After College: If Your Student Loan Servicer Mistreats You . . .

The U.S. Education Department (ED) is the lender to which you owe what you borrowed under the Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP). But ED doesn’t collect payments, answer questions, or provide help related to your FDLP debts. It’s contracted those jobs to one of nine private companies called a “loan servicer,” something many lenders do for their student and other consumer loans.

IMG_6914Loan servicers are usually very helpful. However, in one year alone there were over 30,000 documented complaints about them denying or discouraging the use of loan deferments, forgiveness, and repayment plans to which borrowers were entitled; inappropriately charging late-payment fees or increasing interest rates; losing or misapplying loan payments; and otherwise doing injustices to student loan borrowers.

If your servicer messes you over, here’s what you should do:

  1. ¬†Go to ED’s Federal Student Aid website and review the applicable section under “How to Repay Your Loans” to make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities as a federal loan borrower.
  2. Call your servicer for help in resolving the problem. If necessary, speak with someone in management. Keep detailed notes — date, time, names, what you said, what they said, etc.
  3. Problem not resolved? Submit a complaint on the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) website. The CFPB is an independent agency under current IMG_6917federal law. It has the authority to investigate servicers, fine them, and require them to repay the money borrowers lost due to their errors. The CFPB also maintains a publicly accessible database about complaints regarding loan servicers and other financial companies — a database that can be used to determine which servicers ED hires in the future.

The U.S. House recently voted for HR 10. This bill that would end the CFPB’s independence and shut down public access to its complaint database. Also, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed taking servicer misconduct out of the criteria used to award future federal loan servicing contracts.

Nobody’s sure if the U.S. Senate will agree with HB 10 or the DeVos recommendation. So if you have federal student loans call, email or write letters to your Senators now. Tell them what you want them to do regarding these proposals.

And if you ever are mistreated by a federal student loan servicer, be aggressive in standing up for yourself and seeking relief. It’s your right, not just as a borrower, but as a citizen!

This is College Affordability Solutions’ last regularly scheduled blog for the 2016-17 academic year. But we’ll start up again in early August with more strategies to be used before, during, and after college for helping to optimize higher education affordability. Have a great summer. We’ll be back soon!

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Before College: College “Sticker Prices” Aren’t Necessarily Their Final Prices

This summer is the time for rising high school seniors to begin researching colleges they may want to attend. There’s much check out, including each school’s costs.

To get an idea of what it’ll cost to attend different colleges and universities, go to their websites and search for “Cost of Attendance 2018-19.” You might also want to use College Navigator from the National Center for Education Statistics, opening its IMG_6849“Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses” page to track cost increases over the last four years.

Here’s an important point — 2018-19 college prices you see on websites and College Navigator are “sticker prices” and not necessarily final. Schools generally engage in “discounting” their tuition and fees and, sometimes, other student expenses.

Colleges offer discounts differently than auto dealers, although the end result is the same. Rather than reducing a student’s tuition and fees, they give him grants and especially scholarships to pay these charges. For recruiting purposes, prestigious institutional scholarship offers often impress families and help bring in students.

Public and private colleges both discount. A new study by the National Association of College and University Business Officers found that private non-profit colleges and universities provided institutional grants and scholarships to 87.9% of new freshmen and 78.5% of all undergraduates in 2016-17. Collectively, these awards discounted tuition and fees by 49.1% for freshmen and 44.2% for all undergraduates.

Why discount? One reason is increased price sensitivity by families still recovering from the recession. It’s also related to decreased numbers of traditional college-age students and increased competition from other institutions for, like all businesses, colleges must bring in customers to survive.

IMG_6850Not every student should expect grants and scholarships equal to the discounting percentages noted above. Financial need plays a role. So do the characteristics of students an institution seeks to enroll; some want higher SAT scores, or certain types of musicians, or students likely to succeed in various academic programs. Your student won’t know his actual discount rates until winter or early spring, when he receives official financial aid offers from the colleges to which he’s applied.

The important thing is this — don’t let a institution’s “sticker price” discourage your student from putting it on the list of colleges to which he’ll apply. If that price gets discounted, it may be much more affordable than he thinks.

Special Bulletin: IRS Data Retrieval Tool Back On-Line for Income-Driven Repayment Applications

Good news! The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) is once again operable for federal student loan borrowers requesting Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans.

When such borrowers apply for IDR plans on their federal student loans, they must provide information to the U.S. Department of Education data from their recent tax returns. The DRT the easiest and fastest way to do this but, in early March, the IRS made the DRT inoperable due to security concerns.

Now, new encryption has been added to the DRT. The Department of Education and IRS will also be back on-line to provide tax return data for the 2018-19 Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) when that form becomes available this coming October 1.