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  Owing Money to the University: How to Manage Your Debt

Student debt is now a well-recognized feature of contemporary life. Managing that debt can be a formidable challenge. What follows are some very general tips to help you avoid - or escape from - some common pitfalls.

Be informed about your debt

Keep track of what you owe and why. This may seem self-evident, but it is easy to forget. Debt is not something you see when you look in the mirror in the morning - and out of sight, out of mind! But forgetting the amount, the deadlines, and the reasons for your debt are a good recipe for increasing the debt itself in avoidable ways.

How debts grow

Interest is usually payable on debts. Late payment penalties, deferred payment charges, and even things like record sealing charges can be levied in addition to interest, and will insure that your debt to the University grows like the proverbial weed unless you pay attention to it and follow the rules. See the Student Financial Services section of the Calendar for details. Look up fee schedules on the University's website.

What can you do if you can't make a payment?

Communicate, communicate, communicate! Make an appointment to talk to someone in Student Financial Services. Let them know what the problem is. Discuss a possible deferment; sources of financial aid; a payment plan - but DO NOT ignore the problem, and DO NOT miss a deadline.

Keep in touch about changes in your life

  • It is your responsibility to ensure your address and other contact information is up to date.
  • Check your email and phone messages at least once a day.
  • If mail is being sent to an out-of-town address (e.g., your parent's home) make sure you ask about it or arrange to collect it frequently. You are responsible for delays that result from your own imperfect arrangements.
  • Collect registered mail promptly.

Avoid assumptions that seem to justify poor management practices. Remember:

  • Others have problems, too.
  • You are unique. That doesn't necessarily justify special treatment!
  • Time always moves forward. You can't change something that happened, but you can make sure you act differently in future.

What to do if you disagree about the amount owing

You can incur charges in many ways at the University: missing a payment deadline, getting a parking ticket or library fine, registering late. In some cases, you can appeal the charge. Consult the Calendar or the applicable policy for details. If you cannot find the applicable policy, ask the relevant office. But don't delay, since the delay may be costly.

In some circumstances it is preferable to pay up right away. If the University has sent a letter threatening to seal your records by a certain date, and is unwilling to extend its deadline, do not delay: pay now and fight later. If the University is persuaded that you were billed an erroneous amount, it will credit your account.

Keep your eye on the prize!

Once you begin to invest your time in contesting a bill, you may lose sight of the amount at stake and fall into the trap of being determined to win. This really can be a trap. Avoid it. Don't jeopardize big important goals like getting an education by spending all your time and energy fighting a fine or other charge. Be prepared to cut your losses, pay up and move on.

Not sure if you have a case? Not sure what to do?

Feel free to contact the Office of the Ombudsperson to discuss your options. The office is in WSS 3135, phone 519-661-3573, email ombuds@uwo.ca or visit our website to view other handouts or guides.

To contact Student Financial Services directly for more information, or to make an appointment with a Student Financial Services' Officer, visit their website, drop in to Room 1120, Western Student Services Building, phone 519-661-2100 or email finaid@uwo.ca.


NOTE:  This guide was produced by the Office of the Ombudsperson www.uwo.ca/ombuds. It is not an official university document and is not intended to replace university policy.