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How a DUI can impact your student loans

Posted by Neil Shouse | Mar 09, 2020 | 0 Comments

A DUI can only preclude you from getting federal student loans if drugs were found or if you are currently incarcerated. This could also cause a person to lose existing loans already granted. You may be ineligible to apply for federal aid for up to 2 years.

In addition to federal funding, a DUI conviction can impact:

  • state grants,
  • state loan programs,
  • private student loans, and
  • scholarships.

These sources of student aid have their own sets of rules.

police arresting teen
A DUI can only prohibit you from getting federal student loans if drugs were found or if you are currently incarcerated.

Can a DUI impact my federal student loans on its own?

Alone, a conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) will not impact your federal student loans, so long as:

  • you are not currently incarcerated1, and
  • you were not also convicted for drug possession or selling illegal drugs.2

Applications for all financial student aid use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA does not ask applicants about prior DUI convictions. It is only concerned with prior offenses related to drugs. Those drug-related offenses are:

  • drug possession, and
  • selling illegal drugs.

A DUI conviction – even one for drugged driving – is not included.

What if my DUI included a conviction for drug possession?

If police found illegal drugs in your car during the DUI investigation, it can threaten your federal student aid. The evidence can lead to a charge of drug possession. If you are convicted, you will have to report it on the FAFSA. You may lose your federal aid. You may be ineligible to apply for aid for up to 2 years.

Question 23 on the 2020-2021 FAFSA asks if you have ever been convicted for either:

  • possession of drugs, or
  • sale of illegal drugs.

Only convictions for offenses that happened while you were receiving federal student aid count. You also must have been enrolled in school at the time of the offense.

Example: Dale is enrolling in college for the first time at 42 years old. He was convicted for drug possession while in high school, at 18. He was not receiving federal student aid at that time. The conviction will not impact his federal student loan award.

If you were convicted for drug possession while receiving federal aid, you will lose your federal student loans. You will be ineligible for all federal student aid for:

  • 1 year after the date of conviction, if you only had 1 prior offense,
  • 2 years after the date of conviction, if you had 2 prior offenses.

Will I have to return my financial aid award?

If you are convicted of a drug-related offense after submitting the FAFSA and receiving federal aid, you may have to return it. Any financial aid that you received while ineligible because of the conviction will have to go back.

Can I go to rehab to regain eligibility for aid?

You can become eligible for federal loans again by completing an acceptable drug rehabilitation program.

A drug rehab program is considered acceptable if it includes at least 2 unannounced drug tests and is either:

  • qualified to receive federal, state, or local funding, or
  • administered or recognized by a federal, state, or local court or government agency.

If you complete the rehab, you can become eligible for federal aid, once again. You will have to apply to receive an aid award.

man behind bars
People who are currently incarcerated are ineligible for many federal student loans.

What if I am currently in jail for a DUI conviction?

People who are currently incarcerated are ineligible for many federal student loans. This includes anyone in jail for DUI.

However, this only applies to loans for courses being taken while in jail. If an inmate will attend college after being released, he or she can apply for a federal loan while in jail. The financial aid would then be processed when the inmate gets out of jail. It will be ready when he or she starts school.

Does it matter where I am incarcerated?

Where you are incarcerated will matter. It can change what types of federal aid you are eligible to receive. This can have a trickle-down effect, as some aid is contingent on other financial aid awards.

State or federal prison

If you are in a state prison or a federal prison, you will be ineligible for:

  • A Federal Pell Grant, and
  • federal student loans.

Additionally, you will struggle to receive other federal financial assistance for school, like:

  • federal work-study, and
  • a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or FSEOG.

Students who receive a Pell Grant are given priority for FSEOG funds. If you are incarcerated in state or federal prison, you will be ineligible for a Pell Grant. This makes it unlikely that you will be considered for an FSEOG grant, though you can still apply for one.

Work-study is also unlikely if you are incarcerated. Few work-study jobs can be performed from jail.

County jail

If you are incarcerated in county jail, you will still be ineligible for federal student loans. However, you will be eligible to apply for a Federal Pell Grant.

If you receive a Pell Grant, your chances of receiving FSEOG funding increase drastically.


Legal References:

  1. Department of Education, “Federal Student Aid for Students in Adult Correctional and Juvenile Justice Facilities,” (February 2019).

  2. See 2020-2021 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), Question 23 and Student Aid Eligibility Worksheet for Question 23.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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