Thank you for your openness to following God’s call for your life!
First of all, please know that we are praying for you and your vocation.
Entrusted to the care of St. Joseph, our St. Joseph Student Debt Relief Grant Program assists men and women seeking to enter religious life by paying off the amount of student debt aspirants have at the time of their entry.
I have other, non-student debts. Can you help me with them?
No. Our grant programs are only for debt used to pay for education.
I borrowed from my parents (brother, sister, uncle, etc.) to go to school. Can I apply for a grant to pay them back?
In almost all cases: No. We need documentary proof that ties the debt to payments made for education. Family lending situations do not generally result in the kind of documentation we would require.
My parents borrowed to pay for my school costs. Can an MEFV grant pay my parent's debt?
No. An MEFV grant pays only the education debts incurred by the grant recipient.
I'm in seminary and having a hard time paying for tuition, books and room and board. Can you help me?
No. The MEFV only helps men who are prevented from beginning their formation for the priesthood because of their pre-existing student loans. If you are experiencing difficulty with seminary costs and are in the United States, consider contacting your local Knights of Columbus council or a local chapter of the Serra Club.
The order I'm entering requires that I pay for my health insurance and other costs in the first few years. Can I apply to the Fund for Vocations for help in paying those costs?
No. The MEFV only helps remove the obstacle to religious life presented by pre-existing student loans. If you are experiencing difficulty with dowry expenses and are in the United States, consider contacting your local Knights of Columbus council or a local chapter of the Serra Club.
Should I Fundraise to Enter Religious Life?
Some fundraising campaigns for this purpose are very successful, many (perhaps most) are not. You should honestly evaluate your situation and yourself and answer these questions:
- Do you already have lots of contacts? Fifty to a hundred, or more? Letter writing campaigns depend on volume because, in the normal course of events, response rate and/or gift size will be low.
- Do you live in a well-to-do parish or does your parish church have difficulties in making ends meet? A parish event can be more personable, which is good, but there still needs to be the capacity to give.
- If your parish will be hard-pressed to help, will a wider reach to the diocese be productive? Keep in mind that you will have fewer connections than within your parish, so that working in the diocese will require more time to make new connections.
- Are you naturally outgoing? Introverts can raise money successfully, but they must really work at being more outgoing. If you could never see yourself working as a door-to-door salesman, raising money will be difficult.
- Do you need to spend money before you can begin fundraising? There must be a very good chance that the fundraising activity will produce more in donations than it costs to operate. Don’t forget to include any required travel expenses in your calculations.
- Will the most likely level of proceeds from fundraising make more of an impact than, say, getting another job and lowering your expenses? Everyone has heard of people who have held clever and innovative campaigns and gotten lots of donations. Be honest with yourself about whether you can do the same, even as you must be honest with yourself after entry as you proceed in spiritual formation. In the vast majority of cases we see, results of personal fundraising are a small fraction of the need. Most often your time be better spent working more hours and cutting more expenses.
That last bullet point is something of a Catch-22. Those with large loans may very naturally think that they will be unable to pay their loans completely without help and therefore they should engage in fundraising. However, if your plan is apply to the MEFV for help, you do not need to completely eliminate your debt, just make it smaller in ways that will lower your payments.
Because the results of personally fundraising are very uncertain (but most often small), we think you should prioritize your efforts as follows:
- Earn as much as you can (even if that means not working in a ministry for the Church), applying as much of your earnings as possible to your loans.
- Cut your expenses to the bone.
- Fundraise, only if it does not add to your expenses.
I have been, or intend to do, fundraising myself. Can I direct my donors to send their gifts to the MEFV, restricted to my benefit, so that they can receive a tax deduction for their gift?
No. IRS rules state that a gift directed to the benefit of an individual is not tax deductible. They further state that passing the donation through a tax-exempt organization will not make a non-deductible gift deductible. You can read this portion of IRS publication 526 for details. This should not be construed as tax advice, consult a professional if you need tax advice.
For those who really wish to help you or promote vocations, the inability to receive a tax deduction for their gift will be of small consequence.
Can I apply for an MEFV grant if I am working with the Laboure Society?
You may apply for an MEFV grant while working on a Laboure Society crew, but your application will not be presented to the MEFV review board until the work of the crew has come to an end and you have an award letter from the Laboure Society.
If you are working with the Laboure Society, or are thinking of doing so, you should contact us to find out how it may affect your particular situation.
Can I apply for a grant if I've already entered my order?
Yes. However, if you are denied, it is very unlikely that you will be allowed to re-apply. Read the answer to the “Why can’t I re-apply if I enter my order?” question to learn why.
Can I apply for a grant if I'm still in school?
No. We can only issue grants to people who have stopped incurring student debt and are ready to enter. If you know you are going into religious life, please consider leaving school now. See the next Q & A.
I know I have a vocation to religious life, but I have one or more semesters until I graduate from college. I will have to borrow for tuition and/or other costs to continue my education. What should I do?
We think you should stop your schooling at the end of your current term and enter religious life as soon as possible.
If you have a call to religious life, but are currently in school, you may be struggling to decide what to do next. Should you continue your education or stop for now as you apply for entry into religious life?
Here are a few things to consider with the assistance of your spiritual director:
- Consider the prudence of increasing your debt burden when you know you have a vocation. It will be that much more difficult to pursue your vocation, resulting in a greater delay or a higher dependence on the charity of others.
- If you expect to apply to the MEFV for a grant, consider the justice of increasing your debt when you do not intend to pay the debt yourself.
- Do not worry, nor let others influence you, with the false concern of having something to “fall back on” if you should later discern you do not have a vocation to religious life. You can easily restart your education should you leave religious life as the credits you have now will be valid for at least another ten years. And should you need to do so, you will have matured and be a better student because of your experience.
- Finally, should your spiritual director advise that you continue your education, ask him or her to help you develop a plan for the timely payment of your resulting debt so that your vocation is not delayed.
NOTE: Acquiring more debt with the intention of eventually applying for a grant from the MEFV does not constitute a proper plan. The MEFV exists for those who acquired their debt before they were aware of their vocation.
Why must I agree to release some personal information to be able to apply for a grant?
There are two reasons:
- The IRS requires non-profits to report the identity of individuals receiving grant money and the amount of funds received to their benefit, if that amount is over a certain annual limit. Thus, if you receive a grant, we may be required to report your identity in our annual public IRS filing.
- We raise the money we use to pay grants by reaching out to the Catholic faithful and asking for donations. To be effective, this fundraising work must quantify the actual need. The minimum release of information we require helps to do so. However, to be truly effective, we need to tell your whole story. So we ask, although we do not require, that you also sign the more complete release.
Please note that we will never release the kind of personal information that can lead to identity theft, such as, social security numbers, home street addresses, loan account numbers, etc. That kind of information is kept in our private files and not shared outside the grant administrative staff.
My order will not issue a letter of acceptance until my debts are paid. What should I do?
Ask the superior to write the letter stating that your acceptance is contingent on your debt being cleared or covered by third party. Acceptance letters with contingencies for debt qualify as the acceptance letter needed with your application.
Grant Award Timing
My entrance date is coming up this spring (or summer, or fall). If I have to wait to apply in the winter, I will have to wait a whole year for another chance to enter. Can you make an exception for me?
No. We have developed our procedures and schedules with the aim of keeping our grant-making fair for all applicants and workable for our volunteer application review board members. Our resources are limited to the funds that we can raise and we have to proceed in an orderly way.
We are completely aware that spring is a common time to come to a fuller understanding of one’s vocation and that yearly entrance dates are usually in the late summer and fall. We did not choose our application schedule without reflection. We invite you to consider that waiting a year to apply will give you a chance to work your debt down some on your own and to exercise the virtue of patience.
I have applied for a grant, but I will enter my order before the MEFV's yearly award announcements. What should I do about my student loans?
You need to have a plan for keeping your student loans current, that is, making the minimum monthly payments while you are in religious life. You must inform us as to what that plan is in response the to application question: If you enter religious life BEFORE the grant date of March 1 next year, how do you intend to pay your loans after your entry? By signing the application, you certify that you understand you will not be able to reapply for a grant if you stop making payments on your student loans.
I have received a grant, but I will not enter my order for some months. What should I do about my student loans?
MEFV grant payments do not begin until you enter, so you must keep making payments on your student loans. Make at least the minimum monthly payment. If you were successful at making pre-payments, keep doing whatever made that possible (such as working) for as long as you can so that you can continue to overpay. This is a good way to thank the MEFV while you wait for entry.
If I'm denied a grant can I re-apply next year?
Yes. If you are denied a grant and you continue to make good faith efforts to pay your student loans, you can re-apply. In the year between applications, you should work to pay down your debt as aggressively as you can. Doing so will improve your chance of receiving a grant next time. If you are able, you should pay more than the minimum monthly payments on your loans. See this answer to learn how best to structure extra payments. If you cannot afford to make the minimum payments, you need to find a way to change your situation so that you can.
If I enter my order, can I re-apply?
The primary reason is because after entry to most religious institutes and seminary formation programs you will no longer be able to earn money to pay down your debt. We permit re-application because we expect that in the intervening time you will be working to pay down your debt. With a lower debt balance, you improve your chances of receiving a grant. With no improvement in your debt balance, there is no reason for the review board to reevaluate your request for a grant.
If your formation program allows you to work or if some other source of making your debt payments is available, then you may be able to reapply after entrance. The key thing is to continue to make at least the minimum payments on your debt while you wait to reapply.
Secondarily, from our perspective your order is implicitly accepting responsibility for the eventual payment of your debt by allowing you to enter. Currently, the Fund’s resources are very limited: we turn down half of our applicants. If your order is willing to take responsibility for your debt, we will direct our limited resources to other applicants who have no such support.
If I receive a grant but later discern the order is not right for me, can you hold my grant until I find a new order?
No. Grants are issued for the unique combination of a person, a religious institute and a particular entry to that institute.
If you determine that your vocation is not with the institute for which the grant was issued and you therefore leave formation, the grant terminates. We cannot hold the grant open while you discern for another religious institute. You must reapply, according to the regular application schedule, if you later wish to receive assistance to enter a different institute. Having previously received a grant is neither detrimental nor beneficial to your chances of receiving a subsequent grant. You must reapply even if you discern that you should return to your original institute.
If I can make more than the required monthly payments, what is the best way to apply the extra payments to improve my chances of getting a grant?
To improve your chances of getting a MEFV grant, your goal in pre-paying your loans should be to lower the monthly cost of keeping your loans current, that is, the sum of all the monthly payments for your loans.
The Best Way To Make More Loan Payments
If you are in the fortunate position of being able to pay more on your student loans than the required monthly payments, this will certainly improve your chances of receiving an MEFV grant. The cost of keeping your loans current is the cost to the MEFV of issuing you a grant. A lower cost to issue the grant means a higher chance of getting a grant.
Lowering the monthly cost of your loans can be done in two possible ways:
- Completely pay off one or more loans. Doing so will eliminate the monthly payment for that loan, so that when you apply to the MEFV, the monthly cost of keeping your debt current will be reduced.
- Begin by making the minimum payments on all your loans, and applying whatever additional payment you can make to the loan with the lowest balance. If multiple loans are included in one payment, you will probably have to instruct your lender how you want the additional payment applied. When you get the lowest one paid, you will have that much more each month to apply to the next lowest, and so on.
As you proceed with step 1., direct the lender to use extra payments to advance the due date into the future. When you make extra payments, a lender can choose to do one of two things:
- Advance the due date of the next payment into the future. As you make additional payments, you will be paying the current month, as well as some or all of future months. The lender will then see that those future months are paid and your next monthly statement will show that a lower amount (even zero!) is due for that month. Ignore the lower amount shown on the statement and keep making payments, and this will put the due date further and further into the future.
- When we issue a grant for loans in this condition, we can effectively re-amortize the loan to derive a smaller monthly payment, which we will make even though no payment is currently due. This is the choice to make if you would like to increase your chances of receiving a grant from the MEFV. Again, you may need to contact your lender to make sure that the payments are being applied correctly.
- Shorten the term of the loan. That is, the lender will require the same monthly payment, but the loan will be fully paid sooner. For the purpose of improving your chances in getting an MEFV grant, this is a poor choice, because it has no effect on what it would cost the MEFV to issue a grant to you.
My loan is eligible for a grace period or other deferral. Should I take advantage of that?
Not if you can make payments.
Because of the interest that will accrue during the grace period and/or deferral (which means the loan amount will increase), we recommend that you start making payments as soon as you are able. This will serve to minimize the amount of interest that is added to your loan (capitalized) at the end of the deferral period and help to keep your monthly payments as low as possible.