Getting a college education often presents a significant financial burden, and students in the armed forces face particularly harsh challenges when they are called to active service. In 2003, the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) act was signed into law, ensuring financial flexibility and assistance to students in the military affected by deployment in times of war or emergency. The Secretary of Education may now regulate any statutory or regulatory aspects of Title IV student financial aid. Affected individuals eligible for these provisions, along with their spouses and dependents, include:
Military personnel on active duty serving during a national emergency, military operation or time of war. National Guard member performing a qualifying duty during a national emergency, military operation or time of war (for example called to active service for an over 30 days by the President or Secretary of Defense). Those who are employed or have established residence in a Federal or State declared disaster area (hurricanes, tornadoes, etc). Those who incur economic hardship as a result of national emergency, the military operation or war (a national emergency must be declared by the President). There are a variety of specific waivers for affected individuals which include:
- Need Analysis – Schools may use prior year tax information in place of estimates award year income when determining the expected family contribution (EFC). Financial aid administrators will take into account the altered circumstances of an affected individual and his or her family.
- Professional Judgment – The requirement for Professional Judgment on an individual case basis can be waived for affected individuals and their families. In addition, financial aid administrators are encouraged to choose the most beneficial method of financial need assessment for the family. He or she would determine which yields the most aid out of prior tax year information, estimated award year information and the results of applying Professional Judgment.
- Grant Overpayment – If a student withdraws from college as an affected individual, the required repayment of grant overpayments (a.k.a. Return of Title IV Funds) can be waived.
- Verification – When selected, an affected individual has various options to satisfy the requirement to provide a copy of US income tax returns.
- Oral Requests in Lieu of Written Requests – Some authorization requests, such as the request for a leave of absence, must be submitted in writing. And affected individual may make these requests orally. A member of the family or other reliable source may also make the request.
- Satisfactory Academic Performance (SAP) – Requirements for SAP may be waived for affected individuals.
- Collection of Defaulted Loans – Defaulted education loan collection activities may be halted for a period of time for affected individuals.
- Parental Signature – Various requirements for parental signatures are waived for students if a parents status as an affected individual prevents him or her from providing a signature. In this case a guidance counselor or financial aid advisor may sign on behalf of the parent.
- Exclusion of Interruption – For up to three years, the period of time in which the borrower is affected is excluded from the grace period. Another full grace period is given to affected individuals when they complete the excluded period of service. In addition, the in-school deferment status may be extended for up to three years during the time a borrower is affected.
Affected individuals may also be excluded from the three year cumulative limit on the length of forbearance. If requirements for loan cancellation include continuous service, the time period in which an individual is affected may be excluded. Consecutive payments for consolidation, defaulted loans or loan rehabilitation may also exclude interruptions based on the status of an affected individual. Students in the armed forces face considerable obstacles when completing their education in a time of service. Tuition and loan allowances, waived requirements and other special accommodations make it much easier for affected students to return to postsecondary schools after a period of active duty without additional financial hardship.