Question on student loans, how does this work for nontrads?

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Question on student loans, how does this work for nontrads?

Postby meatyochre » Fri Apr 22, 2011 7:43 am UTC

You can skip to the TL;DR at the end if you have a short attention span! <3

I went to school for 4.5 years as a traditional student and dropped out, mostly due to depression from doing something I hated and because most of my friends had graduated, leaving me with nobody. I would now (3 years later) like to get back into college. I work full time in a call center and it's not a fulfilling career prospect. However, it pays almost 30k a year, so it's not terrible considering my lack of degree.

But I have bills to pay. I filed for bankruptcy a little over a year ago and I can manage my current bills on my current income (I have no credit cards anymore and live strictly on cash with the exception of my car note, and I think I'm still upside-down on that despite making payments for 2 years so far out of the 5 year loan), but I cannot PAY for school. I take home almost exactly $800 every 2 weeks (after taxes and health insurance this is 20k annual take home). I pay rent-600, car payment-300, car insurance-130, a quite modest dumbphone bill-35, and my student loan repayment-90 (it's income-contingent and I only took out 12k in loans my first go 'round). Gas is above $4 a gallon now so most of my non-bill-paying money goes to gas for work, cigarettes (yes, I've tried to quit and can't), and food/shampoo/toilet paper. I have very little "spending money." I haven't gone shopping in ages. I'm wearing the same clothes I've been wearing for a couple years now... it's not like I'm able to live high on the hog. I'm barely making ends meet. I spend down to the bottom of my paycheck every pay period.

I'd like to take some online classes as a part-time student ideally, and work toward a new degree, because I hated what I was doing before and actually "going to class" was the hardest part of school for me. I'm in love with the internet though, and I've taken an online class before, so I'm quite sure this would be the best method for me. But I wouldn't be opposed to traveling to a college/community college in the area if I could get a big enough loan to cover the gas.

TL;DR: I don't have kids or anything like that, which means I'm expected to pay a higher EFC. Would I be eligible to take out the max amount in Stafford loans regardless of my EFC? Or does the EFC determine how much I can get in loans? If it wasn't obvious, I am considered independent as I'm 26 years old. But I just used an EFC calculator which said this:

Federal Methodology (FM) Results
Total Estimated FM Contribution = $ 7,994
Institutional Methodology (IM) Results
Total Estimated IM Contribution = $ 13,018

There is no fucking way I can afford 8k out of pocket for school with my current expenses. They don't care about your current financial obligations when calculating this stuff, I get that. Will this prevent me from going back to college or can I take out as much in Stafford loans as I want? Would I be considered a freshman for financial aid purposes if I start over with a new degree but pull in gen-ed credits from my old one?

I also would love recommendations on an online school if you guys have any...
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Re: Question on student loans, how does this work for nontra

Postby meatyochre » Fri Apr 22, 2011 8:31 am UTC

Well I just went through and filled out a FAFSA because why not? It went pretty quickly. I found a few colleges in my area and just put them down (I haven't actually applied anywhere yet of course, though I don't see that being a problem. I was accepted to all the colleges I applied to when I was an undergrad :3). Hopefully I can add schools to that later if I find something else I would like.
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Re: Question on student loans, how does this work for nontra

Postby Bakemaster » Fri Apr 22, 2011 4:49 pm UTC

First things first: I used to work as a full-time financial aid officer, which means I can answer a lot of your questions, but some things are different at every school and where that's the case you'll need to contact a particular financial aid office to get information about that particular school. People without training love dispensing advice (particularly at collegeconfidential) as though they are experts, but in the end your best source of information is always the financial aid office at the school in question because there is a lot of nuance to financial aid.

You can always go back to the online FAFSA and send your information to more schools. It's always free, though it's not instantaneous, so better to put in too many schools than too few.
Will this prevent me from going back to college or can I take out as much in Stafford loans as I want?

Nobody can take an unlimited amount in Stafford loans. In addition to annual limits, there are aggregate limits which depend on the student's level of study and dependency status. Stafford loans are also divided into two categories, unsubsidized and subsidized, for which these limits differ. You can find a chart explaining those limits here; if you have questions about how to interpret the charts, ask, and I'll do my best to explain. There's also more general information on that page. DO NOT TRUST INFORMATION ON OTHER WEBSITES. There have been significant changes to federal loan programs in recent years, and while there is a lot of good information on sites like finaid.org, there is also a lot of old, incorrect, extraneous and misleading information (for instance, finaid.org still hasn't updated to reflect that the FFELP program was shut down nearly a year ago). Best to stick to official Department of Education sources.
Would I be eligible to take out the max amount in Stafford loans regardless of my EFC? Or does the EFC determine how much I can get in loans?

Your EFC will limit your eligibility for a subsidized Stafford loan, but not for an unsubsidized Stafford loan. First, your college's financial aid department calculates an estimated cost of attendance (COA) based on likely or established amounts for tuition, fees, material costs, books, transportation, room and board, and miscellaneous expenses. Your EFC is then subtracted from the COA along with any grants or scholarships you receive; this becomes your "financial need" (not necessarily the amount you will need to pay) which determines your eligibility for the subsidized Stafford loan. If your need is $1,000, you'll qualify for up to a $1,000 subsidized Stafford loan. If your need is $10,000, you'll qualify for the maximum subsidized Stafford loan (per the chart linked earlier).

Unsubsidized Stafford loans, since they are not need-based, work differently. If you had a COA of $30,000 but you were independently wealthy with an EFC of $70,000, you would have no financial need and be completely ineligible for subsidized Stafford loans. However, you would still have the option of borrowing up to the maximum amount in unsubsidized Stafford loans (for an independent freshman, this would be $5,500). In other words, unsubsidized Stafford can be used to satisfy your expected family contribution (as can PLUS loans for parents of dependent students), as long as your total aid does not exceed the COA calculated for you by the school. There are a few things that are excluded from this total aid calculation—off the top of my head, veteran's benefits and Americorps awards—so in some cases it is possible to exceed the COA, but they are rare.
Would I be considered a freshman for financial aid purposes if I start over with a new degree but pull in gen-ed credits from my old one?

This is one of those questions that depends on the policy of the specific institution. Generally speaking, any credits which don't transfer in toward your degree program are not counted toward your class standing. Let's say Casey attends UMass for two years and accrues 60 semester units, half of them gen eds and the other half studio art courses, before deciding to leave school. Casey works for some years and then decides to return to school at another institution. If Casey applies as a transfer student into a fine art major, the second college will attempt to transfer in all those units, as long as the UMass courses can be matched to courses at the new school. On the other hand, if Casey applies to transfer into an engineering major, the school is likely to take only the 30 gen ed units, and possibly a small number of fine art units if the new school has a requirement that every student take 3 units of art to graduate, for example. In the former situation, Casey is a junior, while in the latter situation Casey is a sophomore, as determined by the college. And the decision of the college is what the Department of Education will use to determine loan eligibility.

If you provide some information about your old transcript(s) and your new intended major, I can give you a guesstimate of your likely standing when you return to school, but for a real answer you'll need to have your transcript evaluated at each school in question. Note also that colleges which only award two-year degrees can never grant students junior or senior standing, no matter how many units they have.
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Re: Question on student loans, how does this work for nontra

Postby meatyochre » Fri Apr 22, 2011 11:22 pm UTC

I love you! You seriously answered all of the questions I had. I'm only intending to go back part time for now (I'm thinking 6ish credit hours per semester, 9 max) since I need to continue working full time. So even if I do end up certified as just a freshman with an EFC too high to qualify for subsidized loans, I should be able to afford to take 9 or 10 classes in a calendar year with that amount of unsubsized loans. Which is probably more classes than I can comfortably handle anyway... good news!

My go at undergrad was a mishmash of changing majors (physics to philosophy to English education to information technology, I think I was considered a first-semester junior in IT when I dropped out) and taking lots of gen-eds with some higher-level classes. I tested out of 2 years of Spanish, and skipped a few English courses because of my AP credits. I also tested into Calculus I (unlike most people going to a CC, I would think). Hopefully I wouldn't have to take any more math if I end up at a CC (I'm good at math, I just hate doing it). TBH I am not sure how I would end up classified, since I'd be changing majors again. I've taken a lot of general English (lit, linguistics) and philosophy classes, even after I changed majors to IT, because I like those subjects so much.

One more question, do you know anything about how financial aid might be affected by an employer's tuition reimbursement program? Because my company has one, but you have to get your degree approved by HR or something. I don't know yet what exact major I'll be choosing (probably something related to English comp or journalism)... so I don't know if my employer will cover it. But say for instance they will. What if I take out unsub loans to cover all of my tuition and fees. Then the following semester, when my employer reimburses my tuition for the previous semester (it's grade-contingent so they won't pay upfront), would I be obligated to pay that back to the loan company? Would I have to tell the aid officer about it? I'm guessing that not doing so might constitute an ethical issue, since I'd be taking out loans and then getting cash back (though of course would have to pay it all back in the end anyway). But would this be illegal, or could it get me expelled?

Thanks again for all your help :) This process looks so incredibly daunting and unaffordable from the outside, you've really made me see that it would be possible after all.
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Re: Question on student loans, how does this work for nontra

Postby Bakemaster » Sat Apr 23, 2011 1:31 am UTC

I'd talk to the financial aid office wherever you end up attending about the reimbursed tuition. They may want you to declare it with them as financial assistance. Depends on how the program works. As long as you are attending at least half-time (6 semester units or 9 quarter units) you should have extras like room and board factored into your cost of attendance (though at a lower rate than for full-time students) so even if your tuition is covered by your employer's program, you'll have some room to take loans.
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Re: Question on student loans, how does this work for nontra

Postby meatyochre » Sat Apr 23, 2011 2:36 am UTC

But the tuition is only covered in retrospect; I can't front a few thousand or even a few hundred dollars. I know that's a really specific question, though.
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