Credit card confusion at Fresno State

August 4, 2012 12:26:58 AM PDT
Starting this month, Fresno State will make the switch from paper to plastic for financial aid payments and while the university is happy with the changes, some students have a much different reaction. Some say the new Higher One Choice Debit Card is creating controversy and confusion and could even end up costing students.

Within the last few weeks, Fresno State students began getting green envelopes in the mail from Higher One explaining how Fresno State is switching to the new electronic service to disperse payments.

Since then, students have come forward with complaints about fees associated with opening an account, but campus officials said it's up to the student to choose what option they want and not all of them charge a fee.

"They have to be educated on the card," said Fresno State Controller Anthony Forestiere. "Because there are fees associated with it if they use it incorrectly."

Prior to this semester at Fresno State, he said, students had two options to get their financial aid; a check in the mail or direct deposit to their personal bank accounts.

"About 40 percent of our students selected a paper check, which is a large number of paper checks we were producing twice a semester," he said. "So with budget cuts and all the other (reductions), we decided we needed to do something on our end to cut those costs."

As a result, Fresno State joined 52 California community colleges and became the first Cal-State University to sign a contract with Higher One to provide students with another alternative; a debit card.

"If students elects direct deposit its 2-3 banking days, if they elect to open a One-Account, it's within minutes," he said.

Here's how the card works: if students chose to activate a Higher One Choice Debit Card, they can use it at any of the four ATM machines on campus free of charge. if they go to any other bank, they'll have to pay $2.50 on top of the ATM fee the bank charges and if they go to a retailer off campus, and use it as a debit transaction rather than credit, they'll be charged a 50 cent transaction fee. If the card remains inactive for more than six months, students could be charged $10 dollars a month.

"I just got it a couple days ago," said Fresno State Student Jubencio Arroyo. "I like it so I can save my money there and get my refunds. It'll be really cool."

While some students find the new card to be more convenient, Higher One has come under fire for charging multiple fees and using aggressive marketing tactics. In a law suit against the company, one student claimed the financial firm improperly disclosed debit card fees and created bank accounts for students without their consent.

Some Fresno State students are nervous about using the card as well.

"I don't want to do it. I just want to get direct deposit from scholarships and if financial aid, financial aid as well," said Monica Soares.

One student started a Facebook page called "Stop Fresno State Higher One Banking." Another student wrote this message on the university's site: "I'm sure it's more convenient for Fresno State at the expense (yet again) of the students."

Officials, however, said students can avoid being charged if they use the card correctly and are urging them to read up on their options.

"They're still allowed to elect the check, and they're still allowed to do direct deposit, both of which are free of charge, but if they open a one account they're subject to fees just like any other bank account," said Forestiere.

Forestiere said the Higher One fees are explicitly disclosed on the school's website and are avoidable. For more information, visit this link

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