Get Out of Debt Guy

How Can I Move Forward When My School Won't Release My Transcript?

Posted November 20, 2015


Dear Steve,

I attended a private college one trimester in 1986 when I was 18. I transferred to a public university that year and completed my degree. 30 years later, today I am wanting to get a second degree but need my official transcript from the private college that I attended in 1986. They are withholding the official transcript due to an outstanding debt of $369 from December 1986. I am unable to pay it at this time and not even sure I remember owing them anything.

How in the world do I proceed. Do I get a loan to pay the debt to the school so I can continue my education?



Dear Brian,

It has been a common practice for decades now for schools to withhold the benefit of attending - official transcript - until all money owed is paid. The transcript or diploma is the collateral they hold to make sure they don't get stiffed.

I applaud your desire to further your education and realize this issue is holding you back but you will have to resolve this with the school. There are a number of ways you can attempt to resolve the dispute to get your transcript.

The first and fastest way would be to pay the school the money and immediately get your transcript so you can move forward.

Outside of that possibility your choices are to dispute the debt and ask them to validate the debt and hope it will result in them being unable to do so and write off the balance the allege you owe. That's a long shot but requires minimal cost on your part to dispute but who knows how long it will take them to respond, if they even do. To validate the debt, read this, this, and this.

You could submit a complaint to your State Attorney General office if you feel the school has done something illegal. If your state has a Department of Education that regulates the school, you could file a complaint there. If the school is accredited, you could file a complaint with the accreditation organization and hope they could intervene and help you resolve this situation. All of those solutions will take time and potentially a lot of time or they may not be able to assist you or respond.

So I have to circle around to paying the claimed debt owed. You will need to evaluate if the inability to get your second degree will cost you more in time and lost potential wages than the value of $369. If so, paying the $369 would be the least expensive way out.

As a final effort, if you decide paying is the logical approach, you could always offer to settle the debt for less than you owe. Say, $185 to settle the balance. But I have doubts they would accept a settlement. They have all the leverage at this point and they've waited nearly 30 years for their $369.

And as an interesting aside, if the $369 was in 1986 dollars and you are repaying it with 2015 dollars then you are already getting a discount. If you factor in the cost of inflation, repaying a 1986 debt with 2015 dollars is already about a 50% discount.

Thankfully it does not appear they've tacked on late fees and interest to the amount claimed.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy.


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About this Blog:

Steve Rhode has had careers in opthalmology, real estate and as the head of a nonprofit debt counseling firm. On his blog, he offers hard-won, free advice about getting out of debt, consolidation and making the right choices as you manage your money.