How Victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma Can Get Help With Student Loans, Taxes, and More

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have come and gone, but the destruction left in their wake will take time to repair. Homes, livelihoods, and more have been lost. Many people are wondering where to turn.

Those impacted by the hurricanes have some relief coming their way in the form of financial support from the Department of Education, the IRS, and other organizations. Although it can’t replace everything that’s been lost, it might help victims get back on their feet.

Student loan hurricane relief

If you have student loans and are concerned about making payments because of the hurricanes, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Department of Education both recommend contacting your servicer.

It’s possible that you qualify for administrative forbearance on federal student loans for up to 90 days. Although interest still accrues, it isn’t added to your loan balance.

If you’re on an income-driven repayment plan, you have an extra 15 days to provide necessary documentation to renew your status.

Also, if you make a Public Service Loan Forgiveness payment more than 15 days after the due date but within 20 days of the due date, it will count as an on-time payment for the program. However, the payment needs to be made in the 30-day period following the date of the declaration of a major disaster.

It might be more difficult to obtain help for private loans. However, you should contact your servicer. Many private lenders understand you might need relief, and they might have special deferment or forbearance programs in place for hurricane victims.

Department of Education directions on financial aid

The Department of Education issued a letter to schools offering general guidance for disaster relief. It directed schools to use their “professional judgment” in adjusting applications and awards to reflect the special circumstances of students on a case-by-case basis.

Additionally, some document verification requirements are being loosened for those affected by the hurricanes. Some dependents might not need a parent’s signature, and some records requirements might be waived if the records were lost or destroyed during the hurricanes.

Finally, any financial hurricane relief you receive from the state or federal government shouldn’t be counted as income on your FAFSA. It won’t impact your eligibility for financial aid.

Hurricane relief from the IRS

Anyone residing in an area designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as qualifying for individual assistance might see tax relief.

For taxpayers who have valid extensions that run out September 15 (business) or October 16 (individual), the IRS is offering an extension to January 31, 2018.

Deadlines for making quarterly tax payments also have been extended for people in areas affected by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey.

The IRS also is waiving late-deposit penalties for payroll and excise tax deposits for affected businesses. The deposits that normally would be made in the first 15 days following the disaster won’t be subject to penalty.

If your address is within the disaster area, the IRS provides automatic relief. You don’t need to apply for anything, and you can focus on rebuilding your life.

However, if you do end up receiving a penalty notice, the IRS says you should reach out. Additionally, the IRS offers relief to people affected by the hurricanes but living outside the disaster areas. Call 866-562-5227 to learn about your options.

Help with loan payments from major banks

Some major banks are offering hurricane relief for customers with loans. Payment relief might be offered for mortgages, auto loans, and small-business loans, depending on your lender. Contact your lender to see what options are available to you.

Here are some banks that have announced hurricane relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey:

  • JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  • Wells Fargo
  • Bank of America
  • Frost Bank
  • BBVA Compass
  • Comerica

And here are some banks that have announced hurricane relief efforts for Hurricane Irma:

  • Bank of America
  • JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  • Wells Fargo
  • EverBank
  • SunTrust
  • Citi
  • Regions Bank

Some of the relief offered includes waiving or refunding late payments. You also might be able to delay payments for up to 90 days without penalty. However, you need to make sure you understand the terms offered by the banking institution. In many cases, interest will accrue.

Disaster food stamps

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the form of assistance we often refer to as “food stamps.” In areas of Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey, a disaster program called D-SNAP is in place. If you qualify, you can get an extra food stamp allotment to help you manage your nutritional needs.

Florida also has approval for D-SNAP in counties affected by Hurricane Irma. The emergency allotment can help you get the nutrition you need now that supplies are getting into impacted areas.

Watch out for hurricane relief scams

Sadly, there are people who prey on victims of natural disasters. Even as you prepare to rebuild, you’ll need to be on your guard.

The Miami Herald reported that there are emails, texts, and phone calls claiming FEMA is giving away free food stamps. Officials warn residents not to provide any personal information to those making claims of assistance. You also should be on your guard against scammers claiming to provide special grants from the IRS or other agencies.

Instead, you can get information about real hurricane relief from the following sources:

If you weren’t affected by the hurricanes but want to contribute to relief efforts, consider donating to the American Red Cross or United Way or donating nonperishables and cleaning supplies to food banks in affected areas.

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