Saturday, December 3, 2016

Did Maura Take Off With More Money Than We Thought?

Here's a comment that came in today from a reader who works with financial aide:

I'm a university academic advisor with expertise in financial aid, so I wanted to offer some insight on this.

At a school like UMass, most students receive the following types of financial aid:
-- scholarships
-- Pell Grant
-- Direct Loans
-- PLUS Loan

Direct Loans are fairly small ($3,750 per semester for juniors/seniors), but the PLUS Loan exists to supplement whatever is not covered by the other forms of financial aid. The PLUS Loan can also provide a substantial refund (often around $4,000+) to be used for books, supplies, and other expenses.

The PLUS Loan is always in the parent's name, and the PLUS Loan refund always goes to the parent unless the parent authorizes the school's financial aid office to issue the refund directly to the student. Some parents use private loans (such as Sallie Mae) instead of the PLUS Loan, but usually the PLUS Loan has a lower interest rate.

HERE'S THE IMPORTANT THING: Maura went missing around the exact time she would have gotten her spring semester refund check. If you look at UMass academic calendar for spring 2017, for example, you'll see that classes start on January 23, and the last day to drop or add classes is February 6. Financial aid disburses after the last day to drop or add classes, and students receive refunds approximately one week after the last day to drop or add classes -- putting it squarely on February 13.

If Maura was indeed planning to disappear, she may have been waiting to receive her financial aid refund check. She could have picked it up, cashed it, and left town.

Universities cannot release any information related to student financial records because of FERPA. They can't even release information to parents unless the student signs a consent form, but they would of course release information to law enforcement if warranted.

30 comments:

  1. What ever happened to confidentiality?

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    1. No violation of confidentiality here. Someone who understands the ins and outs of student loans (moreso than the average Joe) is following up on an earlier post about the same topic. The person even includes that an individual student's records are never disclosed because of The FERPA. Sharing information and educating in order to build upon a theory is not violating confidentiality.

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  2. Isn't this post a repeat essentially?

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    1. I thought that at first but I think this post is here to support the initial theories and conjecture on the possibility of the loan refund -- because this one is from someone who works with these loans and can provide solid facts.

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  3. PLUS loans must be paid back by parents and therefore must be signed by parents. If there was a refund paid to student, the parent would be notified and aware. FERPA does not apply because the loan is to parents, not student.
    This is not too say it could not have happened, just that the Murrays would have access to information.

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  4. Damn, I like where this is going towards Maura's disappearance (leaving everything behind vs. dying in the snow). Fred shows up with a lot of cash, Maura cleans out what little amount she has left in her checking account...

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  5. If she received a check for that amount she would of had to deposit it first and wait till it cleared.It was said that Maura almost emptied her bank account with a $280 withdrawal. I just don't see how she could have cashed a big check.

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    1. I was thinking the same thing but then I remembered those check cashing places. A check over $1,000 would come with a boatload of fees but would be a good way to get cash quickly if she needed to get out of dodge. They are generally all over the place in lower income areas. She would have driven few quite a few towns and cities that would have them on her way to the site of the accident. Holyoke, MA, about 25 minutes from campus is also a place they'd be on every corner.

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    2. You can go to the bank that issued the check and pay a $10 fee to get it cashed. No waiting involved. Most of those loan places have accounts with National Banks like Chase. It's not unheard of. I too worked in the Bursar's office of a college for years and can confirm the information in this post.

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    3. I have lived in the area for 26 years. There is not a check cashing place "on every corner" in Holyoke, then or now, and check cashing establishments would have a record of a check cashed - and so would the school who issued the check. It would not be difficult to track the money if this were the case.

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  6. Without proof, we're stuck. LE won't say if they have that proof.

    Still, Thank You for keeping the case warm.

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  7. She could have cashed the check with the bank that issued it. I've done this many times with paychecks back in the day.

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  8. My problem remains: it's been said her account was expecting direct deposit $$ in the coming days (weeks). Why not wait?

    And why not take the money Fred had? (she had car related papers and used his car.)

    idk I think this is just convoluting things.

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    1. I'm sorry, I've never read anywhere that Maura was expecting to receive direct deposit of financial aid funds. Are you referring to direct deposit for financial aid (which probably would have been in the thousands), or for her campus jobs (which wouldn't have been much at all)?

      I don't mean to convolute things or to add "white noise" to the case. I'm only trying to help. If Maura had a few thousand dollars more than we thought, that could be a game-changer.

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  9. @jwb - Hi, I'm the person who wrote the original post above. I understand why you would assume that, but actually, Maura could have simply cashed it at the bank (or she could have set up direct deposit and withdrawn it at her local bank branch in Amherst).

    I work with students on financial aid every day in my job, and over the years I've seen every possible scenario. Basically, all Maura would have needed to do was pick up the check, go to the bank that holds the account for UMass financial aid refunds, and get it cashed.

    I actually did this in graduate school. My first semester, I was new to town and didn't even have a checking account yet. But the bursar's office told me that I just needed to go to Bank of America with 2 photo IDs, and they would cash it. The bank also took my thumbprint. This was a common practice.

    If all of Maura's loans were in her name, then the refund check would have been made payable to her. If she had a Parent PLUS LOan, the refund check would have been made payable to Fred - UNLESS he completed an authorization form for the refund to be made payable to Maura. Go to https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/direct-loan-basics-parents.pdf and see p. 8 ("How will I receive my loan money?").

    UMass's spring semester started on Wednesday, January 28, 2004. (Go to https://www.umass.edu/senate/sites/default/files/2003-2004%20Calendar-Sen.%20Doc.%20No.%2000-023.pdf to see the academic calendar). As long as Maura attended each of her classes during the first week of the semester, her financial aid would have disbursed and a refund would have been issued.

    I cannot promise that UMass follows exactly the same timeline as the school where I work -- but it's my understanding that federal financial aid works exactly the same way at every single college (since the school would get in trouble if they didn't follow the Dept. of Ed.'s rules).

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    1. Yes, I too worked in a Bursars office. The amount of time that a college can hold onto federal grant funds like the Pell grant is federally regulated and the funds have to be released within that time frame (48-72 hours of I remember correctly) to avoid having fines. Most schools mandate that checks be mailed because they typically use third party payroll services that are PCI compliant so picking up the checks at the school is not even an option in some cases. However, there are always smaller batches of checks that are run after the initial large drop of financial aid and most colleges do these on campus in their AP dept. If her check wasinnine of these runs she could have picked it up.

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    2. One would think that if Maura Murray cashed a large check at an area bank from financial aid that this would have turned up in the normal cours of an investigation. In fact, almost impossible to figure that it would no have.

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  10. So next year students will receive their money on February 13. Didn't MM leave on the 9th? The time frame seems off by quite a bit.

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    1. The exact date varies slightly from year to year according to the academic calendar. Here's how it works:

      -- On a certain date, classes start. Financial aid is on hold until student verifies their enrollment by attending classes.
      -- 7 days later, financial aid disburses (i.e., the money "pays out" to the student's account).
      -- Once that happens, the school begins printing out refund checks. The check can be printed out, mailed, or deposited via direct deposit.

      In Maura's case, UMass's spring semester began on Wednesday, January 28, 2004. Her financial aid would have disbursed around Feb. 4, and then her refund check would have been mailed to her or ready for pick up (in either case, she probably would have received it around Feb. 8 or 9).

      Obviously, I can't state anything definitively because student records are protected by federal law. However, it's POSSIBLE that Maura was waiting to receive her financial aid refund check before heading out of town, whether she intended to get away for a few days or to vanish permanently. The $280 she withdrew from the ATM would't have gone very far.

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  11. From what I've read on this website, it seems the theory it promotes is that Maura wanted to run away from her life, so she drove away, and had some friends of hers drive along with her, who then picked her up from the crash site and continue to their destination. At least that's my understanding.

    I'm a little confused on this idea, so I hope someone can help me out. What is the purpose of driving along with some other friends in a different vehicle? Why are her friends coming along at all, if she's running away from everyone in her life? And if she and they were going to some destination, why wouldn't she ride in their car? I don't get the idea of driving in two vehicles to the same place.

    I'm sure these questions have been addressed in the past, but I haven't been able to find where. If someone can explain the "tandem driver/runaway" theory to me in its entirety, I'm sure I'll have a much better grasp on this case.

    Thank you all and I appreciate it.

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  12. The one thing this makes me think of is what happened with tuition and school fees when she disappeared after having told professors about a family "thing?"

    I just don't think her random road trip was too planned, meaning I believe the decision to escape was somewhat sudden and not meant to be permanent. I just do.

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  13. James, is the post concerning the happy emails between her pre-college friends still public? The ones that show her acting normal and talking about some concert?

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  14. Let's still remember that if she did take off, which I think is most likely, she probably had a good reason. And it's far too late to come forward now. The media attention along would disrupt or destroy whatever life, peace, and safety she has now.
    If that is the case, we don't want her to be found; we want her to stay safe wherever she is.

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  15. Also, having boat loads of cash on your person could allude to even more reason to rob someone of the money, then on to possibly kidnapping and then murder. Of course this scenario would be more likely a person close to Maura, that would have known a few days in advance, that she would be coming into a large amount of cash. Worse things have happened over $100..........

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  16. OK I found this piece and although it is a different bank it sounds what I thought to be common practice.
    "We welcome you to TD Helps, Melissa. You've brought up a great topic, so let's discuss!

    As a TD Customer, when cashing a check that is written off of a TD Bank Account, it is not​ required to have the funds available in your Checking Account. However, if the check is w​ritten off of a different Financial Institution, in order to cash the check you would need​ to have the funds available in your Checking Account to cover it."

    So if Mauras bank happened to be the same bank that the check was written on then she would be good to go. I believe the pen in Mauras car said first citizen Credit union.

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  17. That doesn't mean she didn't perish in the wilderness.

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  18. I have always thought that she took her fathers $4000 that was supposed to be used for another car as it never made any sense that she could have rented a room in Vermont for a week with the $200 she had.....

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  19. Didn't she have or was owed checks from her job? SWhe would have left them? I don't know...

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  20. I don't think it matters unless were talking life changing money. I don't think its likely Maura ran away to start a life elsewhere and succeeded, unless she had someone to take care of her. When would she have the time to plan something so masterful at her age. She was disoriented, drunk, and likely on the verge of a nervous breakdown or some other mental lapse or illness. All the statistics and probabilities regarding different theories of what happened are applied both ways, dead or alive, absolutely anything could have happened. For someone her age to go all these years without any contact is not good at all, time heals a lot of wounds and she left a lot of people she loved in the cold.

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  21. If a 16 year old can do this without being found out for 5 years, imagine what a 21 year old ex-Westpoint cadet can do.

    http://portcitydaily.com/2016/12/09/north-carolina-teen-missing-more-than-5-years-rachel-owens-is-located-in-ohio/

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