Anonymous, a father of two college students
Today’s guest requested not to be named since we discussed some personal family financial matters. We’ll call him “Anonymous,” but his story is an important one that every family should know. He’s a father and a small business owner who talks about what his family went through when his daughter’s need-based college financial aid was removed by her school, and what happened when he filed an appeal for the aid to be restored.
Listen to this episode to know more about appealing financial aid decisions and negotiating the cost of college, including what to expect and whom you should talk to if you’re in the same situation.
Questions Answered Today:
If my income changes, does my student’s financial aid change too?
Yes. A student’s eligibility for need-based aid depends on the family’s income bracket, among other things.
As Brad has discussed previously, colleges consider the “prior prior” tax year when assessing family income. This means they look at the period two years prior to the student’s application. In other words, if you’re applying for financial aid for the 2021-22 school year, colleges look at your 2019 income.
Based on Anonymous’ experience, his daughter’s college reviewed his family’s 2019 income, which was way higher compared to their current 2021 income. As a result, for the following semester, his daughter lost her existing need-based financial aid because the college felt she no longer needed it. She ended up losing $11,000 per semester!
What if my income for the tax year the college considers is not reflective of my current income?
Change of income happens to many families. Some reasons for change in income include, but are not limited to:
- Business closure
- Natural disasters (e.g. hurricane).
Fortunately, there’s a way to turn this around by asking colleges to reconsider. Although it may be a tedious process, filing an appeal could give you what you want and the help you need.
Disclaimer: The process presented below is entirely based on our podcast guest’s experience. The process for each college is different, so make sure to talk to your college and ask.
Here are some things you can do if you’re denied need-based financial aid or lose existing aid, especially if you’ve had a change in income:
- Communicate with the right person. This is very important because you can use all your time calling and emailing people, but if you’re not talking to the person that can actually help you, your efforts will only be in vain.
- Know the process for submitting an appeal. Before wasting your time doing all sorts of things to attempt to resolve the matter, make sure that what you do follows the college’s policies and procedures. Colleges are big on procedures and especially appeals, so keep this in mind.
Scenario: A father anticipates that his daughter will lose her need-based aid because of their change in income from two years ago. He wanted to make an appeal because his current income is low, and they need the aid. As a remedy, he emailed the school to warn them about this. But, in the end, they still lost the aid. When they checked why, it turned out that what he did was not part of the “reconsideration process” the school follows.
- Follow the college’s appeal process, no matter how hard it becomes. In my guest’s words, his appeal experience was “torture,” and it’s certainly something you wouldn’t want to endure. He experienced several technical issues (e.g. website down) while in the process of submitting the appeal, and he was on the verge of giving up. But he finished the process all the way to the end, which resulted in getting what he appealed for: he got his daughter’s aid back!
What tips can you give to others who will encounter the same problem?
My guest, Anonymous, learned a lot from his experience. He shared the following tips:
- Be polite when talking to people. As the guest said, “I was as nice and polite as I could be because I don’t need any enemies over there.”
- Be persistent. The authorities who can make decisions won’t be available all the time. Most of the time you’ll have to talk to people who don’t know the process.
- Proactively learn how the system works. This comes in handy when you get tangled up in a conflict that’s complex. It becomes an advantage to know the possibilities. This also saves tons of time.
- Be open-minded. Keep in mind that you are dealing with systems. Sometimes, it will feel like you are dealing with an automated process because you won’t be getting clear and defined answers. You may even feel like it’s difficult on purpose! But you have to get to the end of the process. Only then will you have an actual chance of getting what you want.
Links and Resources
Helpful Articles and Resources
Today, I recommend taking advantage of the appeal process, or negotiating with your college to get the best offer. You can use the appeal process to:
- Correct, restore or appeal for more financial aid (similar to what was discussed in this episode)
- Increase scholarship awards
Scenario: You are an incoming student with a great academic standing. You can use this to your advantage to increase the aid the college offers.
- Negotiate costs based on financial issues (e.g. experiencing bankruptcy)
Pro Tip: Start learning about negotiating and appeals opportunities as early as you can. Remember, you can only take advantage of the process if you know it’s possible.
Also, remember that each process is different per college. So be sure to familiarize yourself with the appeal process at your college.
Now, how do you increase the success of your appeal? There are four things you can do:
- Be persistent.
- Find the decision maker/s. It’s best if you’re actively working with one person who will help you throughout the process.
- Follow the process. If they ask you to submit a document, do it. Make sure to also follow up to keep your request running.
- Understand that the process can be difficult on purpose. Some colleges may intentionally design the process to be complicated, so not everyone is compelled to do it.
Lastly, educate yourself and talk to experts. Contact a financial expert and ask questions before making any decision. Gather everything that you can about the appeal process by:
- Asking about it during college visits
- Talking about it within the family
- Looking at the school’s website.
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Did you know the price you pay for college is often negotiable? Get all the details in this episode.
You have kids. They grow up, and before you know it, it's time to plan for college. Where do you start? How much is it going to cost? Will you qualify for financial aid? Should you be looking into scholarships? When will you be able to retire? What about student loans? The list of questions is never ending. The good news is all the answers are right here. Welcome to the Taming the High Cost of College Podcast. Here is your host, certified financial planner, Brad Baldridge.
Hello, and welcome to Taming the High Cost of College. I'm your host, Brad Baldridge. Today, we have a great interview with a father of a college student where we talk all about the appeal process and some of the challenges that he's been going through. He'd like to remain Anonymous, so I'm not going to tell you exactly who he is or what college is involved. But there's a lot of great nuggets in this quick interview, where we talk about his challenges. And he mentioned some things that families need to understand and how to best take advantage of the appeal process as he sees it now that he's been through it once or twice. After the interview in Brad Recommends, I'm going to talk further about the appeal process and talk about how the appeal process works and why families need to really understand it. Now, as far as 'Is the price of college negotiable?', the short answer that question is yes. The longer answer, of course, is it depends on the college and depends on your particular situation. But many families can use the appeal process in order to get a better offer than they had originally received. So it's not negotiation like you would think when you're buying a used car where you haggle back and forth over the price. And eventually you come to some sort of agreement. It's more of a process than that. But the result could be the same where you end up getting a better deal than what you would have had had you not gone through the process. Alright, so let's go ahead and jump into the interview.
All right. Today's interview is with someone who would like to remain Anonymous, so we got some interesting things to talk about. So welcome to the podcast. Thank you.
Thank you for having me. Yes.
So we've obviously talked college planning in the past. And you got an interesting situation. And I thought the story that you kind of passed on to me is something that would be great for my listeners. So I guess I want to focus on, again, you've got a college sophomore now. And you're in the process of doing financial aid for the second time. And that's what I'd like to talk about, quite a bit about that. But before we get into that, can you lay the groundwork of you know, approximately where you're at with your kids and some of the background information.
Sure, I've got two kids, my oldest is a sophomore in college. And the younger one is senior in high school, who's as we speak, going through the process of getting applications ready and submitting them. So we're just beginning the process with her.
With the younger one.
Okay, and then we talked quite a bit about financial aid in the past, and you're a small business owner. So I think that is a key piece of the puzzle as well because of what happened. So tell us a little bit about the process with your sophomore, as you were looking to figure out the second year, what happened that again, that story that you sent me.
Yeah, in retrospect, this is kind of an interesting story. My income jumps around a lot as a lot of small business owners do. Her financial aid, she receives two kinds of aid, merit aid and need-based aid. The need based aid was based on my 2018 income. In 2019, my income spiked, there was a one time event, my income went way up. In 2020, had the opposite, my income plummeted and was, it was almost nothing. My concern was that when they saw the 2019 income, that that would be held against me, and that we would lose all or some of the aid. So I tried to be proactive, I sent an email to the financial aid office, explaining that there is the situation where my 2019 income was way up and not representative of what would happen going forward. And also that my 2020 income was much lower. And I wasn't able to send that to an individual in the financial aid office, because the way this particular school is structured, they are very careful not to let parents have access to individuals at the financial aid office. So if you contact them, you get the people available for contact or whoever either answers the phone or checks the group email, they usually are always perhaps the lowest level people. I think a lot of the people I've spoken with in the financial aid office have been students, although I'm not completely sure about that. So I sent an email to the general email address explaining this and asking them to get back in touch with me if, if more information would help, or if there were questions or any documentation was was needed, and I didn't hear anything from the email, no response reply of any type. I didn't hear anything until we started to get close to the beginning of the semester, and I got the preliminary tuition bill, which showed that the merit-based aid was still in place, but all of the need-based aid was completely gone. We'd lost every penny of it.
So how much money are we talking about?
That's $11,000 a semester. So multiply that times, however many semesters she has, and it was a lot of money.
So my wife was actually able to find an email address for me for an actual person who wasn't an entry level person there. She's, she's part of a Facebook parents group. And apparently, the problems we had are very common there. So someone got this this person's email address and shared it. So I was able to send an email to an actual person. And I, I said a couple things. One, I was surprised that someone who had virtually no income in 2020 didn't qualify for any aid. And I thought it was, I thought it was horrible that there was no notice, no explanation, just them sent the bill and the bill shows that all the aid has gone. And, now we're getting close to the semester beginning, and there's no time to respond. I mean, if we can't pay the bill, my child has to find another college, there's no time for that. And I just couldn't believe there was no warning for something like that. So the response I got was actually, I had no expectation of getting, I mean, I really, I was just venting as much as anything else. Because I didn't think any anything good would would happen. But I got a very nice, professional and helpful response, I was told that there's a formal review process, and any dispute over the aid has to go through this process. So apparently, my email was not considered, probably, probably, not even read, but certainly not considered. Nothing is considered outside of this formal review process. So she sent me a link on how to go through that process, which I did. And the process was just torture. I mean, it was it was literally torture, the website didn't work. So the information that I had to enter, couldn't be entered into the website. So I called several times and what I was eventually told, it could accept information uploaded. So whatever questions were asked, I had to type the answer out in a Word document, save it and upload it. So when it asked for my name, I had to type my name, and upload my name along with an explanation of why I was uploading my name instead of typing it in. And then when it asked my address, I had to go through that process and explain why I was uploading my address and had to go through the whole process like that, which I eventually did, submitted it. After I submitted, I got an automated response, saying they'd received the request for review. And I'd be notified if they needed more information. I wasn't notified they needed more information, I did eventually get a notice on the outcome of the appeal. And I hate to make myself sound stupid, but I honestly couldn't tell what the outcome was. And even now, if I go back and look at it, I just can't tell their terminology is so different from any terminology I've ever heard or used. If your child qualifies for work study, they call that an award. If you get a loan that you have to pay back, they call that an award. I don't understand how the opportunity to work and earn money is an awardm, but apparently it is. So they sent me this completely indecipherable notice and it was so close to in this semester was going to begin, I figured, well, you whatever this means I'm going to soon enough even if I don't understand it. So a couple days later, I got noticed that the final tuition bills are in and I checked, and nothing had changed. Still not one penny of need-based aid after going through all that. So I send an email, again, to the person who had had been helpful by telling me about the appeal process. And I was as nice and polite as I could be because I don't need any enemies over there, but that it was difficult. And the way it had been explained to me is the appeal process isn't a judgment call, t is based on numbers. And based on what I was told the way that the calculations work, we shouldn't have lost any financial aid at all. And yet we lost the entirety. So I asked her, first of all, if the situation as I had laid it out to her is such that we shouldn't get any aid, why was I told to appeal this? And if somebody earning almost no money doesn't get financial aid, who is the system for? It just seemed incredible to me. And I was not asking them to reconsider it because I had already gone through the appeal process. As far as I was concerned that the whole thing was over. I was just trying to, trying to vent a little and get it out of my system. So she sent me back an email saying that there had been a clerical error and my appeal was actually successful and all the aid would be restored. And because of this clerical error, I wasn't notified of that and it's not reflected on the bill. But they said they would go fix that. And if I check back in a few days, the bill would be corrected and that's what happened and it was restored, so I guess it's a happy ending to a difficult story and it eventually worked out and the need-based aid was restored, at least for now.
Right? Yeah. So I mean, that's obviously a story I think people need to hear because you know, a couple of different things, right is the financial aid offices make mistakes regularly, just like any other office or any other organization that has a lot of moving parts, and things get stuck at various places. So it takes some persistence. And the interesting thing that you mentioned is they try not to be accessible, they really want you to go into the phone tree. And just, again, it's an efficiency thing, a lot of, a lot of call centers do this, right? They want you to just talk to whoever answers the phone and tell them your story. The challenge, of course, is then you always talk to somebody different. And I don't feel like it's as useful and more complicated situation, you're just trying to figure out where your package went, that might be one thing, but something as complicated as financial aid, I don't think it's appropriate. But again, what I think I guess, ultimately doesn't matter.
And I knew that was a problem at the very beginning of my journey with them when my child was applying. Because I had tried to schedule an appointment, at your recommendation, I tried to schedule an appointment with someone in the financial aid office to sit down and share a little of my story and learn how the system works. And they said, 'Oh, good news, you don't need an appointment just come in, it's, just walk in. And then I realized that if you get just whoever's there and walk in, you're probably not going to talk to anyone who's worth talking to. And that, that, unfortunately, is in fact, how it works there.
Right, exactly. So I do a lot of coaching around this. And, I guess the, the four points that I would highlight out of this would be, be polite, but persistent. Almost in frustration, you're persistent, because you're starting to get frustrated, where you just send an email thinking it's over. And that one more email all of a sudden now with moving again. And that happened. Sounds like it happened twice.
Trying to get to a decision maker, I think that's another key point. If you can, you found an end around somehow you got an email address of someone a little higher on the food chain, and that helped. And don't let the red tape stop you. And unfortunately, I think some colleges make the process a little bit challenging on purpose just to weed out the faint of heart. You know, if you really need the money, you're more likely to put up with the challenges if it's get to the situation where it's like, 'Oh, it's just easy to write the check and be done. I just can't take this anymore.' Well, that's a fine outcome for the college as far as they're concerned, right? You just, you just go ahead and pay the bill, then then that's good. Do you have any other thoughts as far as the process? Now, obviously, you've got your sophomore, so you've got a little experience under your belt. Is it changing? Or do you think you're going to do anything differently because with your high school senior, because of what you've learned so far?
Probably, I think, I don't know if there are these specific logistical changes I'll make. But one thing that I'm going to try and keep straight in my head is that there's a system in place here, it's a process and their procedures. And it's not about common sense. It's about working within established guidelines that sometimes make a lot of sense, and sometimes don't, but it doesn't matter when it makes sense and when it doesn't, there are rules, and they're going to work within those rules. And also remembering that I'm not dealing with people, even though there may be people who answer the phones, and maybe people who reply to emails, I'm not really dealing with those people, I'm dealing with the system that's in place, and connecting with someone on a one on one basis and having them understand the situation, that's not part of this. What's part of this is the calculations and procedures. And that's really all there. It's like dealing with an automated process, really. I don't know if it's like that at every school, but but at this school, I might as well be dealing with a robot, it would be no different than how it is.
Right? For sure. Yeah. And I think that's, again, one of the challenges that we're dealing with, when it comes to the appeal process, as an example is they, they want to get their information a certain way, you have to put it into a website, or you have to submit documentation as they see fit how they want to do it. And then of course, they have the frustration in your case where the system seems to be broken, or it doesn't even allow you to enter data. So and of course, a lot of times it's whoever's running the website, versus the financial aid office may not be communicating well and stuff gets broken and maybe it doesn't get fixed in a timely manner. Any other pearls of wisdom that you've come across as part of this process that you'd like to share?
One thing that I, and I think you would explain this the beginning of the process, but I feel like I just, after having gone through it I really understand why it's so important now, is before it starts to just proactively learn as much about the way all this works and the way the system works as possible, because the schools have an enormous information advantage. They do this, I mean, this is their job, they do it year round, year after year 10s of 1000s, hundreds of 1000s of students, and for the families and the parents, this is either new to us, or maybe we've gone through it one or two or a couple of children. But none of us know the way this works as well as the colleges. And maybe this experience has made me cynical, but it seems to me that they really kind of pressed that advantage. So my thinking with my next child, and what I would encourage everyone else to do is to learn the system and learn the process as well as you possibly can, not, not that you can make it an even level playing field, because the college is always going to more than the parents, but just to be not to be completely ignorant in the way that it works. And maybe that's the path to getting a fair shake.
Right? Absolutely. And I encourage families to do that on a regular basis of at least understand, and I think we talked about this as well as that award that they're giving you merit-based or need-based because it makes a difference as, right?
The merit piece of the puzzle that you received, it stayed, but the what they consider need-based went away when they felt you no longer had a need. Alright, well, I really do appreciate you sharing this. I think it's a lesson learned. And I think people need to hear a little bit about it.
Well, thank you. Thank you. Appreciate that. Thanks.
All right, that was a great interview. Don't go away. Because next in Brad Recommends, we're going to get in into further detail and talk more about the appeal process, and why everybody needs to understand how it works. If you have kids in college, or even kids in high school, it's important that you understand the appeal process so that you can leverage it and take advantage of it where you need to.
The latest tips, tricks and tools you can use today. This is Brad Recommends on Taming the High Cost of College.
Today, I'm recommending that you use the appeal process to your advantage. And most colleges have some form of appeal process in order for families to get their financial aid corrected, and perhaps increase their scholarships, and work with the college in order to solve the financial issues that they might be coming across. Now, an important tip here is if you have children that are still in high school, and you're just starting the process, there's things you can be doing, starting with your very first visit, to increase your odds of having a successful appeal and having a better understanding of how this all works. Another important thing to realize is this appeal process is similar to a negotiation in that you again, you're trying to adjust the financial picture. And again, if you're the family, of course, you're trying to bring your costs down, and you're working with the college to see what they can do to help you. But you're not negotiating like you would if you were buying a used car, you're not going to say something like, 'Well, I'll give you $12,000 per semester. And that's my final offer.' That's not really the type of negotiation that's going on here. It's more of a process where you go to the college and ask for their help. Again, the aid doesn't seem enough for us to make this work, or this aid doesn't seem right. I think maybe there was an error on our financial aid forms where you included things you shouldn't have, or that type of process. So what are the common things that you can appeal? Well, there's three main categories, I think that would apply in the appeal process. One is correcting errors, as we've mentioned, again, you may be you fill out your financial aid forms wrong or you feel like the college may have done something an error, another big area would be change in circumstance. In other words, we filled out the forms and we did accurately but our life has changed. Since the tax return in question as an example. Yes, my income in 2021 was really good. But in 2022, and 2023, it's gonna be much worse, I lost that job. Or we're going through a divorce. So our circumstances will be substantially different. Or the business I once had has gone bankrupt or was destroyed in the hurricane or whatever it might be. And then the last area would be competitive offers. In other words, well, other colleges are giving us a better scholarship or whatever it might be. But we'd really like to attend your institution. So is there a way that you can meet the competition or get closer anyway? Or is this the best that you can do? That, of course, is getting the closest to a true negotiation. Now it's important to realize that colleges can be very different as far as how their process works, and how willing they are to adjust things. Some colleges are very strict and will only look at certain situations and other colleges will consider just about anything and everything. And some colleges are a little more wheel and deal where they will look at competitive offers and increase their offers to match. Or they may say something like, 'Well, this is what we can do now, if it's not enough, let us know. A little more where they are trying to find a price that you'll be happy with and convince you to come. Now, the four key points to be successful, as I mentioned during the interview, you need to be persistent. I think in a lot of cases, the decision makers are, are very busy, and it's hard to get their attention and some persistence. And going back and keeping at it helps a ton. As I mentioned, you also want to try and find a decision maker. So you're dealing directly with a person. And ideally, you can go back to the same person and send them the information they need, and ask them what else is needed and that type of thing versus just going through a generic website or whatever it might be. You also want to follow the system, if they want you to fill out a form or write a letter, go ahead and do that. If they say send important documents or supplemental documents do that if they say do not send documents then don't. Do as they ask, but then keep going back and asking where are we at in the process and get an update. And then finally, understand that it may be a little bit difficult on purpose, just like stores, some stores make it very difficult to return anything that you purchase. And some stores make it very easy. There's differences as well in the colleges as far as how difficult it might be, and how receptive they are to even considering changing things. Now, as I mentioned early on, if you're just starting the college search process, I think understanding this appeal process can help you lay the groundwork for a successful appeal.
In the interview, again, we talked a little bit about how it was hard to schedule an appointment early on and talk to somebody in financial aid, and how he was lucky that he found an email address of an actual person, so that he was able to actually get some results. So how you can use this, if you're just starting to do your visits, of course, is to understand that this is in the future, potentially. And if you meet someone in financial aid, you need to grab their card, get their email, and chat with them a little bit and kind of get their permission and find out can I contact you later on if I have questions? Or if they say, 'Well, this is the process,' or whatever it might be, write it down and remember what they said. And again, once you've visited five or six schools, it'll get confusing as to who you talk to and who you didn't, so take good notes, as well. Also, spend some time on the website of each of the colleges, and ask questions on your visit about the appeal process. In other words, if you go to their website, and they have very clear instructions on how the appeal process might work, then you can ask questions about that webpage and gather even more information. If there's no information at all about how the appeal process works, that might be a question you want to ask, before you apply to get a feel for what you might be up against. So again, it's just another piece of the puzzle that many families may or may not base their decisions on. But if you can keep good notes and keep track of all the people you talk to and that type of thing. It'll give you a big leg up later on in the process when you need to go back and try and figure out what went wrong, or if you need help adjusting a form. Or again, if your life circumstances have changed, and you need someone to help you through the process of, 'Well, now that we're lost our business or we're unemployed, how do we go about correcting our financial aid and that type of thing?'
Alright, that's all we have for today. Hopefully, you've learned a ton and you can apply this to your life and make your financial aid situation turn out a little bit better. As always, we have shownotes available at tamingthehighcostofcollege.com/135 for this particular episode. And there will be links to all the things that we've talked about in this episode as well. If you're enjoying this podcast, we would appreciate it if you gave us a review and wherever you downloaded your podcast, or share it with friends and family or talk to your school counselor and let them know that we're out there. Again because many families just don't know we exist. And they don't know that the help is out there. That's all for this week. We will see you next week.
Thank you for listening to the Taming the High Cost of College Podcast. Now it's time for you to take action. Head to tamingthehighcostofcollege.com for show notes, bonus content and to leave feedback for Brad. The next step on your college journey starts now. Brad Baldridge is a registered representative of Cambridge Investment Research and an investment advisor representative of Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, a registered investment advisor. Securities are offered through Cambridge Investment Research Incorporated, a broker dealer and member of FINRA and SIPC. Brad owns two companies: Baldridge Wealth Management and Baldridge College Solutions. The Baldrige companies are not affiliated with Cambridge Investment Research.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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