Decimal points are small, and so easy to lose. And it appears that many of them were lost on FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms, which is NOT a place that you would want incorrect data. According to an official document from July 18, people filling out the form were supposed to round monetary values to the nearest dollar, rather than using exact dollar-and-cents amounts. But some people put down cents anyway, and the computer didn’t alert them, or tell them there was a problem. No, it slyly accepted the amounts, and then threw all the decimal points in the trash, so [as the official memo said], and income that had been recorded as $5000.19 was suddenly interpreted as $500019, which is one heck of a sweet income and probably enough to disqualify you from most financial aid.
This didn’t happen with just a couple people, either – The Wire says that 200,000 people are likely to be affected. And because it’s more than just a couple, schools have to look at all those applications, every single one, to catch any errors. Those errors might be that people didn’t get aid who should, which is a bummer, but it could also mean that people got too much money. That doesn’t sound as bad initially, but the July 18 memo says, ” If such aid has already been disbursed the institution may need to change awards and return (or have the student return) any overawarded funds.” I can’t imagine that it will go over all that well for a school to tell someone to give back money that was promised, so I suspect this messiness will last a while.
Hat tip to Yousuf for pointing out this article!