Thought the student loan crisis was bad as it is? Now add hefty fees into that mix. Providers say students can avoid the fees that pile up when they elect to receive their financial aid on a debit card, but new research from a consumer advocacy group finds that these companies throw up roadblocks to keep the fee revenue rolling in, even as colleges make big bucks off their affiliations with these institutions.
Consumer advocates have long criticized the amount of fees associated with debit cards. Most recently, a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund found that hundreds of colleges have partnerships with financial companies to put a student’s financial aid on debit or prepaid cards that carry hefty fees. Under some of these deals, official student photo ID cards can double as debit cards.
Washington, D.C. – Over 9 million students are at risk for increased educational debt, due to bank-affiliated student debit cards that come with high fees, insufficient consumer protections, and few options. Financial institutions now have affinity partnerships with almost 900 campuses nationwide, grafting bank products onto student IDs and other campus cards to become the primary recipient of billions in federal financial aid to distribute to students.
Banks and other financial firms are taking advantage of a variety of opportunities to form partnerships with colleges and universities to produce campus student ID cards and to offer student aid disbursements on debit or prepaid cards. In addition to on-campus services, such as student ID functions offered on the card, some cards offer traditional debit card services linked to bank accounts; other cards provide additional reloadable prepaid card functions. The disbursement of financial aid and university refunds is the most significant partnership identified.
The loans distributed by the U.S. Department of Education currently hold an interest rate of 3.4 percent. But that rate is set to double if Congress fails to act by July 1, 2012. If that occurs, millions of students will see their interest rates soar to 6.8 percent on the new loans they take in the next year thereby causing a steep rise in their loan burden and effectively increasing the cost of attaining a college degree.