The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is cracking down on school-bank partnerships that unfairly target college students receiving federal student aid. Last Friday, ED announced proposed regulations that would ensure students aren’t required to receive their federal student aid on prepaid or debit cards that charge fees for overdrawing the accounts. Other proposed changes would:
- Provide protections against unreasonable account fees
- Strengthen account transparency offered to students, and
- Protect their personal information from being shared without their consent.
The proposal will impact over nine million postsecondary students receiving about $25 billion in Pell Grants and Direct Loans by providing tougher standards and greater transparency between colleges and companies in the rapidly expanding college debit and prepaid marketplace.
Additionally, under the proposed regulations, the Secretary would have the right to establish a method for directly paying credit balances to student aid recipients if the Department determines that student and taxpayer interests would be better served.
Some schools across the country are entering into agreements with financial institutions that require students to receive their financial aid on a prepaid or debit card offered only by that financial institution. U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said that the proposed rules would give students flexibility. “Students need objective, neutral information about their account options,” he said. “Students should be able to choose to receive deposits to their own checking accounts and not be forced to utilize debit cards with obscure and unreasonable fees.”
Ultimately, the proposed regulations are about accountability and fairness. Given the number of students affected by the emergence of these troubling practices, the amount of taxpayer-funded assistance at stake, and the expanding scope of the market, regulatory action became necessary.
The Department welcomes input on the proposed regulation and comments can be submitted online at www.regulations.gov for the next 45 days. The Department’s regulations are subject to the Higher Education Act’s “master calendar,” which means that any final regulations published on or before November 1 are effective on July 1 of the following year.
Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach.