Families whose homes were damaged by superstorm Sandy have one more insult they can add to their list of injuries: Unless they are careful, their children's student aid packages might get nicked.
There are two reasons.
The first is that the insurance settlements these families receive could make them appear less aid-worthy.
The second is families might delay filing tax returns so they can properly calculate their losses. But that could mean they do not have all the information they need to file their financial aid forms. And when it comes to financial aid, the early applicant often gets more money.
By law, any assets you have at the time you submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, including money an insurance company gives you to buy a new car or fix your damaged house -- are factored into the calculation of how much tuition assistance your child gets.
But do not despair: Financial aid officers have a way around this, as long as families know how to ask.
"We are allowed to use what is called 'professional judgment,' and on a case-by-case basis we can look at information on the application and make adjustments where they should be made," said Eileen Buckle, director of financial aid at Ocean County College in Sandy-struck Toms River, N.J.
In most cases, you should be fine as long as you document where the money came from and how you plan to use it.
Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FastWeb.com and FinAid.org, advises writing a letter to the financial aid office of the schools your child is applying to.
It should explain why you have extra money in your account and that you expect to use it to repair storm-related losses.
In the letter, explain all of your other storm-related costs that might not show up on your financial aid form -- hotel bills, new clothing and anything else your insurance did not cover.
Also provide check stubs to prove the money was from an insurance company, and any other documentation, such as a contractor's estimate, that proves how you will spend it.
If the insurance money is in your account the day you file your application, you must list it. Or you can tap-dance around this by not depositing the check until the application is submitted. Kantrowitz also suggests you open a separate bank account for your insurance funds to show that you are keeping the proceeds separate from your regular budget.
The Internal Revenue Service states that proceeds from Sandy-related insurance settlements are not taxable income. Therefore, you do not need to include them in the income portion of your application.