Extenuating Circumstances

Written by: Financial Aid Sense

Professional Judgment, Extenuating Circumstances, and Financial Aid Eligibility

What happens when a family has a unique situation that may not be accounted for on the FAFSA?

Although the federal financial aid system is based on comprehensive guidelines and a standardized formula, there is a mechanism in place in the event a family has a set of extenuating circumstances that cannot be accounted for via the FAFSA or if a family has a change in their financial situation after the FAFSA was initially filed.

In the case that a family’s financial circumstances change since submitting the FAFSA, a family should be sure to reach out to the college financial aid office and share specifics of their situation as well as any related supporting documentation. This is called writing a letter of appeal. In some situation, financial aid office personnel can exercise what is referred to as “professional judgment” which allows them to take into consideration a family’s extenuating circumstances.

Some examples of extenuating circumstances include a loss of a parent’s income due to a lay off, accident, disability or health issue, extraordinary medical expenses, a financial hardship due to a natural disaster, or other extraordinary expenses not accounted for on the FAFSA.

Furthermore, in some cases a family may experience a one-time event that impacts their base year tax return for one year, such as an inheritance, sale of a family home, one-time bonus, or severance payout. In cases such as these, or similar instances, the base year tax return may not be reflective of a family’s ability to pay, especially if the family used the extra resources to pay down credit card debt and/or a mortgage or other consumer debt.

If you find yourself in a situation where your income or asset levels have changed significantly since you filed the FAFSA, there are a few actions that you can take. First of all, if you need to update the information that you included on the FAFSA, you can revisit the FAFSA system and update the information that has changed. In addition, you could write a letter of appeal to the financial aid office detailing the situation and include any supporting documentation that substantiates your claim.

In some cases, financial aid administrators are allowed discretion in adjusting financial aid eligibility. When provided with additional information and supporting documentation, administrators may make adjustments within professional judgment guidelines. In some cases a financial aid officer may increase the standard Cost of Attendance (COA) budget which would allow for additional borrowing to cover expenses OR in come cases financial aid may be adjusted to account for the family’s situation.

Learn more about this topic as well as a number of other tips for navigating through the financial aid process in our newly updated publication, Financial Aid Sense. Don’t miss out on financial aid opportunities – pick up a copy today! See what our readers are saying about Financial Aid Sense.

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