Thursday, May 31, 2012

Here's the Pitch .......

DEFAULT such an ugly word and so much personal financial pain wrapped up in those 7 little letters.  In all of my many years of helping delinquent borrowers learn to manage their student loan debt more efficiently, the one thing that I believe to my very core is that very few borrowers set out to default on their loans. 

Life happens and often throws us some real curve balls. Probably 99% of the delinquent borrowers that I have worked with were in their situation because of an unrelated life crisis that overwhelmed or distracted them. By the time they realized they were behind on their student loan payments, the collection activity had already started – and the headaches that represents! I have always told my students that it is much easier to get results (and help) from customer service representative than from a collector. 

I was listening to Pandora this afternoon and I heard an ad "pitching" a company promising to help out if you had defaulted student loans, including stopping wage garnishment! Since I am always looking for additional sources of help for borrowers in distress, I wanted to check things out. Of course, as with most ads on Pandora, I couldn’t catch the company’s name from the ad’s speed talking announcer. After the third time, I did manage to get the full contact phone number, but I  still could not locate the company on the wide web.

Determined to track this source down, I decided to do a few internet searches for assistance with defaulted student loans or stopping wage garnishment. WOW – was I amazed by the results! I found over 10 companies promising to consolidate your loans. I found dozens of links to web sites promising assistance. It reminded me of the consolidation boom of early 2000 (when I first cut my teeth on the student loan industry). I was particularly surprised by the number of companies offering to help resolve a borrower’s default problems – especially since the ONLY way to consolidate Federal Student Loans and maintain your federal rights and entitlements is to use Direct Loans as your lending source. You can apply directly on-line ( ) or you can ask your DOE loan servicer for assistance.

Buyer Beware:
I was unable to ferret out details about these companies, since their websites seemed to start with the application process.  Call me skeptical, but I am leery of any company that is not completely up front about their services, cost or affiliations.

I have urged this many times, but it bears repeating – you must take responsibility and become an educated consumer. Learn to make choices that are in your best interest. So when you are shopping for help on defaulted or very delinquent student loans, make sure you know exactly who you are dealing with. Unless you are using the approved source for Federal Student Loans, you will most likely be giving up some valuable rights and tools. 
Rights and Tools You May Need:
For example, when was the last time that the lender on your auto loan, mortgage or credit card said “oh, you’re out of work, we are very sorry. You don’t have to make you payment for the next 6 months”? I am assuming that would be a “NEVER”. If you use a private student consolidation loan, you will probably never have these options either.  However under the Federal Student Loan Program, you can temporarily defer loan payments if you are:
  • Unemployed or
  • Working less than 30 hours per week and looking for full-time employment or
  • Are receiving state or federal assistance or
  • Serving in the military
These are just a few of the deferment rights that borrowers are entitled to under the Federal Student Loan Program.  

When was the last time one of your creditors allowed you to select a new payment plan, because you had run into difficulties? Again, I am assuming that would be another “NEVER”. However, unlike private consolidation loans, the Federal Student Loan Program allows borrowers to change payment plans, then switch back again when things stabilize and change again later if the need arises.

Now, I am not going to kid you, the standard 120 month repayment plan is always the best way to pay your loans off. However, the alternative payment plans offer a lot of options to help temporarily manage loan debt. These plans can be very low, including $0 payments on the IBR (Income Based Repayment Plan). Now obviously, you are not going to clear your student loan debt with a $0 payment, but it can provide relief when you need it and allow you to get back on track when your finances stabilize. That is another benefit of the Federal Student Loan Program – there is never a prepayment penalty!

So to wind things up, I am not saying that the new companies are not offering a valuable product or service; however, I do urge borrowers to do their homework, shop wisely and consider the full picture. If you aren’t sure who to trust, contact your DOE servicer or your school’s financial aid department.

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