SARI FRANKEL/THE HOYA PNC Bank has partnered with GU to link GOCards to debit accounts.
PNC Bank has partnered with GU to link GOCards to debit accounts.

Georgetown’s GOCard Office and PNC Bank have partnered to allow students to link their GOCards to a PNC debit account, joining a national trend that has drawn criticism from higher education advocates.

The new service, which became available Aug. 20, allows students to use their GOCards as debit cards to make transactions and withdraw money at all PNC locations free of charge, providing they open an account with PNC.

Such university-bank relationships have come under fire for imposing a wealth of hidden fees. Rich Williams, higher education advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, co-authored a report called “The Campus Debit Card Trap” in which he revealed that accounts linked to campus cards typically carry heavy fees when students leave accounts inactive, spend in excess of their account balances or even swipe their cards at merchant terminals.

“These cards can carry fees that eat into your balance, including ones for buying or reloading the card and withdrawing money from the ATMs,” he told The Hoya. “It’s very costly to get new bank members, so banks like to target young people before they select a bank. This is why banks have a long tradition of trying to weasel their way onto campuses.”

Such partnerships have become widespread in the United States in recent years. The five largest four-year public institutions in the country, including The Ohio State University, have formed financial card partnerships. Peer institutions, including Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University and the University of Pennsylvania, have implemented programs similar to Georgetown’s, the latter also with PNC.

According to a Nov. 14, 2011 post on The New York Times’ “Bucks” blog, about 60 students held a rally at Western Washington University in opposition to what they deemed excessive fees associated with the Higher One debit accounts linked to their student ID cards.

However, Fred Solomon, vice president and director of external communications and issues management at PNC, said that the product the bank offers at Georgetown has no minimum balance requirement, monthly service charge or extra fees for using the card, provided that the cards are used only for PIN-based transactions.

Overdraft fees will apply when cardholders spend in excess of their account balances, though the bank has agreed to waive them the first time they are incurred within the first 12 months of accounts being opened.

In an email sent to the university community last night, Director of GOCard Services Roman Fahrmannsaid that Georgetown chose to partner with PNC because the bank was willing to offer packages with no fees as well as free financial training workshops for students.

Fahrmann said that the program is designed primarily to simplify students’ lives.

Solomon added that PNC provides a convenient ATM network that can benefit students long after they graduate.

“PNC has an important presence in many of the markets where Georgetown students will ultimately take jobs,” he said.

Representatives of the Georgetown University Alumni and Student Federal Credit Union, which serves a large swath of the Georgetown student community, declined to comment on the announcement.

Georgetown students had mixed views on the service. Courtney Kishbaugh (COL ’15) said she preferred to keep her debit account separate from her GOCard.

“I already have a debit card, and I don’t mind having to bring that along with my GOCard when I need to get cash,” she said. “I also know the terms of service very well with the bank I now have a card with.”

Rebecca Aklilu (MSB ’15) echoed Kishbaugh’s sentiments.

“I think the service might be suited more to freshmen who come in with that service available, but for returning students who have already set up their banking plans, I’m not sure what a big difference this will make,” she said.

Alex Jung (SFS ’13), on the other hand, praised the practicality of the option.

“It’s very convenient,” she said. “As long as students are aware of [the conditions] beforehand, it sounds fine.”

PNC and the GOCard Office have been working together to ensure the program is implemented successfully. According to Solomon, Georgetown employees in the GOCard Office have been trained to deal with the card linkage, and PNC is sending representatives to campus to promote the program.

Upperclassmen with GOCards issued in past years and other staff interested in having their GOCardsserve as their debit cards must request new GOCards. The university is waiving the replacement fee for a new GOCard in those instances. Fahrmann added that students need not worry about spending from the wrong account when they use the linked card, as the GOCard and PNC account balances will be kept separate.

“All GOCard terminals only accept GOCard transactions from the card. ATMs and PIN-based debit merchants only accept PNC transactions from the card,” he wrote. “GOCardis the only card you will need on and off campus.”

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