A student loan nightmare

By Eric Klotz

Getting less money than expected from Alberta Student Finance may be a slice of heaven compared to being forced to pay back your entire student loan within 90 days.

Calgarian and 2005 Devry graduate Tyler Gislason is facing that possibility after coming into conflict with Alberta Students Finance. ASF accused Gislason of misrepresenting information on his student loan application and claim he owes close to $36,000, the entire amount of his loan.

ASF randomly audits debtors to ensure validity of application information. In the event discrepancies arise, ASF enlists the support of Program Compliance and Investigations to pursue those suspected of fleecing ASF.

ASF claims Gislason should have been able to access resources from his then-girlfriend, also a full-time student receiving student loans.

“They felt I had access to funds I did not have,” said Gislason. “They wanted money for my entire loan and the only option I had was to write a formal appeal.”

Gislason, who earned a 3.8 grade-point-average in computer science, took ASF to task and compiled a comprehensive 13-page appeal.

“I was 100 per cent confident I would win, because I am right,” he said.

The point of contention was that Gislason had not claimed common-law marital status on his loan application.

“Because of a cohabitation agreement signed by me and my partner we relinquished the rights of common-law for our situation,” said Gislason, adding the cohabitation agreement stipulates both parties will not at any time seek financial support from each other and cannot claim mutual liability for debt.

Unfortunately for Gislason, ASF does not interpret a cohabitation agreement as justification for separate finances.

“Our policies are based on the expectations they will support each other financially,” said ASF communications representative Cam Traynor.

“[The cohabitation agreement] has no impact on our rights, in accordance with the regulations, to consider your common-law partner’s financial resources when determining your financial assistance,” said ASF in a Nov. 2005 letter to Gislason. Understanding ASF was not interested in his own legal obligations to his partner, Gislason researched the legality of common-law, as ASF understands it.

In 2003 Alberta law changed the rules of common-law living to a more contemporary Adult Interdependent Relationships Act. The new legal code declares an adult interdependent relationship ensues when two individuals have been living in an interdependent relationship for a minimum of three years, or living in an interdependent relationship with some permanence where there is a child by birth or adoption, or when the couple has entered into a written adult interdependent partner agreement.

“None of these criteria apply to my situation,” said Gislason. “In fact my partner and I made a concerted effort to opt out of any common-law obligation with our cohabitation agreement.”

According to Gislason, ASF promised no action would be taken towards outstanding debts during his appeal process. However he has since received a phone call from a collection agency.

“My otherwise perfect credit history has been thwarted,” said Gislason. “I now have a collection showing $6,000 for my millenium scholarship. I tried to obtain a consolidation loan to end my government liabilities but was denied because of a collection automatically initiated by [ASF]. How can someone fresh out of university cover these expenses?”

When he inquired about the collection, Gislason was told the part of the system responsible for repayment of millennium scholarship was initiated before recognition of the appeal could halt the process.

Gislason is still in the midst of his appeal. The process has been underway for two years and Gislason said he is now doubtful of a favourable outcome.

University of Calgary alumni Brock Balog had a similar problem when ASF sent his account to collections for the entire $2,000 given to him as a millennium grant.

“I got a letter from a collection agency demanding $2,000 in the next 90 days,” said Balog.

Balog had dropped one course and went into part-time student status. Unfortunately his application for financing stated he was full-time. Extenuating circumstances kept Balog from having the time to facilitate a full-time workload.

“In retrospect, I should have reflected more pensively on my loan application,” he said.

U of C Students’ Union vice-president external Jen Smith agrees.

“If a student has a change of circumstances they can go see an advisor, that’s what they are there for,” said Smith.

Smith said the province is involved in making the appeal process better, but in the mean-time students should make use of U of C Financial Services next to the library.

“Bring your application to Student Finances and make sure that everything is accurate.”

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