When Johnnie was trying to figure out what to do about his student loans that were in collections, he got more than the run-around. He was almost misled into making what could have easily been a costly, bad decision.
Johnnie was thinking of getting a personal loan to consolidate about $12,000 in federal student loan debt that had gone into collections. He was in the process of rehabilitating his loans to get back on track, but the student loan debt collector made it sound like taking the rehabilitation route would bring Johnnie nothing but misery in the future. He wrote in a comment on the Credit.com blog:
I was told my loans can be bought and sold at [the lender's] discretion and that I would have to randomly renegotiate my terms. That bothers me a lot. Should I just constantly deal with this ridiculous flip-flop of lenders selling my loans off and always renegotiating my payments and interest constantly changing, or will it be OK to pay them with something I can get set in stone?
What Johnnie says the lender told him was flat out wrong.
“There is no flip-flop,” said Joshua Cohen, who goes by the moniker, “The Student Loan Lawyer.” He went on to explain, “Federal loans are only sold for one particular purpose – to complete the rehabilitation process if it is a FFEL loan. Direct Loan loans are never sold. The collector doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about.”
While Johnnie had only federal student loan debt, the same is true for private student loans — even if the debt is sold, the rate and terms of the loan will stay the same.
Cohen suggested that our reader complete the student loan rehabilitation process to get out of default, and then apply for Income-Based Repayment or another affordable repayment plan if his post-rehabilitation payments turn out to be too high. But the idea that his loan could be sold at whim and the interest rate would have to be renegotiated each time was inaccurate. “There is no random negotiating, there is no random interest change,” he said.
Had Johnnie not double-checked this bad advice, he could have made a very expensive mistake: consolidating with a personal loan that would have likely carried a higher interest rate and would not offer the flexible repayment options that are often available on federal student loans. (Here are legitimate ways to consolidate student loans.)
That’s not to say that all student loan collectors or servicers give wrong information, though.
Another time, a friend called me for advice about her stepson’s student loan that she and her husband had just learned was in default. The amount was relatively small so they could afford to pay it off for him, but the student loan servicer recommended he not do so. I questioned that advice, thinking it was a ploy to just earn them more money in interest. But the servicer explained that if he first rehabilitated the loan, the default remark would be removed from his credit, and then they could pay it off. In that case, the borrower was getting good advice that could benefit his credit in the long run.
Who Is Telling the Truth?
Borrowers who are having trouble keeping up often feel overwhelmed and become confused dealing with the ins and outs of the student loan world. Many, like Johnnie, don’t even know what kind of loans they have — much less what their options for repaying them are. (When we asked our reader what type of loans he had; he said he didn’t know, and wasn’t sure where to find out.)
Here are four ways consumers can become their own advocates:
1. Start with the National Student Loan Data System website to find out what types of federal loans you have, how much you owe, and the status of each. Johnnie found his loan information there quickly, remarking that he didn’t even know that website existed. For private student loans, you can pull your credit reports to get more information (see step #2).
2. Understand how your loans affect your credit. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to check your credit reports for free and to learn what loans are listed on your reports. Visit Credit.com to get a free analysis of your credit scores along with an action plan for your credit.
3. Not sure if you are getting accurate advice? Double check with the Department of Education’s Ombudsman Group and/or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Be as specific as you can with your question. For example, “Is it true my unsubsidized Stafford loan can be sold and I’ll have to renegotiate the interest rate?” is a better question than, “Can my student loan rate change?”
4. Get help when you need it. If you feel you are being harassed or intentionally misled by a student loan debt collector, consider talking with a consumer law attorney with expertise in student loans — you’ll find referrals at TheStudentLoanLawyer.com — or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and the CFPB. If a debt collector breaks the law it may have to pay your attorney’s fees and you may be entitled to damages.
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