Student loan debt has reached a whopping $1.2 trillion, and a reported 7 million student-loan borrowers are in default. A recent report shows that 44 percent of college graduates are underemployed. The average student loan debt for graduating seniors ranges from $25,000 to $40,000, depending on which type of college attended – public, nonprofit or private.
It isn’t hard to understand why individual borrowers are seeking ways to lessen their financial burden. And scammers are taking advantage.
The student loan “debt relief” industry is fraught with misrepresentations, deceptive advertising and potential legal violations of consumer protection laws.
Some “relief” agencies promise loan forgiveness through federal programs that don’t exist; some charge upfront fees of over $1,000 and monthly fees for services but provide nothing in return; and in some cases the consumer is charged for “services” that are freely available.
Other “debt relief” companies promise broad services but only offer loan consolidation.
The Better Business Bureau encourages you to explore the U.S. Department of Education website, https://studentaid.ed.gov/, to learn more about student loan debt and offers the following advice for those looking for debt relief:
• Never pay an upfront fee for student loan services, including loan counseling and consolidation. Federal law prohibits upfront fees for assistance with consumer debt.
• Understand your repayment options, which may include lower payments based on your income. For more information, visit http://1.usa.gov/1Hb7B4J.
You may be eligible for student loan consolidation ( http://1.usa.gov/1sGXCy4), which will combine all of your federal loans for a single monthly payment.
In certain circumstances, you may qualify for deferment or forbearance ( http://1.usa.gov/Wbuotw). In these situations you don’t make payments on your loan; however, you are still responsible for the loan, and any interest will continue to accrue.
Student loan forgiveness, cancellation or discharge only happens in very specific circumstances. If you are or plan to become a teacher, enter military service or public service, then you may qualify. For more information, visit http://1.usa.gov/1uCUzZ6.
If you are uncertain of your total student loan debt or your loan servicers, you can find that information at https://www.nslds.ed.gov.
Private and federal student loans cannot be consolidated or refinanced together. For private student loans, contact your loan servicer directly to discuss if refinancing could reduce your monthly payments.
For more information on scams and local events, visit http://spokane.bbb.org or call (509) 455-4200.
By Erin T. Dodge, BBB editor
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