How to Track a US Department of Education Refund Payment Check

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Whenever you get financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education like Pell Grants and federal student loans, your school will have you view and accept an award package that shows you how much your funds will cover and how much will be leftover. When your awards for the term or semester exceed your costs for things such as tuition, room and board, you become eligible to have the remainder refunded to you. To keep an eye on your financial aid refund payment check, you can use your school's online portal for financial aid or contact them for updates along the way.


How Education Refund Payments Work

Each school has its own policy and timing for disbursing and refunding financial aid. First, you need to meet the federal minimum requirements to receive the aid, and this means taking a certain number of credits, making satisfactory progress and completing any necessary documentation. Depending on the school, your loans may get disbursed once at the start of the term or twice per term.

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Your school's financial aid procedures determine specifically how long after the disbursements that refunds will go out. This might happen soon after classes start or require you to wait until halfway through the term in some cases. Your refund usually comes as a direct deposit or paper check, though some schools provide a debit card as well. You usually set up this arrangement when you accept your award package.


Tracking Your Refund Payment Check

Even though the money comes from the U.S. Department of Education, your school handles any financial aid refunds. So, you'll usually track your refund status through your school rather than the federal department. Often, you can log in to your school's portal, visit the financial aid section and see whether your loans have been disbursed yet. Checking your account activity should show all transactions that have taken place with your grants and loans.

When your school refunds the excess aid, you should see a refund entry in your account activity with the date and refund amount, and that indicates you should see your refund soon. Usually, it takes up to a week to get your refund through a paper check or direct deposit. However, direct deposit speeds things up since you don't have to wait the extra few days for the mail to come.


If you use direct deposit, you can simply keep an eye on your account through your banking website or app or set up mobile alerts to see whether your refund has arrived. However, you can contact your bank if you notice a problem with your deposit. On the other hand, if you receive a paper check, you often can't track it along the way since you won't have a USPS tracking number. However, you can reach out to your school if you haven't received your check within a week so that they can confirm when they mailed it and provide help in case the check doesn't get delivered for some reason.


Choosing How to Use Funds

When you receive your education refund payment check, you then have the task of deciding how to use it. Your options include using it for allowed expenses, saving it for future costs or returning the money to the U.S. Department of Education.

If you decide to spend the money now or in the future, keep in mind that you should only use it for educational costs and related living expenses. This means that using the refund for books, transportation, housing and course costs would be appropriate, but using it for a fun summer vacation would not. Misusing those funds could mean being required to pay them back immediately.


Keep in mind that you have 120 days to simply decide to return part or all of your refund without interest or fees. While you'll probably want to keep any grant funds, you can return extra loan funds and reduce your future financial burden. You'll want to check your budget to decide if that option works for your situation.