If you owe money to your college or university, even a small amount, you may have been told that your transcript will not be released until the debt is paid. This is known as “transcript withholding.” Transcript withholding is a common practice across the country, and it can be a real problem if you need a copy of your transcript to get a job or go back to school.
What types of debt do colleges and universities withhold transcripts for?
Many schools withhold transcripts if you owe money on a Perkins Loan or other school-issued loan. Schools also withhold transcripts for unpaid tuition and school fines and fees, such as parking tickets, library fees, or damages to school property. If you withdraw from school mid-semester or during a period that you have already received financial aid for, and the school returns some of your financial aid funds to the government, the school may try to get that money back from you—and may withhold your transcript until it is paid. This sometimes happens when you withdraw after your school’s official withdrawal deadline.
Is transcript withholding legal?
Unfortunately, in some cases transcript withholding may be legal. But more and more states are recognizing that withholding a transcript for a small debt is unfair. In New York and California, transcript withholding is banned. In Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, and Washington, schools can only withhold transcripts in limited cases and must release transcripts to students if they need it for a job. Illinois also recently passed laws banning withholding of unofficial transcripts and requiring schools to release official transcripts if needed for a job. In addition to these states, as of November 2022, several more states are considering passing laws to ban transcript withholding to collect debts owed to colleges or universities.
The federal government is also looking into the practice of transcript withholding. In December 2021, the head of the Department of Education, Secretary Cardona, called on schools to voluntarily stop withholding transcripts to collect debts. In September 2022, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) stated that withholding transcripts for debts owed on school loans is illegal under the Consumer Financial Protection Act. The CFPB told schools to stop withholding transcripts for debts owed on school loans. This means that if a college or university is withholding your transcript to collect a loan you owe to the school, they may be violating the law. This does not, however, stop a school from withholding a transcript for other types of debt, such as unpaid school fines–only withholding transcripts to collect on loans is illegal.
Finally, if your debt to the school has been discharged in bankruptcy, the school should not be able to continue withholding your transcript. If you have filed for bankruptcy and listed the debt to the school, but the bankruptcy proceeding has not yet completed, then you may be able to access your transcript and argue that withholding the transcript violates the bankruptcy stay (or pause) on debt collection activities.
What can I do if my school is withholding my transcript?
If your school is withholding your transcript and you live in a state that bans this practice, you should report it to your state Student Loan Ombudsman and the CFPB. Additionally, if your school is withholding your transcript because of an unpaid loan you owe, this may be illegal under the Consumer Financial Protection Act, and you should file a complaint with the CFPB here: www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint. If your school is withholding your transcript and you have filed for bankruptcy and listed the debt, or if the debt has been discharged in bankruptcy, you should point to the bankruptcy filings in requesting that the school release your transcript.
If your school is withholding your transcript for other debts you owe and you don’t live in a state where this is banned, you may be able to work with the school to set up a payment plan on your debt in order to get your transcript. Not all schools will do this, but you can ask if there are any other ways you get your transcript if you cannot afford to pay the debt in full. Some schools may release your transcript directly to an employer if you need it for a job or to another school if you are trying to continue your education.