Monday, July 16, 2007
Help Me Howard: College Tuition
A young South Florida woman with tuition trouble: Her parents put away money for years to send her to school, but she got a big surprise when she went to use it. It's tonight's Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- There is nothing like a big hug from your own child.
Marissa Gonzalez: "It's definitely life changing, and it's a wonderful experience being a mother to a child."
Patrick Fraser: "To take care of Dominic, Marissa knows she needs to better herself and has a plan in place."
Marissa Gonzalez: "[I] definitely was nervous going back to school for the first time. In August, I'll be starting my full schedule."
Patrick Fraser: "Marissa wants to be a nurse and, to guarantee it would happen, when she was a child her parents had set up a fund for her college education."
Marissa Gonzalez: "When my parents were together, they opened up a Florida Prepaid College program for me, and they paid for four years of college tuition and two years dormitory."
Patrick Fraser: "Fortunately, Marissa got a grant to go to nursing school, but she still needs that college money to pay for Dominic's day care as well as school supplies and other things."
Marissa Gonzalez: "Yes, definitely I could use this money. It would help me out a lot."
Unfortunately, Marissa's parents got divorced and her mother was given control of the pre-paid account and, right now, mother and daughter are not best friends.
Marissa Gonzalez: "Our relationship became really strained when I became pregnant with my son."
Patrick Fraser: "Strained they aren't talking to each other, so Marissa went ahead and tried to start withdrawing her college money."
Marissa Gonzalez: "It's there, but I cannot access the money because my mother has put a password on the account, and I don't know the password, so I cannot obtain access to the account."
Patrick Fraser: "Marissa then bit the bullet and called her mother to ask for the money. Let's just say the conversation didn't turn out well."
Marissa Gonzalez: "It's really upsetting. I would like to be able to access the money and definitely really help me out a lot, me and my family."
Patrick Fraser: "It's upsetting to her and confusing. After all, Marissa says, it's her money, why can't she have it?"
Marissa Gonzalez: "The account is under my name, under my social security number, but she is the account holder because when it was opened I was a minor."
Patrick Fraser: "Marissa then asked the state to allow her to access her prepaid account."
Marissa Gonzalez: "They said unless I know the password, they cannot release any information to me."
Patrick Fraser: "No password, no money, no luck, but what about the law? Howard, does the prepaid college money belong to the parent or the child?"
Howard Finkelstein, Seven's Legal Expert: "Unfortunately for Marissa, it doesn't matter what you want the money for, the account is owned by the person who purchases it, meaning usually it's the parent, and the child or student is the beneficiary of the gift if the parent choses to hand it over."
Patrick Fraser: "Marissa's mother told us it's not as simple as it sounds, that she has bent over backwards to help Marissa financially and has had it with her. She admitted it was a heartbreaking decision, but says Marissa wasn't entitled to this money and 'mommy is not a bank' and, more bad news for Marissa, according to her mother, there is no money there anyway. Florida Pre-Paid told her it was her gift to do what she wanted, so she cashed it in. So, Howard, is there anything parents and a child can do to prevent this in case of a divorce, a fued or a battle breaks out down the road?"
Howard Finkelstein: "The kids can't do anything because, legally, they have no right to the money. Now, if the parents get divorced, the pre-paid money is an asset, and you need to make sure that it's included in the divorce settlement, so that the judge can make it clear that the child does get the money. That did not happen in Marissa's case."
Patrick Fraser: "The good news, at least Marissa has a grant to get her through school. As for those books and caring for Dominic, she will have to come up with something else."
Marissa Gonzalez: "He's definitely sometimes hard to keep up with, but I guess that's what helped me lose all my pregnancy weight, that's for sure."
Patrick Fraser: "Now, if you are thinking, 'I'll just put the prepaid plan in both parents' name in case there is trouble,' that won't work. According to the state, only one parent's name can go on the plan, and that parent has all the control over it. In other words, if you're a teenager planning to let the prepaid plan pay your way through college, now may be a good time to quit screaming at your parents."
Bought a problem that is burdening you? Need to fund a solution? Contact us. We aren't bright enough to qualify for a scholarship, but we will give your trouble the old college try.
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