THREE STEPS TO CASH MANAGEMENT COMPLIANCE

Higher Ed Executives Financial Aid Consultants Can help you gain compliance with title iv cash management regulations

FSA recently released an electronic announcement reminding institutions of the requirements for proper cash management compliance. Disbursing aid timely, resolving excess cash and reconciliation are necessary procedures and controls to ensure compliance with the federal regulations. Noncompliance in these areas often results in institutions being placed on the Heightened Cash Monitoring disbursement method and often with a requirement that the school post an irrevocable Letter of Credit equal to a percentage of title iv funds that have been drawn down in prior years. It’s not pretty. The simplest thing to do to avoid this is to have a handle on some cash management basics.

Three Steps to Cash Management Compliance:

1. Submit disbursement records timely.

All disbursement records should be sent to COD within 15 days after making the disbursement or becoming aware of the need to adjust a student’s previously reported disbursement.

2. Keep an eye out for excess cash and if necessary, return any undisbursed funds to the Department.

Excess Cash is any amount of title iv funds (excluding Perkins) that the school does not disburse to students or parents by the end of the third business day after the date the school received funds from the department. Excess cash can also occur when a school deposits previously disbursed funds into their federal bank account and lets it sit for more than three days before disbursing it to another student or returning it to the Department.

3. Reconcile regularly.

If you are reconciling all title iv disbursements on at least a monthly basis, you’ll be in a good position to ensure that you are meeting the disbursement reporting and excess cash deadlines. Regularly reconciling both internally between business office and financial aid office data as well as externally between financial aid office data and the Department’s COD and G5 systems will make final reconciliation and program year closeouts a snap. Plus, your auditors will be very happy to see the proof of your regular efforts.

TITLE IV FUNDS MUST NEVER ESCHEAT TO A THIRD PARTY

At schools that issue paper checks to students for credit balances, the check issuing process is often handled by someone removed from the financial aid and student accounts functions. Check processing is typically handled by an accounts payable employee or someone similar in the back accounting office. The same goes for EFT/ACH transactions. When a school issues a check, EFT or ACH payment to a student that results from a Title IV Credit Balance, it must have a process in place to ensure that the funds are delivered to the student and never escheat to a third party. 

A school’s credit balance process must ensure that FSA funds never escheat to a state, or revert to the school, or any other third party. All Title IV Credit Balances must be issued to the student (or parent for PLUS loan funds). However, if after attempting to deliver the funds to a student the school determines it is not possible to do so, funds must be returned to the Department of Education.

All Title IV funds, except FWS Program funds that a school attempts to disburse directly to a student or parent must be returned to the Department if the student or parent does not receive the funds or cash the check. For FWS Program funds, a school is required to return only the Federal portion of the payroll disbursement. If a school attempts to disburse a credit balance by check or EFT and the check is not cashed or the EFT is rejected, the school must return the funds no later than 240 days after the date it issued that check or made the EFT. Therefore schools should have a process to ensure that all student disbursement checks (including EFT and ACH) are cashed within 240 days or otherwise returned to the department.  This rule is applicable to all credit balances of one-dollar or more.

Schools are required to abide by the federal regulations which govern how FSA funds must be managed and those that fail to have adequate systems in place run the risk of administrative capability findings in annual audits and program reviews.

DEADLINE FOR T1 AND T2 ARRANGEMENTS EXTENDED

The cash management final regulations, published on October 30, 2015 require institutions with Tier One (T1) and Tier Two (T2) arrangements to list and identify the major features and commonly assessed fees associated with each financial account offered under those arrangements during the process through which a student chooses options for receiving payments of Federal student aid. Schools were required to follow the format that the Department specified in disclosing this information to students by July 1, 2017, but the Department had not provided the format leaving schools to develop their own.

After soliciting comments, the Department announced the release of their new suggested disclosure format. To allow institutions sufficient time to adopt the final format, if they elect to do so, the Department is allowing additional time, until January 1, 2018 to comply with the applicable disclosure requirements.

According to an Electronic Announcement, the official version of this document is the document published in the Federal Register. This document has been sent to the Office of the Federal Register but has not yet been scheduled for publication. You can grab it here in the meantime.

TIER ONE AND TIER TWO DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENTS

Multiple independent agencies (Consumers Union, GAO, USPIRG, ED’s OIG, FDIC etc.) have found that students in relationships with third-party servicers that provide direct payments to students often face higher costs, deceptive business practices, and misleading direct marketing. As a result in 2015, the Department began requiring institutions to provide disclosures to their students and report certain data about their contracts to ED.

A Tier 1 (T1) Arrangement is one in which a school contracts with a third-party servicer to perform one or more of the functions associated with processing direct payments of Title IV funds on behalf of the school, and the school, or third-party servicer makes payments to one of the following:

• One or more financial accounts that are offered to students under the contract
• A financial account where information about the account is communicated directly to students by the third-party servicer, or the school on behalf of or together with the third-party servicer
• A financial account where information about the account is communicated directly to students by an entity contracted with or affiliated with the third-party servicer.

A Tier 2 (T2) Arrangement is one in which a school has a contract with a financial institution, or entity that offers financial accounts through a financial institution, under which financial accounts are offered and marketed directly to students enrolled at the school.

A financial account is marketed directly if
• the school communicates information directly to its students about the financial account and how it may be opened;
• the financial account or access device is cobranded with the school’s name, logo, mascot, or other affiliation and is marketed principally to students at the institution; or
• a card or tool that is provided to the student for school purposes, such as a student ID card, is validated, enabling the student to use the device to access a financial account.

By September 1, 2017, any institution with a Tier one (T1) arrangement, and/or a Tier two (T2) must post on its website T1 and/or T2 contract data pertaining to the total consideration paid or received by the contracting parties under the arrangement for the most recently completed award year.
Each such institution must also post the mean and median costs its students incurred, as well as the number of students who had financial accounts under the contract at any time during the most recently completed award year, unless the institution had fewer than 30 enrolled students with accounts opened under the T1 or T2 arrangement. The regulations require that thereafter, these postings must be updated within 60 days after the end of each award year.

To meet this requirement, institutions must do the following:
• Post information regarding the mean and median costs students incurred and the number of student accountholders prominently, and as the first piece of information at the URL provided to the Department under §668.164(e)(2)(viii) and (f)(4)(v)
• Place information regarding to the total monetary consideration paid or received by the contracting parties directly below the information regarding student accounts
• Place any non-monetary consideration between the contracting parties directly below information pertaining to the monetary consideration.

For more information on the most recent Cash Management guidelines associated with T1 and T2 arrangements, click here.

MONTHLY DIRECT LOAN RECONCILIATION REQUIREMENTS

Reconciliation is the process by which a school reviews and compares Title IV aid (grants, loans, and campus-based aid) recorded on the Department’s systems with the information in the school’s internal records. Through reconciliation, disbursement and cash discrepancies are identified and resolved in a timely manner to ensure the school meets all regulatory requirements. Schools must document their reconciliation efforts and retain this documentation for auditing purposes.

There are two types of reconciliation schools must perform on an ongoing basis:

Internal Reconciliation – This is the process where the business and financial aid offices compare the monthly financial aid office roster of scheduled disbursements to a monthly business office cash detail report that reflects funds drawn down and funds disbursed for the month. If discrepancies are found, your school should document and resolve them in a timely manner.

External Reconciliation – The school compares its reconciled internal records to the Department’s records of funds received and returned, and loans originated and disbursed to students at the school. At a minimum, this reconciliation must be completed at least monthly to ensure that data is correct in all systems and that cash management and disbursement reporting timelines are being met. If you have completed your internal reconciliation first, your school will have fewer discrepancies to resolve when you perform this external reconciliation. The Department offers various tools to assist you with external reconciliation. For more information, see the attachment to this announcement.

Direct Loan schools must also complete a final reconciliation to a zero ($0) Ending Cash Balance at the end of their processing year. This should occur shortly after you submit and the COD System accepts, your final disbursements but no later than the Program Year Closeout deadline, which is the last processing day in July of the year following the end of the Award Year.

FSA recently provided an updated FAQ offering solid pointers for schools to aid in their ongoing reconciliation efforts. http://bit.ly/2hzXT2K