Despite a new Stanford ePay system instated in the middle of last quarter which required authorized tuition payers to re-register, Director of Student Services T.J. Fletcher wrote in an email to The Daily that her office has not observed an increase in past-due balances this quarter.
Stanford’s quarterly bill cycle begins two months before the start of the upcoming quarter, when students are first notified of their unpaid balance. The balance is due by the 15th of the month prior to the start of the next quarter, and for the majority of students the bill-paying cycle ends there. However, each quarter there are some students for whom the cycle drags on because they have an unpaid balance, according to Director of Financial Aid Karen Cooper.
An account is considered past due if there is an unpaid balance after the due date, and 31 days past the due date, the account is placed on a financial hold that prevents students from enrolling in future terms and receiving transcripts or diplomas. Late payment fees of 1 percent of the balance due are applied once the account is considered past due, according to the Stanford University Gateway to Financial Activities website.
“Severely delinquent accounts may be referred to a collection agency and/or placed in litigation in accordance with state and federal laws,” according to the website. “Students with delinquent accounts may be held responsible for collection costs, attorney fees and court costs.”
Financial holds can be lifted without the balance being paid if there are arrangements made to pay the balance, Fletcher wrote. Her office and the Financial Aid Office stay in close contact about cases involving unpaid balances of students on financial aid.
“We’ll step forward and say, it’s our fault the money’s not here yet,” Cooper said. “We have to do x, y, z and the student’s done everything they can. It’s an open communication back and forth between the offices.”
For students on financial aid, the problem is one of several possible components of their bill: University financial aid, the parent contribution, the student contribution or expected outside scholarships.
“It could be that there is aid that was supposed to disperse that hasn’t, or they need more aid than what we originally estimate,” Cooper said. “We have to sit down and figure out: why is the bill not paid? Where is the money not coming from?”
Outside scholarship checks are processed through the Financial Aid Office, but if the check does not arrive in time the balance is considered unpaid, Cooper said. Her office puts the amount of money a student expects to receive as “anticipated aid” in the account so no late fees will apply if the scholarship check arrives late, but the student will still be unable to enroll until the check comes in to pay the balance, as a financial hold will still apply.
“We do our best to make sure we don’t have a backlog of private scholarship checks to be processed,” Cooper said.
If the problem is that the parent/student portion of the bill has yet to be paid, the Financial Aid Office constantly reevaluates if the aid awarded is appropriate for a family’s finances.
“We have noticed an increase in appeals to us during the middle of the year dealing with changes in family circumstances over the last three years or so due to the economy,” Cooper said. “Families, parents are losing jobs. That’s definitely on the upswing and has been a big change for us.”
A situation that Cooper said does occur regularly, albeit it in small numbers, is students who have delinquent bills and are applying for financial aid, despite having never filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) during the normal aid application cycle.
The Financial Aid Office is currently handling at least one such case of a student who has a delinquent University bill but will need financial aid to pay out the balance.
“If the student just fills out a financial aid application, we can get him or her fixed up,” Cooper said. “Students do still apply throughout the year, and changes in circumstances are the number one reason. The family thought they could handle the charges, but somebody lost a job; there are medical expenses, those kinds of things.”
However, if graduate students find themselves needing financial aid, Cooper said that her office’s hands are frequently tied by federal regulations.
For example, if a student has defaulted on federal loans taken out while earning an undergraduate degree, the Financial Aid Office cannot award them new federal loans at the graduate level. The office will recommend private loans, she said, but generally the student will need a cosigner due to having racked up bad credit by defaulting on undergraduate loans.
“In really sticky situations, we do have a small institutional loan program that we can use, but it’s a small program,” Cooper said.
Graduate student bills are also often complicated because most students rely on refunds due to overpaid balances for their living expenses, Cooper said. After the University departments input the stipend information into a computer system and the Financial Aid Office applies any federal loans the student may be receiving in addition, the difference between the amount owed and the amount paid is refunded to the student’s bank account.
Federal rules allow the University to dispense the refund up to 10 days before the start of the quarter and as many as 14 days after the start of the quarter. Cooper said that Stanford usually refunds graduate student early in that time frame, but that the winter quarter refunds were delayed due to problems transferring files to the students’ banks.
“We were within the federal regulations,” Cooper said. “We have to disperse money to students within 14 days; it’s not like we’re violating any rules, but I know how important it is to get that money to students.”
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