Taking the Fun Out of Refunds

 

In this article:

  • How to avoid paying fees when using your Higher One refund choice card.
  • Background on Higher One as a company, including controversy and lawsuits
  • What students think about the Higher One refund choice card
  • Why Hudson Valley chose to partner with Higher One

 

Hudson Valley students are welcomed to college with a MasterCard bearing the school’s logo.

Last year, nearly 16,000 financial aid refunds were issued to students at Hudson Valley. Since the summer of 2013, those refunds have been processed and disbursed by Higher One, a financial company that partners with over 1,000 schools around the country.

Students have three options if they will be receiving a refund: a paper check can be sent in the mail, the refund can be direct deposited to a personal bank account, or they can open a Higher One account and receive their money immediately.

49 percent of Hudson Valley students open a OneAccount, 28 percent direct deposit to a personal account, and 22 percent have a paper check mailed.

Higher One has been the subject of scrutiny in recent years. A letter to the company from three senators and four congressmen in 2013 expressed concern that students are “at risk of being nickeled and dimed by campus debit card partnerships.”

According to Hudson Valley comptroller Debra Story, Higher One approached the college about seven years ago to form a partnership.

“We were initially approached by Higher One’s business people and I wasn’t sure that it would be a good relationship for students. At that time it was the whole bank bailout thing and the country wasn’t feeling good about financial institutions. I was concerned that students might be taken advantage through their lack of experience with banking and incur unnecessary fees,” she said.

Higher One paid a settlement of $11 million in August 2012 to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Higher One was forced to change their fee structure and agree “not to make misleading or deceptive representations or omissions in its marketing materials.”

In the last year, Higher One has also reached a preliminary $15 million settlement in a class action lawsuit by students who accused Higher One of predatory and deceptive practices. Students who incurred fees from OneAccounts between 2007 and 2013 are eligible for payment.

Higher One has been criticized for unfair fee schedules and deceptive marketing, including the college logo on the card implying institutional endorsement.

The financial company continues to be investigated by the Federal Reserve and scrutinized by the United States Department of Education. They have admitted no wrongdoing in the settlements.

While Higher One has come under fire, they have also won the favor of many college administrations and students through the service they provide.

After the initial period of hesitation, Hudson Valley decided that Higher One provided students with an enhanced experience.

“We met with Higher One and they convinced me that they are sensitive to the fact that if they alienate the student population then they’re not going to get a lot of business,” said Story. “Partnering with Higher One enabled us to provide students with more options, better options, for receiving their financial aid refunds,” she said.

Many students at Hudson Valley are also satisfied. “I think it’s a good way of getting your refund and I think it’s a good system,” said Hudson Valley student Emily Phillips.

Chris Pier remembers the old days of having to pick up refund checks and appreciates the new system. “It’s faster than what they used to do,” he said.

“I like it. I think it’s an easy way to get money back instead of getting a check,” said Monty Shirley, One Account user.

At the same time, other students feel the process is confusing and there isn’t enough guidance in setting up and maintaining an account.

“It just showed up in the mail and I was like, ‘Oh this is cool.’ Then I went back to what I was doing and forgot about it. I don’t really know what it is,” said Hudson Valley student Logan Nelson.

Rufus Hoffman struggled to set up  said, “It wasn’t easy because I had to send them four documents. I had to send a picture of my social security card and license. It was really hard.”

“It confuses me. I had problems setting it up from the beginning,” said Justine Wescott.

“The process is too much. They want too much information and it’s too much of a hassle,” said Arturo Martinez, who hasn’t set up his account yet. Last year nearly 2,000 checks were mailed to Hudson Valley students who never chose a refund option.

Some students also feel that the process encourages opening a One Account.

“It definitely pushes you toward it,” said John Murray.

Elijah Camp is among the 22 percent minority of Hudson Valley students that choose to have a check mailed. He said, “I just chose the check. I read the terms and conditions and they end up charging you. It saves you a lot of money. If you read the overages, it’s crazy.”

Information on how to avoid fees can be found on the Hudson Valley Refund Choice card website: www.hvccrefundchoicecard.com. The Higher One card can be used without ever incurring fees and instructions for doing that are listed on the fee schedule page.

HOW TO AVOID FEES

 

  • Only use Higher One ATM machines. You will be charged $2.50 for using a non-Higher One ATM. There are Higher One ATMs in the McDonough Sports Complex, Marvin Library, and first floor of the Siek Campus Center.
  • Do not enter a PIN when making purchases. You will be charged 50 cents every time for doing so. Select credit and sign the receipt.
  • Make sure you have enough money to buy what you’re paying for. You will be charged $29 for insufficient or unavailable funds.
  • Don’t lose the card. It will cost $20 to replace it.

 

Over a million students at colleges and universities in the United States are at a school that partners with a financial company for refunds. Higher One is the biggest player in the industry.

They provide savings in time and money to the colleges (and sometimes kickbacks when students open accounts, though not at Hudson Valley) and convenience to students who use the account responsibly.

Higher One’s fee structure has become more lenient as a result of the lawsuits and actions from federal authorities. With 80 percent of their revenue coming from fees, the company’s business model has suffered some and its stock has struggled.

Hudson Valley is in the second year of a five-year contract with Higher One and thus far the biggest issue seems to be informing students on how to activate and manage their refund accounts.

Story believes that so far the relationship has been smooth and a benefit to the campus.

“If it was a bad situation, if it was a bad relationship with the students, then we’re just not going to do business with them,” she said.

 

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