Policy: Account Credit Balances and Refunds

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Definitions  |  Account Balances, Returns and Payments Withdrawal  |  Types of Credits and Refunds  |  Refund Processes  |  Policy on Access to Student Records (FERPA)

Resolving Eligible Credit Balances

The University's policy is to resolve eligible credit balances in student accounts as promptly as possible - in compliance with all applicable regulations and by the end of the term in which the credit balance is created - by issuing refunds to the student.  Please see the remainder of this policy document for additional details.

A student can determine the balance in his or her student account by logging in to Student Services Online (SSOL).




A credit balance results when the total of the credits posted to a student's account (e.g., payments, loan disbursements, scholarships, etc.) exceeds the total of the charges applied or applicable to the account for a specific term or semester. 

A credit balance eligible for a refund is one where all the applicable charges and credits have been posted to the account and his or her eligibility for such funds has been reviewed and confirmed or adjusted based on current eligibility, enrollment or any other applicable conditions.

Anticipated funds, including anticipated financial aid, are not considered credits to a student's account until the funds have actually been disbursed to the account.

Accounts of students on a Payment Plan are not eligible for a refund unless the Payment Plan has been completed and paid in full, and payments exceed the applicable charges.

Automated refunds are the result of SFS proactively calculating and processing refundable credit balances to students. Generally, students are not required to request a refund. Students should set-up direct deposit on SSOL to receive funds in a fast and simple way. Refund requests may be required for students who are enrolled in non-participating schools.

Non-participating schools do not participate in the automated refund program. Students enrolled in these schools may request a refund by contacting the schools directly. Non-participating schools links to request a refund can be found on the Refund Processing Schedule.

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Account Balances, Returns and Payments

In some cases, if a refund is issued and subsequently a balance is created in the student’s account, it is the student’s responsibility to return the funds to the University or pay the balance in accordance with the University’s billing and payments policies, including any applicable penalties and late fees. Exceptions are Advanced Refunds.

For information on Advanced Refunds, please see the section below on Types of Student Account Credit Balances and Refunds.

Students should contact the Student Service Center for instructions on how to return funds at (212)-854-4400.

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Please refer to the Registrar’s website for Tuition Refunds.


Credit Balance Refunds Due to Change in Charges and Payments

Students who have withdrawn from the University and have a credit balance because the tuition and fees have been decreased, in addition to posted personal payments, may be eligible to receive a refund via direct deposit or paper check.

Financial aid payments may need to be recalculated by your financial aid office before the credit balance is final, and a refund is approved. For more information on your financial aid recalculation, or to receive a refund approval, contact your financial aid office for information on federal aid and withdrawals.

If you have withdrawn and your tuition and fees have not been adjusted, check the Registrar Office’s website for Refund Rate for Withdrawals or contact your department or school.


Types of Student Account Credit Balances and Refunds

Credit balances may be related to payments from several sources, including from personal funds; Title IV Federal Student Aid; and non-federal aid funds, such as private loans and grants, and other external awards.

The University's policies and procedures for handling student account credit balances adhere strictly to federal and other regulatory requirements, as applicable, and vary depending on whether a credit balance is related to federal aid funds or not.

Credit balances may also be related to and affected by changes in a student's enrollment status during a term or semester; changes to expected enrollments status prior to a term, including non-enrollment; changes to academic workload (Add/Drop) that affect federal or other aid eligibility; leaves of absence; or withdrawal.

If a student's enrollment status changes as a result of adding or dropping classes, the student's federal aid award may need to be adjusted and this may affect the amount of any refunds.



Depending on the specifics of the situation, for students who have a credit balance and are recipients of Title IV federal aid, the level of aid awarded may need to be recalculated by the school's financial aid office.

The University will credit Title IV federal aid funds to a student's account only against allowable institutional charges, including:

  • Current charges for tuition and fees, and room and board
  • Other educationally related charges incurred by the student at the University, with the student's (or parent's) written authorization
  • Prior-year charges, up to and not exceeding $200

Students should check the website of their school's financial aid office, or ask their school's financial aid counselor, for information on the school's costs of attendance and student budgets. University Financial Aid lists school financial aid offices for undergraduate and graduate students.


Written Authorization:

Students (or parent borrowers) must provide written authorization before the University can perform any of the following actions with respect to credit balances related to Title IV federal aid funds:

  • Hold a credit balance in the student's account across terms within the same award year, or
  • Apply funds awarded for the current year to prior year charges, up to $200, to pay for charges other than for tuition, fees, room and board

Students may provide this written authorization by sending us an email request.



If a student or parent overpays the student's account, related credit balances will be refunded to the student, regardless of the source of the payment.

For students who did not enroll during the term or semester for which a credit balance exists in the student's account, the credit balance will be refunded to the student, unless the payment was made via wire transfer, in which case the payment will be returned to the source.

If a credit balance on a student's account is related to other, non-Title IV Federal Student Aid funds (for example, external awards, such as scholarships, grants, or private loans) the credit balance in the account may be reduced, may be returned to the source, or may be refunded to the student, depending on the specifics of the situation and the conditions of the award.



For students who are sponsored by a third party for whom the University is billing the sponsoring organization through its Third-Party Billing program, the refund may be sent to the sponsoring organization, depending on the conditions of sponsorship.

Please see the University's Policy on Sponsored Students.


Refund Processes

The University's policy is to monitor credit balances daily as they are created in student accounts; Columbia also reviews student accounts for accuracy of charges and funds posted, as well as possible pending charges.

Columbia prioritizes refund processing in the following manner:



The University will automatically issue refunds for eligible credit balances related to Title IV Federal Student Aid funds.

Credit balances related to Title IV federal aid funds, per federal regulations, must be refunded no later than 14 days after either:

  • The date the credit balance occurred on the student's account, if the credit balance occurred after the first day of class of a payment period, or
  • The first day of classes of the payment period, if the credit balance occurred on or before the first day of class of that payment period.

Credit balances related to Title IV funds are always prioritized for refund processing, except that, as noted above, the University will hold credit balances in a student's account across terms within the same award year if the student (or parent borrower for Parent Plus Loans recipients) provides prior written authorization.



Refunds of credit balances related to other types of funds receive second priority.  The process for refunding these types of funds depends on whether the student's school participates in the University's automated refunds process.

For credit balances not related to Title IV funds, depending on the school's level of participation in automated refunds, students may request that the University not automatically issue a refund by opting out of automated refunds.

Students may opt out of automated refunds via SSOL.

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Issuing Refunds

The University provides notification via email to students of refunds or returns issued on credit balances in a student's account.

Refunds can be issued via Direct Deposit or paper check.  However, the University's preferred method of refund distribution is through Direct Deposit. Learn how to enroll.

Refund checks for students who have not signed up for Direct Deposit will be mailed to the student's address on the University's system based on the following hierarchy:

  1. Address for refunds
  2. Columbia Housing or Real Estate address
  3. Local address

Students should be sure to log in to SSOL and click on "Addresses" to provide, update or verify these addresses.


Policy on Access to Student Records (FERPA)

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 regulates who may access a student's educational information including his or her financial information as is relevant to the University.  University policy states that educational records can be disclosed to a number of third parties, including parents of a dependent student as defined by Internal Revenue Code. However, no parties outside the institution may have access to these records, including parents.

A student's account is considered a vital piece of his or her educational records.  Thus, third parties may not access a student's bill, make a payment for the student, or request a refund from the student's account without prior consent granted by the student.

Any refund  will be issued to the student except in the following cases:   A fully sponsored student, where tuition is billed directly to the sponsor and  wire transfers for a student is not currently registered.  Another notable exception to this is in the case of Federal Parent PLUS loans - the refund will be issued to the person who applied for the loan.  Otherwise, when funds are placed on the student account, they belong solely to the student.

Please see the University's Policy on Access to Student Records (FERPA).