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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Nation

Students discredit unwanted bank charges


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Students are questioning Higher One on some of its fees associated with their student refund cards. The company’s inactivity charge was dropped due to complaints, but the PIN-based transaction fee remains. | Justin Tijerina/ The Daily Cougar

Nationwide complaints have mounted against Higher One, the banking institution that distributes financial aid to hundreds of North American universities, including UH.

Many students rely on this aid to pay for rent, books, groceries and other expenses.

Debit card purchases, ATM fees and international transaction fees are just some of the extra fees that students have encountered. Other more drastically impactful fees, such as inactivity fees, have been dropped recently due to complaints.

Still, PIN-based transaction fees are causing some students strife.

“I think it’s really unfair. We should know what we’re getting into,” said psychology sophomore Christian Lancaster, who likes the idea of higher visibility for Higher One. “The workers should tell us the fees and everything so that we don’t just have a sudden charge on our account.”

Students’ financial aid is deposited directly into their Higher One accounts and available for use like a debit card on the same day that funds are released from the University, but this method comes with extra, and frequently unexpected, fees.

Alternatively, financial aid can be deposited in a student’s personal bank account via Higher One, but this method requires a $25 transfer fee and a waiting period of three business days, according to the Higher One fee schedule. The traditional method of receiving a refund check has been discontinued since 2010, according to the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid.

These fees particularly impact students studying abroad. International conversion rates are considerably higher through Higher One than through other banks, such as Ally Bank. An additional 3 percent international transaction fee is added on top of the international ATM fee of $5, plus any fee the ATM itself charged, according to the Higher One website.

Study-abroad students from UH who studied in Angers, France this summer experienced these fees when they went to withdraw money or make purchases using the Higher One card. Like many students, French and English sophomore Brad Wheeler was unaware of the conversion rates before going abroad.

“I probably should have looked on their website first,” he said.

A new campaign to promote students’ personal banking will be initiated at upcoming freshman student orientations, said Carl Carlucci, vice president for administration and finance. Student Government Association President Cedric Bandoh wants to take things a step further by combining the on-campus bank with the Cougar Refund Card, Carlucci said.

The contract with Higher One is due to expire, and UH is searching for a new vendor to disperse its financial aid to its students. Bandoh is currently working with student leaders to review bids from other vendors.

Additional reporting by Jessica Crawford.

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EDIT: The information attributed to Shoba Lemoine in an article with the Houston Chronicle was actually information paraphrased from an article with KUHF.

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