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Frustrating and unusual situation - college withholding transcripts but never told me I owed


The last post in this topic was posted 2508 days ago. 


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I graduated in May 2008, and promptly started a new job. I never received my diploma, which was mildly annoying but typical of the red tape at my college. I figured if I ever needed it I'd hound them about it.

Well, almost 8 years later and I finally need it. I'm eligible for a promotion, and they require a formal transcript/diploma/letter of completion from my BA-granting college. I called my college to ask them to send me appropriate docs, and they told me there is a hold on my account because I owe them almost $10,000.

This is the first I've heard of it! They gave me the name of a collections agency (I have the note somewhere, but not on me at the moment) and told me they couldn't discuss it any further. They refused to release any transcripts or my diploma, so I'm at a standstill professionally until I figure this out.

I'm really not sure what to do now, and would really appreciate any advice.

(Just to be clear, there are no student loans involved in this dispute.)

I've always had good credit, and I've never received a request to pay before. I generally pull a random credit report once a year or so, and monitor CreditKarma. Just to be sure, I pulled my credit reports for all 3 providers and it's squeaky clean, with no mention of any delinquencies or late payments, which is as it's supposed to be except for this supposed $10K I owe.

Given my experience with my college's administration, I'm skeptical that I owe them the money at all. But it sounds like I'd have to pay off a collection agency and then take it up with them? I talked to someone else about it and they suggested I pay off the CA and settle as low as I can, get my diploma and other docs, and then hire a lawyer and take it up with the school. Really not sure how I feel about that path.

I definitely do not have $10K lying around!!! I'm also worried that they piled late fees or interest onto that, so who knows what it could have ballooned into in the collection agency's files.

So what should I be doing? I asked for advice on reddit's personal finance forum, but it seems like I'm in a very unusual situation. I don't have collection agencies calling me, writing me, or any bad reports on my credit. If they weren't holding my transcripts hostage, it seems like I'd be able to ignore this (legally, at least) and chalk it up to them making a bunch of mistakes.

Google says the statue of limitations in New York, where I went to school, is 6 years. Does that mean I'm past the point of being sued for allegedly owing the debt?

Should I google the contact info for the collection agency the school pointed me to, and call? What do I want, and how do I say it to them? A lot of advice is to first make them validate the debt, but even if they can't validate the debt that doesn't move me closer to getting my documents released. It's been so long the alleged debt may have been resold - does the collection agency have to tell me who they sold it to so I can follow the trail?

Finally, if I do have to settle or pay, what types of payments am I looking at? I have about $3K in savings and maybe I could go to family and ask for a loan, but that's a long shot. Is there any expectation of settling when they're holding documents that I need?

Thanks for any help the members here might be able to offer! I'm puzzled and so nervous to pick up the phone. I've worked myself up a lot trying to figure this out, which just makes me more nervous.

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...Another solution that has worked for others in the past would be to contact the organization that accredited the college and the Department of Education for the state the school is located in. Ask both for help getting your transcript. About 50% people have had some success with that approach in getting their transcript...


OP - Don't call any collection agencies. Wait for others to chime in on your issue.


Welcome to Creditboards.

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If the debt's not yours, I wouldn't even consider paying it. Could it be someone else's debt that was mistakenly assigned to your account? Can the school tell you exactly which academic periods accumulated the debt? What if includes years that you weren't even attending the school? These are the details you need to verify. I understand time is of the essence for your promotion, so could your employer call the university to verify your graduation while you get this sorted out? Or are you able to login to the school's self-service system to print an unofficial transcript--just to buy yourself time?


I went to a big public university, and the people on the front line answering the phones were students working part-time in the admin office. I never took their answers seriously. You need to be in touch with the ombudsman or someone much higher level.

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Thank you both so much for weighing in!


It's probably a <5% chance that it's my debt. I finished up and received a $0 owed invoice when I submitted my final payment for classes and graduation costs, and that matched up with my math. I went to a small private university that is infamous for disorganization. I swear the "long lines and red tape" category in the Princeton Review was thought up specifically for this school, and it features on the list in most years.


The only time the "debt" should have incurred is in the final semester, as they don't let you enroll in successive semesters until the previous one is totally paid off. The <5% chance would be if their financial department made a mistake in my favor that they didn't discover until later and then failed to notify me about. Which is well within the realm of incompetence they've demonstrated. If it's my debt, I WOULD want to pay it, but I'd certainly want the school to PROVE it is owed and give me a payment plan.


I called again today and their financial department refused to tell me anything about when the debt was incurred or what it was for, even when I talked to who they claimed was the supervisor (the third person I talked to). They all repeated that they turn over outstanding debt to collections and won't touch it after that. I was polite but still so frustrated with them!


I asked how I could owe money and never have been told and they refused to answer that, either. So these are the people I'm dealing with.


I do have an old unofficial copy of my transcript that shows a total amount of hours, so there's that. I'm locked out of the student log on system so I can't look around in there.


I'm embarrassed to even bring this up to my employer but I hope that they know I'm responsible and will give me time to sort it out. Still they can't promote me until the paperwork is in order. They don't really have discretion on that.


Obviously talking to a debt collector is a nightmare but I don't see another first step at this point. Any thoughts?

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If you can't get anywhere with the school, you will have to deal with the CA. I would just call them and tell them that the school said you owed money and directed you to them. Ask them to provide validation as you have no record of owing any money. Follow up in writing with a basic DV letter.

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I'd find out what agency is responsible for accreditation of the school. See if the agency, or your state, has an ombudsman or complaint office or whatever you want to call it. Contact them and explain the situation and that you have an invoice showing a $0 balance. Explain that this mystery debt is keeping you from a promotion and causing you true financial harm since promotions often include pay raises. Explain you have talked to the school and they refuse to provide any information and won't even tell you when the debt was supposed to have been incurred. Maybe that will get you some help.


Another option would be to go to a local news station that does investigative reporting. School don't want things like possibly false debts being made public because then they get investigated...

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