What Happens to Unused Pell Grant Money?

Pell Grant is an educational grant given by the US Federal Government to low-income families with an average income of up to $60,000. Pell grant prioritizes families with lower average incomes who experience more financial difficulties especially in paying for college tuition fees. Families with incomes of less than $20,000 account for more than 57% of all grants awarded in 2006.

The Federal Government courses the Pell Grant Money through accredited institutions. These accredited institutions have two ways of giving the Pell Grants to students. The first is to disburse the grant to the student’s school account, and the second is to give the money to the student, usually covered by a check. Pell Grant is paid every term period.

The Pell Grant is computed using a standard formula created by the US Department of Education. The average Pell Grant paid to students per term averaged $2,970 in the school year 2008-2009. For the school year 2010-2011, Pell Grant Money is given to students ranging from $550 to $5,550. Factors that affect the size of the grant given to a student are family size, the parent’s income, and assets if the student is dependent on the parents, the number of children supported by the parents who attend post-secondary education, the cost of attendance, and if applicable, the income of the student if he is supporting himself for college.

Can You Claim Unused Pell Grant Money?

Many people end up having excess Pell Grant. For example, they are awarded $5,000 in Pell Grant, but the cost of attendance is only $1,500 per semester. If the school has two semesters, that leaves the students an excess of unused $2,000 in Pell Grant. If you have an excess Pell Grant, you cannot DIRECTLY claim this in cash. The Financial Aid Office limits the use of Pell Grant to COST OF ATTENDANCE ONLY. What you can do is reimburse this excess fund using receipts that fall under Cost of Attendance. This includes boarding fees, transportation fees, books, computers, daily allowance for food, and other miscellaneous fees related to school. Pell Grant will likewise cover expenses like supplies, fuel, and software that are directly related to school.

What if the Pell Grant was Disbursed to the School?

If your Pell Grant was directly disbursed to your school account, excess of it will be issued by your school through a check if all your tuition, fees, boarding, and other education-related expenses have been paid. The excess Pell Grant Money is legitimately yours, assuming that they make up for the various Cost of Attendance you paid for independently. If you have an excess Pell Grant balance since Fall, the school will normally give you part of the Pell Grant, and keep the rest for you to use the following semesters in spring and summer.

Get financial assistance from your government to get you through college. To apply for a Pell Grant, start by submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA, accessible through this website fafsa.ed.gov. Application for the FAFSA is free.


  • Hussain Shoaib

    Hussain Shoaib is an author and digital marketer with expertise in financial aid and education. He has extensive knowledge of the Pell grant and FAFSA, and has published numerous articles on these topics.

33 thoughts on “What Happens to Unused Pell Grant Money?”

  1. I was awarded a Pell Grant in the amount of $4000 in 2003. I only used $2000 of that grant. What happens to the rest of that money? Will I be able to use that money for classes now? Any advice would be of great appreciation.


  2. The federal government considers Pell Grants to be the foundation of need-based financial aid. When your school does not need the full amount of the Pell Grant to pay your tuition bill and other items the school bills you for, you get the rest of the grant to use for other costs related to attending school.

  3. my question was do the FAFSA get refunded a Pell grant back if the student was a full-time active student that didn’t not drop a class ,but the program director found that she had given me a class I did not need, instead of giving me a waiver they said that they refunded the agency the pell grant.

  4. I am in my last semester and my classes have been paid for. I have 3000 left of Pell Grant what will happen to that money after I graduate?

  5. Back anout 20 years ago, i went to school on grant money. I barely spoke, and did not even understand about this type of assistance. I had a card i used at bookstore, and that was it. If any money is still left, i would like to further my edgacation. I also had a gov. Scholarship. I wish i had known what i had.

  6. I graduate in September and my full pell amount will not be used. I asked my advisor and he said it cannot be put towards my school loan, and I cannot get it to pay for my supplies and gas so what happens to all that excess pell?

  7. I only went to school for one semester and took the second off to adjust my personal life so that I could focus on school the following fall. It was to my understanding that I would NOT get any money from my grant but I got an email stating that my excess grant will be deposited into my account. Before I do anything with it, I want to know if I could get penalized for not using it for school.

  8. I was awarded 2,288.00, but I was only given 722.00?? That paid for classes, books. After paying for classes and books I got back 179.00?? What happens to the remaining 2,000??? It was not put in my account?? How do I get acess to this money? Or does it just go back? I was banking on this money has I am in need of other things like a new laptop for school??

  9. I am graduation this December and I only used half of the pell grant given to me. Do I get the rest of it back to use, or does it go back to the government? I can’t find any answers anywhere for my specific scenario.

  10. I was awarded $3200 Pell Grant for August 2016-July 2017(1year). My financial aid office split this into Fall/Sprin/Summer Semester. I applied and was accepted to start Springs 2017 & Summer 2017, which gives me $1088 each semester which leaves me a bal out of pocket of $290. My cost of attendance for year is over $12,000. Can the pell grant from Fall 2016 be split to help pay my difference as well as books, etc. ? Thanks in Advance. Dee

  11. I think you only receive a refund after all of your classes are covered. I don’t think they award you anything after you graduate though. I think it goes back to the bank.

  12. I finished school in the Fall semester and I am being taxed on the Pell Grant money that wasn’t used. The school says there is no money for me to be refunded for the TAX year of 2016. I understand the difference between a school year and a tax year, but I do NOT understand why I get taxed on money that I did not use. Was it given to the school? Is the accurate?

  13. I graduated from college in 2005,my student loans are in default,can I use the remaining balance to pay my interest for my student loan

  14. I was awarded the Pell Grant in 2012 and for transportation issues I could not attend school. I am currently trying to get back in school and I was wondering if I could get access to the unused grant money or I would have to apply again for FAFSA ?

  15. I still had 2000 left and never got it I graduated and didn’t owe anything. where did that money go?

  16. I just found out that a college I attended a couple of years ago still has about 5088 remaining funds of my pell grant , I do not own them any more for any classes, Does anybody think that i would be able get those left over funds or will they just sit in limbo. if so how ?

  17. I graduated from GMI in 2017. I had $2000 left over and the school claims they don’t refund money! Said they gave it to Sallie Mae, but Sallie Mae said i still owed $10,000. When i looked over my paper work, i received enough grant money to pay each month for the course! I didn’t need a student loan or private loan! There was a lot of left over grant money and i never received at all! Where did it go? I smell two RATS GMI & SALLIE MAE!!!!

  18. I was awarded 2,980 in pell grant, I used $740 for books and tuition. Says I’m being disbursed $179. What happens to the 2,221 that wasn’t used , in a comment box it says currently ineligible

  19. I was enrolled in an online course and from the start I was behind. My Pell Grant and Transcripts were not done right away, so I was about 2 weeks behind, so I dropped out. Then everything worked out and the advisor worked it out for me to be able to do the courses. My problem is that, they gave me 3 full time classes and 1 part time one, and with being now 3 weeks behind and working full time, I do not have the time to catch up. Plus this week, we had a family emergency and its not getting better, so I do not have time to take the classes. They said I will have to pay the Pell Grant back, I never started any classes, did no assignments or anything. I sent an appeal to the college refund staff and they said I will have to pay it back. I told them I can not take these courses right now and would like to start them in January or have to wait and take it next fall. Why should I pay it back when I haven’t even used it. Shouldn’t it all just be sent back?

  20. According to FAFSA, I qualified for a Pell Grant this school year (2018-2019), but my financial aid office at my college denied me the aid. If the government approved me and I am in compliance with my college’s satisfactory academic progress rules, does the college have the right to deny me the Pell Grant?

  21. I was awarded $5,550.00 Pell Grant, the school used $2,559.00 and I have a remaining amount of $3,915.00 not used or disbursed to the school (ITT Tech). I have a DIRECT STAFFORD UNSUBSIDIZED loan and a DIRECT STAFFORD SUBSIDIZED loan that were loaned to me. I’m paying back around $6,000.00 for these loans. My question is, did my school (ITT Tech) disburse my Pell Grant money correctly? Should I be paying for a loan when I had all that Pell Grant money awarded to me?

  22. I had a pell grant issued to me but i recently dropped out after a semester and a half for personal reasons. Theres a remaining amount on the pell grant after being disbursed to pay back the school. Will i be receiving the money back or would i have to contact somebody?

  23. I received a grant in the late 90s. I logged in today and saw I had a balance I never knew about or received. The school I attended suddenly closed last Sept. Has this happened to anyone else?

  24. I have left over from a pell grant about 4 years ago I just checked can I use the remainder now to pay the school the money I owe them?

  25. I don’t think any if us will ever get these answer to these pell grant questions, I attended national college in Louisville my in 2007-2008, it says out of 5800, I’m still owed 3200,,, where does all the resof our pell grants go, I didnt graduate either, I’m in default in my loans, but I’m finally paying off, but the question we lol have in common is wtf happened to our unused pell grant money???? Please let us know, ty

  26. I was just wondering, I started class in 2017, and the first 2 years that I had started, I wasn’t told until now that I can request for a stipend of the money I didn’t use for my schooling, I didn’t know this because I wasn’t told this until now when I spoke with my advisor and she says now I cant request them because the money went back to the dept of education, and Im just wondering why I wasn’t told this, I am new to this college thing, and why I cant request it.

  27. I was enrolled in an online class to get my Bachelors Degree, and the first two years that I was going, I was not told until now that I had money left over from my classes, and that I have to request a stipend or request the money that is left over, I was just wondering why I wasn’t told that before now and my advisor told me I cant request the first two years that I took classes I only can go on from now, I am so new to this college thing and how would you know that you have to request it instead of them just sending it to you. My advisor now tell me that the money went back to the Department Of Education why? Can someone let me know if something can be done?

  28. I started my automotive course n i got the federal loan/pell grant ..will i recieve a check for gas and other school material …im on 2nd week of school

  29. So if you applied and did everything to go to said college and get accepted for the Pell grant, but ended up not attending the college for whatever reason. Is the reimbursement check good to cash since it was the excess for attendance cost and food cost and such?

  30. I filled out FAFSA for 2020-2021 and it came back stating I had a Pell grant of $2300 back in 1994-95. FAFSA shows that the school only gave me $766 of that grant and the remaining amount of $1534 is still being retained by the school (they never returned it). So in 1999 I had paid the whole grant of $2300 because of them never turning the balance back in. Now that I had paid for the whole thing and FAFSA showing that the school still has $1534, shouldn’t that money that the college is still holding be paid to me for the fact that I had paid for the whole thing?

  31. I was told by my school that the rest of my Pell Grant ,if I do decide to get the left over money, It would become a student loan and I would have to pay it back… Is that true?

  32. What happened if I have NOT received any pell grant refunds that was left over after tuition was paid, and my college telling me I do not receive the money “it’s not technically mine”.???

  33. I received a check for $1500 and didn’t realize I had that check until a year after it was awarded to me since I had received a check with a smaller amount a few months into my semester; I didn’t think I was getting anything more. How can I get access to that unclaimed money?

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