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The Daily Tar Heel

Confusing refund check policy irks students

Some UNC students who rely on refund checks to pay for necessary living expenses felt hung out to dry by the amount of time it took for their refunds to be delivered.

Junior Christina Townsend received an email Jan. 4 with the subject line “University Cashier: Your refund has been processed.”

The email’s body said Townsend’s refund had been processed and requested her awareness that it might take up to five business days for the refund to be deposited into her bank account.

Townsend expressed frustration that rather than receiving her refund immediately, it took the full five days for her to receive the refund.

“I had rent due,” she said. “I can’t buy books. I can’t go grocery shopping. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do."

Townsend questioned why the direct deposit method of receiving a refund check did not result in the immediate disbursement of money into her bank account.

“I feel like there should not be an issue,” she said. “It should be on time. They can control that completely. They need to work to get this to us as soon as possible.”

Janet Kelly-Scholle, the spokeswoman for UNC’s Finance Division which houses the Cashier’s Office, described refund checks in an email as financial aid that exceeds the cost of UNC tuition and fees, thus creating a credit balance to be refunded to the student.

The money can be used for living expenses, such as books and rent.

Junior Nneka Molokwu felt similar anxiety over the date she received her refund check. 

“I know of a few people who got theirs yesterday, but most of my friends all got theirs this morning as well,” she said in an email Jan. 7.

Molokwu said the inconsistency of the refund disbursement by the Cashier’s Office is what frustrates her most.

“I think it’s always kind of a guessing game in terms of when I’m actually going to get my refund,” Molokwu said. 

According to Molokwu, the disbursement date listed by ConnectCarolina for this semester was Jan. 2.

“If I knew for sure that I wasn’t going to get my refund until the first day of class, I could’ve planned ahead as far as paying for rent, groceries, books, etc.” 

Kelly-Scholle said federal regulations allow schools 14 days from the time financial aid is disbursed to the student’s account to process credit balance funds — or until the first day of classes, whichever is later.

“Even though (the process) is mostly automated, the automated steps are nightly, sequential and have to be reviewed for issues to ensure the automated steps are completed correctly,” Kelly-Scholle said. “The timing of any individual refund is dependent on a complex set of factors.”

Molokwu recognized that, though the refund process is frustrating, ConnectCarolina makes clear that the scheduled disbursement date does not reflect when funds will be delivered to student bank accounts.

 “I’m incredibly thankful for the financial aid office at UNC,” she said. “That being said, I don’t understand why, knowing that many students use their refunds for books and other necessities they’ll need to get before classes start, they don’t figure out some way to get us our money a little earlier, or, again, at least be consistent and not leave us all wondering when we’ll have the money we need.”

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