Higher One / Unrequested account, terrible cust svc & fees to retrieve fed student funds

25 Science Park Box 201, New Haven, CT, United States Review updated:
Contact information:
Phone: 1-877-524-4013

It's amazing to me that this set up is even legal. I ended up dealing with Higher One only due to being a college student, as now, rather than simply receiving a mailed check from Fed Student Loan services via the college, the college has set up a program whereby students must agree to and activate an account with the college selected financial institution Higher One in order to then receive their funds. Higher One does allow the student, once the account with their institution is set up (which is then defined as a checking account, holding any grants and student loans issued through the school, and assessing any bank fees generally associated with any regular checking account) to request and sign paperwork authorizing auto deposit to a different banking institution for any following disbursement, or even a paper check to be mailed (for following only though - if anything's already been disbursed to Higher One you still have to find some way to get your funds without being charged for accessing/pulling it out.) Regardless, the student still has to open the initial account with Higher One, and make these changes, and will always have to deal, even if only indirectly, with Higher One as the institution now handling disbursement of student financial aid for the college in question. It is extremely questionable to me that government funds and tax-payer dollars intended to aid students directly in their college attendance, and which students then pay interest on for any repayment required, can be placed in a fee based private sector banking account, selected by the educational institution, and then fees charged to the student to access and use said funds. It seems to me that the banks have found yet another way to keep our money, and the educational institutions are helping them. A student now, not only has to worry about repayment of loans and interest after school, but also any and all associated fees tacked on by the college selected banking institution the funds are now funneled through.

Higher One likes to point out that they provide a free ATM on campus to make it easy for student to access their funds. When I started, and even now, a year later, that one free ATM on campus, which every student receiving student financial aid uses during the 2 wks following funds being made available, runs out of money daily (with lines of irritable students out the front door trying to get to their funds to pay for their classes and books, or rent, if they used their rent to buy books). If you make it to the ATM early enough in the day for it to be stocked, only $500 a day can be withdrawn, meaning if books cost $1000 or more, you're out of luck until you find enough days when the machine is still stocked in order to make the max $500 withdrawal each of those days.
If you want to access your funds via another machine, you will pay the Higher One ATM fees for using a different ATM in addition to that ATMs fees. Higher One will insist that they'll cover any fees on their end (no the other ATM fees) should this be necessary due to lack of their ATM funds, however, you then have to prove that there were no funds in their ATM at that time (take a camera with a date stamp on it, and be prepared to have to offer it - although by that point in effort, you've spent more time worth more money than what you'll eventually prove they owe in refund).
If you wish to wire your funds from Higher One to your regular bank or credit union account, you'll pay $25 to $50 between the current fees for wiring and any associated charges. (again, remember, the money you're trying to access and wire is federally funded for student education - the fees being deducted coming out of the same grant and loan funds )
You can always write a check on your Higher One account to another institution to transfer the funds, but first you'll have to pay for a full box of Higher One checks (apparently they don't offer temp checks) to write the one check you ever intend to use, to move your money.
The Higher One customer service has been woefully under-trained and for the most part reminds me of someone handing a 16 year old, who'd rather be anywhere else, the phone and telling them to tell the caller something.
Where I'd believed I'd addressed all of this at the beginning of my second semester, having filled out the ACH paperwork and managing to get auto deposit to my existing account (not with Higher One), I recently found out that I still had an active checking account (which again, I never requested or wanted - I only wanted to receive my student financial aid). Additionally, since the student must remain tied to, and deal with Higher One regardless of personal preference and/or where they set up auto deposit, it has the feel (not to be confused with the horror of resulting long term damage) of what one might expect in dealing with companies associated with only via identity theft; suddenly being forced to make time to deal with an institution never chosen by the individual, and only due to someone else's actions (in this case, the college, and with your notification of their doing so, although with no choice or alternative offered - if you want to receive financial aid, you will agree to the initial account with Higher One) - granted not even comparable to potential damage and stress for identity theft, but still a very similar irritation for having no other choice but to deal with a bank you didn't chose or want to deal with.

For all of my concerns and complaints for the process and irritations associated, my main question still remains, how is this legal? How can a college select a for profit financial institution for it's students, accounts literally forced on the student, and fees/profits going toward the for profit banking institution then being drawn off the very taxpayer supported, federal funds sent out in the student's name?

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  • Pe
      Oct 06, 2011

    Author update: Community College of Denver seems to only sing Higher One's praises as a way to provide students an initial/first account, and entry into personal financial management (whether they need it; or request it, or not) - however, here are links to reports and stories coming from other states where Higher One has been called to task, at least to some minimal extent:

    A report on Higher One practices in Oregon:

    and from CA:

    from DefendYourDollars:

    +1 Votes
  • Pe
      Oct 06, 2011

    Author's update:
    While responses from Community College of Denver staff tend toward singing Higher One's praises; stating it's a good way for students to get a "first" bank account, and that it's also a great way for them to learn about financial management (whether the student has requested or actually needs this lesson or not) - Higher One has been reported on across the country for its dealings with students on other campuses. Below are some reports:

    A report on Higher One practices in Oregon:

    and from CA:

    from DefendYourDollars:

    +1 Votes
  • Sh
      Oct 07, 2011

    Hi perplexed1,
    I’m a Higher One rep. You raise some interesting points but I think you may be missing some important pieces of information. If you can please contact me at [protected], I’m happy to go through any issues you may be having and how we can resolve them.

    -1 Votes
  • Re
      Jan 17, 2012

    That's a nice way of Liberal your way out. I'd take a Republican hammer and select option #4: smash your freak'in head.

    +1 Votes
  • Co
      Sep 22, 2015

    Here it is, 2015, and Higher One is still allowed to do this. Our colleges are still doing this. Grant money, scholarships, even financial aid have very strict restrictions on what they can be spent on, and fees at a banking "institution" are not on any of those lists. I am curious what the rep at [protected] had to say, if you even wasted time talking to the thief in the first place. Perhaps there are ways around these rules that I don't know about, or perhaps she works for somebody who doesn't care. If there are ways around it, and they are doing this legally, I'd love to know.

    0 Votes

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