EDITORIAL: Higher One gets you financial aid faster, but at what added cost?
Our View: Students taking summer classes at other universities may incur extra fees through a bank card.
Colleges across the country are adopting a bank card system for financial aid and scholarships that isn't what it seems.
With so many OU students taking classes at various universities this summer, it is important for them to understand the Higher One card, a bank card offered to every student at 14 different colleges and universities within Oklahoma.
Financial aid and other funds can be loaded onto the card, which also gives students access to a checking account, but the steep and sneaky fees attached to many of the card’s services hold the potential to run many students into the ground. Students should understand the repercussions attached to the Higher One card, especially in case OU ever tries to offer a similar card.
As many as 900 colleges are advocating that students use payment cards, like the Higher One card, in order to receive financial aid or scholarship money more quickly than they would if they waited for the bursar’s office to disburse the funds. Many students incur hefty fees just as quickly.
Though the administration saves time and money by distributing funds electronically, it saves only at the expense of students’ unfamiliarity of the bank card.
Students who receive a refund in the form of financial aid or overpaid tuition are promptly directed to the Higher One website, where they can opt out of the service by entering personal bank information. Since the colleges that accept the Higher One card advertise it as the official refund card of the college, many students are coerced easily into accepting the card with the attached checking account.
These bank cards advertise many “free” perks. Higher One claims there are no additional fees for check writing, online bill-payment service, electronic statements and 24/7 customer service access. However, the card does charge a plethora of tricky fees.
There’s a $20 card-replacement fee, a $10 abandoned-account fee — which is charged after six months with no transactions — and a $50 lack-of-documentation fee, which occurs when the cardholder fails to provide the documentation required to verify his or her identity within an allotted timeframe.
Many other small fees can be incurred easily. If a cardholder uses the card at an ATM that Higher One does not operate: 50-cent fee. Each time the cardholder completes a transaction by entering his or her personal identification number: 50-cent fee.
According to the Higher One website, “[more than] half of OneAccount holders never receive more than one PIN fee” because they choose the "credit" option at checkout. What about the other half of students receiving their financial aid through the card who don’t understand Higher One’s intricate policies?
Those who accept the card are students with financial need who cannot afford various fees tacked on to their aid, which is intended to pay for tuition or other education expenses. Higher One relies on the fact that students won’t do their homework. The company provides a multiple-page tutorial on its website that explains how to use the card for free. Many students don’t figure out how to do this, though, until they’re already slapped with fees.
Higher One preys on unaware college students who don’t think of closing their account to avoid an abandoned-account fee. To many who are unfamiliar with such a foreign system — OU students included — this procedure may not come to mind.
Though Higher One is up front about its charges on its website, many students naïvely commit to the card and checking account without researching the website, especially since it is endorsed by the university. Students should be warned to research and weigh their options thoroughly.
Receiving aid immediately may not be worth the potential headache of extra fees later.