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3 common questions about financial aid and drug convictions

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP May 30, 2018

There are serious legal consequences to getting caught with drugs. In addition, a drug-related criminal conviction could limit your eligibility for federal financial aid. Depending on your financial situation, this could mean that you might end up having to take out expensive student loans or take time off from school until you meet the requirements to reapply for financial aid in the future.

However, if you have a past conviction, you should not assume that you cannot receive federal financial aid — you should either look into your options yourself, or retain an experienced attorney to evaluate your eligibility to receive financial aid. While your criminal case is pending, you should ask your attorney to advise you regarding the impact of your various options on your current and future eligibility for federal financial aid.

Does a drug conviction mean I will lose my financial aid?

Not necessarily. When completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, you will be asked if you were convicted of a drug crime while receiving financial aid. This includes grants, work-study or loans. If the answer is yes, you will need to fill out an additional worksheet to determine eligibility. Your eligibility to receive federal financial aid may be suspended if the offense occurred while you were receiving financial aid.

Do I have to pay back any aid if I’m convicted of a drug crime?

Depending on your circumstance, you may have to pay back funds you have already received. For example, if you filled out a FAFSA form and said “no” to whether you have been convicted of a drug crime, but then got convicted after submitting the form, then you might have to return any funds you received during a period of ineligibility.

Can I reapply for financial aid after a drug conviction?

You can regain eligibility for financial aid after a drug conviction. To regain eligibility early, you will need to pass two unannounced drug tests or complete an approved drug rehabilitation program. Another option to regain eligibility is to wait until you regain eligibility based on the age of your conviction.

Of course, the best thing to do to avoid losing eligibility is to avoid a conviction that will trigger that consequence. It is important to understand that an arrest is not the same as a conviction. If you have been arrested, or believe that you are going to be arrested, in connection with a suspected crime involving drugs, you should reach out to a Boulder criminal defense attorney immediately.