The HEROES Act is a confusing topic because there are many pieces of legislation that incorporate the phrase “Heroes Act”. They include the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act passed in 2006 that forbids public protests within 300 feet of the entrance of any cemetery under control of the VA-operated National Cemetery Administration.
Other pieces of legislation that incorporates the phrase include the Homes for Heroes Act of 2013, and the Comprehensive Homes for Heroes Act of 2017. In both of these cases, the specific legislation or versions of it failed to become law, but a Google search on the term “Heroes Act” will yield those results and much more.
What we’re discussing here is the 2003 HEROES Act. In this case, HEROES stands for Higher Education Relief Opportunities For Students (HEROES) Act of 2003, also known as Public Law 108-76.
This law was created to make sure military members receiving federal student aid will not be penalized for military service or have their educational journey adversely affected by military service.
The protections afforded those who qualify for them include special consideration for loan forbearance, student loan cancellation, how overpayment of certain financial aid is handled, and when a student is permitted to get additional time to pay on student loans in default.
HEROES Act protections, as we’ll learn below, are not automatic and must be applied for. Your student loan servicer and the school financial aid office will be two very important points of contact for claiming these protections depending on circumstances and other variables.
The Basic Structure Of The HEROES Act of 2003
According to information published by the Federal Register, the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act of 2003 is a law that requires the government to “publish waivers or modifications to statutory or regulatory provisions applicable to the Title IV federal student aid programs to assist ‘affected individuals’ who are also federal student aid applicants and recipients.”
The HEROES Act was made permanent via Public Law 110-93, creating perpetual authority for the U.S. Department of Education to waive or modify statutory and regulatory provisions for federal student loans where borrowers are serving in a wartime capacity, military operation, or in times of national emergency.
The HEROES Act: Intended To Help “Affected Individuals”
The HEROES Act is not for everyone who receives federal student aid. It is intended only for what the law describes as affected individuals including (but not limited to) the following:
- Active duty military serving during a war, military operation or national emergency.
- National Guard members serving on active duty for more than 30 consecutive days during wartime, military operations, or during a national emergency.
- Those living or working in an officially declared disaster area by Federal, State or local officials, “in connection with a national emergency”.
- Those experiencing economic hardship as a result of a war, military operation, or national emergency.
How The HEROES Act Helps Affected Individuals
The original Federal Register description of HEROES Act rules published in 2003 states that the goals of the HEROES Act program include the following:
- Those receiving student financial assistance under title IV must not placed in a worse financial position (in connection with the student financial assistance) because they are “affected individuals”.
- These recipients of student financial assistance must not be “unduly subject to administrative burden or inadvertent, technical violations or defaults”.
- The affected individuals should not be penalized when “a determination of need for student financial assistance is calculated”.
- Affected individuals are not required to repay overpayment of grant funds based on the HEA’s Return of Title IV Funds provision.
What HEROES ACT Waivers Are Designed To Do
There are a variety of areas that a HEROES Act waiver can apply to, including financial need analysis where tax information is required. Under the act, a school may substitute “award year income information” for information from the previous tax year for Expected Family Contribution data.
This option permits a schools financial aid administrator to grant leeway due to the changing financial circumstances that may arise from serving on active duty in any qualifying circumstance. There is also an option for financial aid administrators to choose the right kind of financial aid for the affected individuals that makes the most financial sense for these students.
Written Request Waivers
There are rules associated with HEROES Act waivers including the ability to make certain “oral requests” that usually require notification in writing such as a leave of absence requirement in order to serve in uniform.
Satisfactory Academic Progress Waiver
An important waiver involved in the HEROES Act pertains to Satisfactory Academic Progress rules; an affected individual can have this progress requirement waived in connection with military service. The HEROES Act also provides protections against collection activities brought against affected individuals over student loans.
Loan forbearance rules are also affected by the HEROES Act including in-school deferment programs and requirements for student loan repayments; an affected individual can be given more time to pay before being declared in default or being subject to collection actions.
Those serving in qualifying military operations may be entitled to delay when student loans come due, how long the loans can be in forbearance status, and get additional consideration for what circumstances the student loans can be declared in default or delinquent.
Parental Signature Waivers
Under the HEROES Act, requirements for a parental signature are waived when the parents are affected individuals unable to provide them because of their status; high school guidance counselors or the financial aid administrator of the school in question are permitted to add signatures on the parent’s behalf.
“Rehabilitation” Of Certain Defaulted Student Loans
Under normal circumstances, a Direct Loan or FFEL Loan borrower is required to make nine on-time payments over ten months in a row to rehabilitate a defaulted student loan; under the HEROES Act, affected individuals are not required to make consecutive payments.
Lenders serving those affected by the HEROES Act in this area must not count missed payments during the protected service period as interruption “in the number of monthly, on-time payments required to be made consecutively”.
When the service member is no longer on protected status, the required qualifying payments may resume “at the point they were discontinued” as a result of the HEROES Act protections.
It is crucial to stay in touch with your loan officer or financial institution in cases like these to make sure your HEROES Act protections are applied, that your status as an affected individual is confirmed, and that you know when your payments will be required to resume.
Student Loan Cancellation Under The HEROES Act
According to documents published by The Federal Register, depending on the student loan program, an affected individual may qualify for student loan cancellation, “if they are employed full time in specified occupations, such as teaching or in law enforcement…”
In general, qualifying for student loan cancellation means working an uninterrupted minimum time period or time periods. Affected individuals under the HEROES Act may be able to have such consecutive service requirements waived if it is determined that the reason for the interruption is “related to the borrower’s status as an affected individual in this category.”
This means that “the service period required for the borrower to receive or retain a loan cancellation for which he or she is otherwise eligible will not be considered interrupted by any period during which the borrower is an affected individual in this category”.
HEROES Act Protections For Military Students Who Withdraw From School To Serve
A student who feels the need to withdraw from a school program due to their status as an affected individual and who is eligible for a “post-withdrawal disbursement” will be given an extension to the typical deadlines required for students and/or parents from 14 days to 45 days or a later deadline established by the school.
Under the HEROES Act guidelines, such disbursements are required no later than 180 days after the school sets the student’s withdrawal date.
Claiming Your Protections Under The HEROES Act
In most cases you will need to discuss your status as an affected individual under the HEROES Act with your institution’s financial aid department and also your loan servicer. These protections are not automatic and you may be required to supply documentation to certify your status.
You may need copies of current military orders, copies of military ID, statements from an orderly room or commander’s support staff indicating that you are a member of the U.S. military in good standing and outlining your current military service commitment.
It is strongly encouraged to notify the lender as soon as qualifying military service makes the member eligible for HEROES Act protections; delaying this notification may result in delays in establishing the required waivers for that particular affected individual.
HEROES Act rules and regulations are subject to change; some provisions may expire or be modified in future decisions or as the result of changes in federal law, new legislation that replaces older bills, etc.
It’s best to consult your loan servicer and student financial aid department to see what changes have occurred prior to the current school year or leading up to a new semester or term; you may be entitled to additional protections or consideration depending on how lawmakers have approached HEROES Act legislation or proposed replacements of it.
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