How to Avoid Student Loan Debt Relief Scams
Inside Subprime: Jan 28, 2019
By Lindsay Frankel
Student loan debt is a common setback for more than 44 million Americans. The average borrower graduates with $37,172 in student loan debt, an amount that can take decades to pay off. That debt negatively impacts borrowers’ access to homeownership>.
It’s no wonder that student loan borrowers are eager to erase debt, and scam artists prey on that desperation. In the last few years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been taking action against phony debt relief providers for their deceptive practices. In 2017, the FTC established “Operation Game of Loans,” a federal-state enforcement initiative, after borrowers were stripped of more than $95 million in illegal fees from debt relief companies over the course of several years. The FTC is also working to raise awareness among student loan borrowers.
Here’s how you can protect yourself against these financially harmful schemes:
Never pay upfront fees.
Student loan borrowers shouldn’t have to pay for help getting out of debt, and that’s why it’s illegal for companies to charge upfront fees for debt consolidation services. If you are in contact with a supposed debt relief business that requires upfront payment, that company is operating illegally, and you should file a complaint with the FTC.
Avoid signing a power of attorney.
Signing a power of attorney will allow a scam company to make decisions about your debt for you, which can be financially dangerous. Typically, the scam company will put your loans in forbearance, which temporarily halts the need for payments to the student loan provider. The company will instead collect the payments directly from you, and keep the money without paying down your debt. The borrower later discovers that the forbearance has expired.
Both forbearance and deferment can stop or reduce your monthly payments, but they should only be used as a short-term solution, according to the Federal Student Aid website. If a debt relief company puts your loans in forbearance, it’s a telltale sign of a scam.
Be cautious of offers that sound too good to be true.
There is no such thing as “quick relief” for student loan debt. But scammers will prey on borrowers’ hopes of getting out of debt quickly, making phony promises without providing specific details. There are legitimate loan forgiveness programs, but they typically require you to make payments for years before forgiveness is an option. Don’t fall for scammers’ offers to erase your debt fast.
Don’t pay for a payment plan.
Companies can legally provide help to borrowers, but if they ask for payment before setting you up with a payment plan, they’re ripping you off. According to the FTC, “Consumers can apply for loan deferments, forbearance, repayment and forgiveness or discharge programs directly through the U.S. Department of Education or their loan servicer at no cost.”
Check to make sure the company is accredited.
Before you accept help with your student loans, check to make sure the debt relief company is accredited with the Better Business Bureau and research reviews and complaints from customers.
Should you fall victim to a student loan debt relief scam, you should immediately change your FSA username and password and get in touch with your student loan provider to find out if any actions were taken on your loan. Next, block payments to the fraudulent company by contacting your bank, and file a complaint with the FTC. You can also report issues via the FSA feedback system.