Columbia Financial Aid and Educational Financing

Student Account Credit Balances & Refunds

Home / Student Account Credit Balances & Refunds / Student Account Credit Balances & Refunds

A credit balance is created when the payments made and/or financial aid disbursed exceed the student account charges. Students with a credit balance can choose to keep the credit on their student account to be applied to a future balance or to have the credit refunded to them.

A refund is the transfer of a credit balance on a student account to a personal account. Students can use a refund to pay for out-of-pocket costs, such as books or personal expenses. After the start of each term, Student Financial Services (SFS) provides our office weekly lists of students eligible for refunds. We review the records for these students and confirm the refund eligibility for SFS. Once confirmed, SFS will begin to process the refunds according to the preferences on each student account.

Refund Eligibility

You can determine whether you have a credit on your Student Account by viewing your account activity through SSOL (Student Services Online). If your total credits exceed your charges and prior term balance (if any), and you are opted in for refunds, you will receive a refund. Please keep in mind the following points:

  • A credit created from Anticipated Activity (aid that has not yet disbursed) does not qualify for a refund.
  • If your account shows a credit but you have not been charged all of your fees, you may not be eligible for a refund. This might happen if you recently enrolled for on-campus housing or a meal plan, and these fees have not yet posted.
  • If you take a leave of absence, you may not qualify for a refund once your charges and financial aid have been adjusted. If you receive a refund before you take a leave of absence, you may be required to pay back all or a portion of your refund.
  • If you are receiving outside scholarships or external funding that is not reflected in your most recent financial aid eligibility letter, you may not be eligible for the credit on your student account.
  • If you have received too much aid for the fall term, we may need to shift financial aid from the fall to the spring term to ensure you have enough aid in the spring to cover your expenses for that term.

Refund Options

Direct Deposit (Recommended)

Direct Deposit is the fastest way to receive your refund, as it transfers your credit on your Student Account directly to your U.S. bank account. More information on direct deposit can be found on the Student Financial Services website. To sign up for Direct Deposit, follow the instructions below:

1) Log in to SSOL, go to Account, and click on Automatic Refund Options.

2) Under the Refund Options section, choose “I elect to participate in the Automatic Refund Process” button.

3) Go to the Direct Deposit Authorization page.

2) Add your U.S. bank information.

Mailed Check

If you choose not to sign up for direct deposit, a refund check will be mailed to your U.S. local address listed in SSOL or your U.S. permanent address if you don’t have a local address listed. As such, it is very important that you remove all outdated addresses from your SSOL account. To receive a refund by paper check, follow the instructions below:

1) Log in to SSOL, go to Account, and click on Automatic Refund Options.

2) Under the Refund Options section, choose “I elect to participate in the Automatic Refund Process” button.

3) Click on the Academic Records heading and go to Addresses: View and Update.

2) Scroll down to “Add local address” and/or “Add Permanent Address”, enter the required information, and click on the “Submit” button.

Hold Refund

You can choose to keep the credit balance on your student account to pay future tuition charges and fees by opting out of the automatic refund process in SSOL. Once you have opted out, your credit balance will remain on the account until it is applied to future tuition and fees or until you change your participation status in SSOL. Follow the instructions below to keep the credit balance on your student account:

1) Log in to SSOL, go to “Account” and click on “Automatic Refund Options”.

2) Under the “Refund Options” section, choose “I decline to participate in the Automatic Refund Process” and click the “Update” button.

NOTE: If a credit balance is created due to an excess of Title IV Aid (Federal Student Aid), the opt-out process described above does not apply. A Title IV credit balance is created when the total of all federal aid credited to a student’s account exceeds the total of tuition, fees, room, board, and other eligible educational charges on a student’s account. More information on Title IV credits can be found at https://www.sfs.columbia.edu/refunds#federal_aid.

Western Union Wire

If you do not have a US bank account and are living abroad, you can request that Student Financial Services process your refund through Western Union (WU) Global Pay. To initiate this process, please email us at ugrad-finaid@columbia.edu to request a wire refund. We will then forward your information to Student Financial Services, and they will reach out to you with further information and instructions on the process.

Refund Process

We will begin reviewing records for refund eligibility for the Spring 2021 term during the week of January 18th, 2021 and will continue this process through the end of March. In most cases, if you are opted in for a refund and have completed the instructions for direct deposit or mailed check, your information will be sent to us by SFS for a refund eligibility review, and you will not need to request a refund.

In some cases, there may be a wait period before a refund can be issued. For example, if your credit is a result from a personal check payment, there will be a 10 day waiting period before this credit will be reviewed for refund eligibility. Additionally, if your account is set up for the Payment Plan and you now have a credit on your account, you will need to request a refund.

During peak periods, most refunds should be initiated within two weeks of the date your credit is created on your student account. Once initiated, Direct Deposit can take 3-5 business days to process before the funds credit your personal account. Mailed checks can take 10-14 business days before you receive a check.

When to Request a Refund

If you have had a credit on your Student Account for more than two weeks and do not see that a refund has been initiated under your Student Account activity, please follow the instructions below to request a refund.

Follow the steps below to request a refund:

  1. Log into SSOL, go to Account, and click on View Student Account Detail By Term
  2. Review your account activity to confirm the following:
    • Your charges are correct, and
    • Your aid has disbursed. (Financial aid must be listed in the Charges and Credits section. A credit created from aid listed in the Anticipated Activity section is not eligible for refund.)
  3. Confirm you are opted in for refunds and are set up for either Direct Deposit or a mailed check (see instructions above).
  4. Complete the Refund Request Form below.

Refund Request Form