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Federal investigation finds fault with Higher One

September 25, 2012 Latest Print Print

On June 19, 2008, OCCC went live with a program that would change the way students received financial aid money and other college refunds.

Business and Finance Vice President John Boyd said from that date, all students were signed up for a Higher One bank account which, he said, filled a need to serve students easier and more quickly when disbursing financial aid money.

In the past, money was disbursed via the U.S. Mail which led to some late disbursements and incorrect addresses, he said. With the new system, money is added directly to the student’s Higher One account, accessible with a debit card that works at any ATM, including the two Higher One ATMs on campus.

But earlier this year, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) announced settlements with Higher One, Inc. for alleged unfair and deceptive practices in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act, according to a press release released Aug. 8.

Under the settlement, Higher One has agreed to provide restitution of approximately $11 million to about 60,000 students.

According to the press release, the FDIC found that Higher One and The Bancorp Bank were charging student account holders excessive fees. One example is multiple nonsufficient fund (NSF) fees from a single merchant transaction, allowing these accounts to remain in overdrawn status over long periods of time, thus allowing NSF fees to continue accruing; and collecting the fees from subsequent deposits to the students’ accounts, typically funds for tuition and other college expenses.

Bursar Cynthia Gary said none of that money will reach OCCC students.

“The fees that they’re talking about have nothing to do with us,” Gary said.

“I don’t think our students encounter that,” Gary said.

Gary said students can find Higher One information online at www.occc. edu/higherone/more as well as a link to the Higher One website.

The Pioneer was unable to verify if any OCCC students would be receiving a refund but did get comments from some students about the card.

Pre-education major Cheyanne Hall said she uses her card all the time and sometimes notices fees she doesn’t understand.

“Sometimes when I have no money in my account, I notice 50 cents here and there being taken out of my account and it really confuses me.”

Other students have encountered no problems.

Both liberal studies major Amber Niebur and business and accounting major Ramon Morales said when setting up an account, the website is very straightforward in how to use the card, what fees students may incur and how to avoid those fees.

Boyd said he has not been made aware of any problems.

“No student has come out and said, ‘I’ve been the victim of this and I’m getting a refund,’” Boyd said, “and I don’t know if we would know.”

When asked if any OCCC students would be receiving refiunds via the settlement, FDIC spokesman David Barr said he couldn’t say.

Boyd said come July 1, there will be a new vendor contract up for bid and Higher One might or might not be that vendor. He said he is positive Higher One will submit a proposal.

“Our request for proposal will contain all of the requirements for services that we want,” Boyd said.

“Then the vendor that responds [with] how they are going to provide that service — what it’s going to cost the college, how many cards we’re going to get with their service and what kind of fees.

“We have a set of criteria and then we will sit down — myself, the bursar (and)I’m probably going to pull some other people in — and we will look at the criteria. … Based on that criteria we will select the best vendor that we believe will provide the best service for the lowest cost to both the college and the students,” Boyd said.

The current contract with Higher One, signed by Human Resources Vice President Gary Lombard, is in effect until June 30, 2013.

Bursar Cynthia Gary is preparing the request for proposal (RFP) for a debit card service.

John Boyd there is no connection between OCCC going out for an RFP and what’s going on with Higher One and the market.

“It’s all coincidence because we would be going out for an RFP whether this had occurred or not because our contract is about to end.”

Read the Pioneer Online at www. occc.edu/pioneer for updates.

To contact Sarah Hussain, email editor@occc.edu.

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