Thursday, September 24

Federal financial aid policy hinders off-campus students from paying rent on time

Many students rely on private loans to pay for housing, but the disbursement times don’t line up with when rent is due for non-UCLA housing. This is due to federal regulations not being flexible and not taking into account how students actually use private loans. (Emily Ng/Daily Bruin)

Jan. 1. New year, new you, right? All that’s on your mind is that it’s time to start eating at Bruin Plate and hitting up the Bruin Fitness Center regularly.

Unless you live off campus, in which case rent is the only thing on your mind.

In order to pay for UCLA, some students have to ask for private loans, which often have high interest rates. When students apply for private loans, they have their credit scores checked and sign contracts with the institution issuing the private loan. This institution then sends UCLA, not the student, the loan money – which can cover tuition, rent or extra fees depending on the amount rewarded. After being used to pay off a student’s BruinBill, UCLA disburses a refund of the remaining amount to students. This is important for students who live off campus and have to pay for their rent.

The catch: UCLA must adhere to federal regulations regarding when it can disburse aid.

But a lot of UCLA students who live in non-UCLA housing in Westwood do not get to choose when their lease begins, and their rent is due on a date out of their control. While some apartment complexes allow a grace period of one to two days, this is not always enough time for the refund to reach the student. Students can be forced to pay for their rent out-of-pocket in order to pay on time, something that is not always economically feasible.

For example, refunds for winter quarter are disbursed Jan. 1. But that is not when the money reaches the student’s bank account.

“Financial aid disburses (within) two to three days with Bruin Direct, and, if not, it is mailed as a check (within) 10 to 12 business days,” said Amber Reveles, a student adviser for UCLA Financial Aid and Scholarships.

Federal and state regulations do not synchronize with students living outside UCLA-provided housing. UCLA must adhere to these rules, so it cannot prematurely disburse refunds to a student whose rent is due before the disbursement dates, said UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez. This leaves students scrambling for money in order to foot the cost of their rent.

Despite offering college students millions in loans every year to help alleviate the economic burden of college, federal and state governments still manage to inconvenience college students by not making that money accessible on time.

In order to assist students living in university housing, UCLA Housing works cohesively with UCLA Financial Aid and Scholarships so students can pay their rent on time with their financial aid.

For example, Amy Tuey, a third-year nursing student, lives on campus and takes out Stafford loans to help pay her school fees.

“I live on campus, so my loan auto-pays for part of my fees and my father pays the rest,” Tuey said.

However, students who live off campus do not have that convenience.

Vincent Loyal, a fourth-year biology student, takes out federal loans to pay for housing. He said because his rent is due Jan. 1, his parents have to pay for his rent out-of-pocket before they are refunded.

But not everyone’s parents are economically able or willing to help pay for their children’s fees, meaning the federal government is using them as a crutch to temporarily close the gap between when fees are due and when money to pay them is available.

UCLA provides emergency loans when students need money before refunds for housing are disbursed. But emergency loans are a retroactive fix to a problem in federal policy. Students can ask for up to $200 or $350 depending on whether they meet particular criteria or are employed. Yet UCLA itself, in its expected cost of attendance, lists housing costs as $939 a month – emergency loans will surely fail to cover any student’s entire rent.

Basically, UCLA has to pick up federal and state governments’ slack and attempt to put a Band-Aid on the gaping issue of the misalignment of disbursement and due dates for students in nonuniversity housing. As UCLA cannot preemptively disburse money, it is left with the task of trying to mitigate financial issues for students. If federal regulations gave more leeway for financial aid disbursement dates, UCLA would not have to expend resources on this.

This is an issue that has already been brought to the attention of the U.S. Department of Education. A federal register document from 2015 published a commenter’s note that the delay in access to refunds “(negates) the intended benefit of the regulations to give students timely access to their financial aid funds.”

That was 3 1/2 years ago.

Of course, it would be difficult for the federal government to disburse aid money based on every single student’s rent date schedule. But most rent dates are predictable, and students should be able to receive the full amount of their financial aid refund in time for their rent due date with proper documentation.

Certainly, universities like UCLA try to dull this financial blow by providing emergency loans and direct deposit, among other things.

But that’s equivalent to using tape to patch a leaking pipe instead of having a plumber replace the unit – a temporary measure at best.

Opinion columnist | News contributor

Lewis is an Opinion columnist and News contributor.

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