its own contingency plan for when funding runs out for government operations. The plans detail which employees are furloughed (mandatory unpaid time off) and which services remain.

While there is a Senate vote scheduled for today on ending the shutdown, there are worries that Democrats and Republicans are too entrenched to end the stalemate, which requires 60 votes. Five Democrats in the Senate voted in favor of the temporary funding measure, while five Republican Senators voted against it.

So, if the Senate doesn’t decide to keep government funding intact, there are several areas that could impact you, including financial aid, grants, and taxes. Here’s how.

Federal financial aid

First of all, your federal financial aid is likely safe for the remainder of the 2017-18 academic year. While no new federal dollars can be spent, the funds for the current school year have already been disbursed.

Funding for federal student loans and for Pell Grants is safe — for now. Of course, no new decisions about student aid can be made until the government is open for business again.

Higher education grants

According to the government shutdown contingency plan released by the Department of Education, 90 percent of the department’s workforce will be furloughed this first week. In subsequent weeks of a shutdown, not more than 6 percent of the workforce should be doing their jobs.

One of the biggest casualties of the lack of funding could be grants programs that benefit underprivileged students.

“Colleges rely on higher education funds to pay ongoing expenses of staff running programs for disadvantaged students seeking to enter and stay in college,” according to the department’s contingency plan. “Under a shutdown, the likely disruption of Department grant programs will be a potential delay in activities necessary to make competitive and formula grant awards later in the fiscal year.”

Grad students conducting research

Many graduate students conduct research, receiving funds from National Science Foundation (NSF) grants. The NSF’s own government shutdown contingency plan calls for researchers to continue using funds they have already received.

However, there is no guarantee that the next round of funds will be received. Many grants are made in stages, so the next payout might be late or missed. And, of course, no new grants can be awarded by the NSF and peer-review panels won’t meet during the shutdown period. That could result in delays of new awards even after the shutdown ends.

Filing your taxes

The IRS announced that tax filing season officially opens on January 29. But will it still happen as scheduled?

If you’ve been gathering your documents in preparation to file your tax return, understanding what happens during a government shutdown can be useful. Here’s what Kelly Phillips Erb, reporting for Forbes, says we can expect.

Actions that will continue during a government shutdown

  • Returns with payments will be processed
  • You can still e-file
  • Statutory deadlines for appeals remain the same
  • Mail your tax forms on time
  • Civil and criminal tax cases
  • Active criminal investigations
  • Call centers will be open during filing season

What will be put on hold during a shutdown

  • Tax refunds will not be issued
  • No amended returns (Form 1040X) will be processed
  • No audits or examinations (although there might be some exceptions)
  • Whistleblower office will be shut down
  • Non-automated collections will cease
  • Non-disaster relief transcripts will not be processed

Go ahead and organize your paperwork and prepare to file your taxes. Your refund might be delayed, but at least you’ll have the work finished.

Business as usual

For most Americans who don’t work for the government, it will be business as usual. You can even still go to most national parks, which remain open.

If you rely on Social Security or if you are a veteran looking for care, things should still move as usual. Additionally, military personnel will continue working. They will receive pay unless the shutdown lasts past February 1.

If you do work for the government, you might be furloughed, which can mean some belt-tightening. Picking up a side hustle can help reduce the impact of being sent home without pay, as can working to build an emergency fund.

You never know what might happen when policymakers start playing politics, so it makes sense to be prepared, no matter who’s at the helm.

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.