Financial Aid Disbursement: How It Works
Financial aid disbursement is when your loans or grants are paid out at the beginning of each semester.
Typically, issuers send your financial aid funds directly to the school, and the school then applies the money to your tuition, fees and other expenses. If there is money left over, the school will send the remainder to you, and you can use it to cover your other expenses, such as your textbooks or transportation.
Financial aid disbursement dates vary by school, but are generally between 10 days before the start of the semester and 30 days after classes begin. Factors affecting financial aid disbursement include the type of aid and your year in school.
- Student loan and grant disbursement
- Parent PLUS loan disbursement
- Work-study disbursement
- Plus: Financial aid disbursement FAQs
Disbursement of student loans and grants
Schools usually disburse financial aid in two payments per academic year, so you’ll have two financial aid disbursement dates. For example, you would likely receive one disbursement at the start of the fall semester, and another at the beginning of the spring semester.
If you have financial aid remaining after the college applies it to your tuition and other required expenses, it will disburse the remainder to you. Schools must issue the remaining amount to you within 14 days unless you authorize your school to keep the money to pay for future charges.
So when does financial aid disburse for you specifically? Here are some details that could affect the answer:
If you are a first-year undergraduate and taking out federal student loans for the first time, you may have a longer waiting period. First-year borrowers are subject to a 30-day delay after the first day of the school’s waiting period before the college is allowed to disburse your loan funds. Not all schools utilize the 30-day rule, however, so contact your college’s financial aid office to find out if it applies to you.
First-time borrowers of federal Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans must complete entrance counseling before your college can disburse your financial aid.
The same is true for graduate and professional students who take out Direct PLUS loans for the first time — if you’re using federal student loans to pay for graduate school, you must complete entrance counseling, too.
Fortunately, you should be able to complete entrance counseling online at StudentAid.gov in as little as 30 minutes.
Note that entrance counseling must be completed within a single session, so make sure you have enough time before you begin.
Other disbursement requirements
To avoid any potential disbursement delays, make sure you take care of all the following tasks as soon as possible:
- Register for the number of classes needed to meet the credit requirements to receive your student aid.
- Resolve any issues with your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) so that your financial aid disbursement is on time.
- Sign your Master Promissory Note (MPN) for Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
If you’re not sure whether you’ve met all of these requirements, contact your school’s financial aid office.
When your loans are disbursed, you will get two notifications: One from the school letting you know your aid has been disbursed, and another from your loan servicer confirming the disbursement.
If there are any funds from the grant or student loan disbursements left over after tuition, fees, and room and board are paid, the remaining balance — often called a “credit balance” — will be paid directly to you in the form of cash or check, or else deposited into your bank account.
You can do one of two things with your unused student loans:
- Use it to cover other college expenses, like books, supplies and transportation.
- Return the student loan money you don’t need. By returning extra student loan money, you can minimize your student loan debt and reduce interest charges. You can return the unused portion — without paying interest or fees on that amount — within 120 days of the disbursement date. After that, you can repay it, but interest and fees will have accrued.
Disbursement of Parent PLUS loans
Similar to loans for students, financial aid awarded to parent borrowers, such as through the Parent PLUS loan program, is automatically applied to tuition, fees, and room and board first. Disbursements of Parent PLUS loans are also split into at least two payments over the course of the academic year.
The school will issue any remaining balance after covering school-required fees to the parent, unless the parent borrower requests that the funds go directly to the student instead.
Unlike undergraduate and graduate loans, Parent PLUS loans don’t require entrance counseling unless the parent has an adverse credit history. However, parents can take entrance counseling voluntarily if they want to have more information about how their loans work.
Work-study and financial aid disbursement
Unlike other forms of financial aid that automatically go toward your college costs, the money you earn on your work-study job must be paid directly to you unless you request otherwise.
Expect to be paid by cash, check or direct deposit.
Regardless of payment method, schools are required to pay you at least once a month.
Since you receive work-study funds directly, you’re responsible for using the money to pay for your education expenses. If you’d rather relieve yourself of this responsibility, you can ask your school to put the money directly toward tuition, fees or room and board instead.