Special Bulletin: Does National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts Supposedly Own Your Loans? Make Them Prove It!

If you borrowed private student loans for your postsecondary education, and if an organization called National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts (National Collegiate) asserts you owe loan payments to it, double check everything it says about how much you owe and whether it actually owns your loans.

The New York Times reports that courts across the United States have dismissed IMG_7740many educational loan debts supposedly owed to National Collegiate because its was unable to prove that it had actually purchased those loans from lenders who originally made them. And in at least one case, a court dismissed part of a college graduate’s debt after finding that some loans for which National Collegiate was billing her were for enrollment at a school she never attended.

Note: National Collegiate is a “secondary market” that buys private student loans after they’re made, giving it the right to collect what borrowers owe in principal and interest on those loans. It has been particularly aggressive in going to court against private student loan borrowers unable to repay their debts.

National Collegiate contracts with American Education Services to provide its borrowers with services and do routine collections on its loans. The Times reports it uses a collection agency called Transworld Systems to collect debts when borrowers fall behind on their payments.

If any of your private student loans are being collected by either of these companies, determine whether National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts says it owns them. To do this, contact American Education Services and/or Transworld Systems to inquire. If they list National Collegiate as the owner of any of your loans, double check your records to confirm whether you actually borrowed them. If not, ask for documents proving you borrowed the loans and establishing what the courts call a “chain of title” to prove National Collegiate’s ownership.

Note: There are no reports of any federal or state student loans being dismissed by IMG_7739courts because of the irregularities described above.

Never stop making payments on and debt you really do owe. This can cost you big bucks and ruin your credit rating. And never, ever, use false or misleading information to try to get out of any of your debt obligations. That’s called a criminal offense called fraud!

But if there are questions about debts National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts says you owe it, retain a law firm or seek help from your local legal aid society if necessary. Don’t get ripped off!

We’re on summer vacation at College Affordability Solutions, but this issue was too important to ignore. Join us next month when we again begin publishing regular weekly blogs.

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!

After College: Should You Refinance Your Federal Student Loan Debt?

If you owe on federal student loans borrowed to pay for college, and especially if you watch late night TV commercials, you may be wondering what “refinancing” is and whether it’s the right thing for you?

When you “refinance” you borrow a private loan to pay off your federal loans, IMG_6807pledging to repay the new loan according to terms and conditions stated in its promissory note.

This sounds a lot like a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan but it’s not. Your new loan isn’t coming from the U.S. government so your rights and responsibilities on it are no longer based on laws governing federal student loans. Instead, the promissory note you’ll sign with your new lender defines your rights and responsibilities, and certain benefits and protections you now enjoy most likely won’t be available on your new, private, refinancing loan. Here are some key examples:

Interest Rates: Your federal student loan interest rates are generally fixed for the life of those loans. Refinancing lenders stress that their loans offer lower interest rates than you’re currently being charged — thereby lowering your monthly payments and saving you money in the long run. However, their promissory notes IMG_6803may allow their lenders to raise their interest rates later, perhaps many times.

Deferment and Forbearance: You may defer or forbear payment on your federal loans under certain conditions — returning to college, part-time employment, financial distress, etc. But such postponements may not be available once you refinance, or at least not available for the same circumstances.

Repayment Flexibility: When you owe the government, you get a 6-9 month grace period and the right to make payment under any of 7 different federal repayment plans that best meet your needs. Some of these plans will lower your monthly payments. Your grace period may not be the same on a refinancing loan, and refinancing lenders don’t usually offer you all the same repayment options.

Debt Cancellation, Discharge, and Forgiveness: Federal law creates opportunities through which your debt to the government may be cancelled, discharged, or forgiven. Understand none of these opportunities exist on refinancing loans.

How can you tell if a refinancing loan is good for you? Closely scrutinize its promissory note. If that note doesn’t explicitly guarantee benefits and protections you may need or want, don’t borrow it!

Looking for ways to make your college debts more manageable? Feel free to contact College Affordability Solutions for help.

After College: What Will My Monthly Student Loan Payments Be?

Congratulations! You’ve finished your bachelor’s degree and are about to begin your career. If you borrowed for college, you’ll soon wonder how much you’ll need to spend each month to repay your student loans.

IMG_6700The answer is . . . it depends! It depends on how much you’ll owe when your grace period ends, the combined interest rates on your loans, the student loan repayment plan you select and, under some plans, your earnings and family size. Consider, for example, a new bachelor’s degree recipient who borrowed the annual maximum in Federal Direct Loans during each of his 4 years in college which, when his grace period ends, will amount to a $28,187 debt at a combined interest rate of 4.2%. He just accepted a new $40,000 per year job:

Repayment Plan         Monthly Payment       Number of Payments    Total Amount Paid

Standard                      $276                               120                                     $33,086

Graduated                   $155                               155                                     $34,696

Extended                     This Borrower Not Eligible for This Repayment Plan

Income-Based            $274                                121                                     $33,097

income-Contingent   $202                                165                                     $35,787

Pay As You Earn       $183                                142                                     $36,849

Revised Pay As You Earn     $183                   133                                     $34,193

Want a precise projections of your monthly payment amounts? Open the government’s Federal Student Loan Estimator with your Federal Student Aid ID to IMG_6699get them. Different federal repayment plans have different eligibility criteria, so this’ll also help you identify plans for which you do and don’t qualify.

Such research will help you evaluate the repayment plans for which you’re eligible in preparation for the day you tell your student loan servicer the plan under which you want to begin repaying your loans. It’ll also help you know how much you’ll need to budget for your monthly student loan payments — at least during your first year of repayment.

It’s important to remember two things about loan repayment. In general, the longer your repayment period, the lower your monthly payments will be. But also, the longer your repayment period and lower your monthly payments, the more you pay on your college debt in the long run. So it’s usually best to pick the plan requiring the highest monthly payments you can afford.

Also remember — for federal student loans, you may change your repayment plan as necessary. So if your situation changes and the plan you’re using no longer fits your needs, you may always research and pick another loan repayment plan. This makes federal student loans preferable to most, if not all, institutional, private, and state student loans.

Speaking of non-federal loans, to discover how much you owe and your repayment plan options for them, you’ll need to check your lender website(s) and, maybe, call your lender(s).

Forewarned is forearmed so, no matter what type of student loans you have, start now to research what you owe and your options for repaying it!

Want help considering your repayment plan options? Feel free to contact College Affordability Solutions at collegeafford@gmail.com or (512) 366-5354.

Special Bulletin: Proposed Federal Budget Would Reportedly Makes Big Cuts in Programs for College Students and Graduates

The Washington Post reports it has received what a U.S. Education Department staff member described as “near final” documents showing the administration will IMG_6510recommend a 13.6% reduction in federal education spending next week. The budget proposal would reportedly affect federal financial assistance for college students as follows:

  • Child Care for Enrolled Parents: End a $15 million program helping to make child care affordable for low-income parents attending college.
  • Federal Direct Subsidized Loans: Make as yet unannounced cuts that could end this program, which currently serves financially needy students. If this happens, all federal loans for such students would be unsubsidized and begin compiling interest the day they are made — significantly increasing student borrowing costs.
  • Federal Pell Grants: Hold Pell Grants for the nation’s neediest undergraduates at their current levels ($606 to $5,920 for fall and spring combined). Due to inflation, this would decrease Pell’s future “purchasing power.” Some good news is that the budget would fund an extension of 2017’s summer Pell Grants in future years.
  • Federal Work-Study (FWS): Cut FWS funding by $490 million (almost half), significantly reducing federally subsidized on and off-campus jobs that financially needy students use to pay for college.
  • Income-Driven Repayment: Close down all current income-driven repayment plans available to federal college loan borrowers. These plans offer loan forgiveness for balances remaining after borrowers pay 10% to 20% of their incomes over 20 to 25 year periods. They would be replaced with a new income-driven option requiring payments equal to 12.5% of income and limiting loan forgiveness to balances still outstanding after 30 years of such payments.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): Eliminate PSLF, which offers tax-free debt cancellation on federal student loan balances owed by ex-students in public service jobs after 10 years of on-time payment. Over 550,000 federal, state, local, and nonprofit employees are already registered for PSLF. It’s not yet clear whether they or public servants not yet registered would be cut off from It.IMG_6511

Presidents propose federal budgets, but Congress ultimately decides them. So if you support or oppose any of these proposed cuts, call or write your U.S. representative and senators to tell them how you feel.

College Affordability Solutions will post more bulletins on this website as additional information becomes available.

After College: Use Your Grace Period Wisely

IMG_6400Hey college graduate, did you know they call it “commencement” because so many other things begin once you earn that degree? If you borrowed to pay college costs, your student loan “grace period” is one of those things.

A grace period is something the government gives so you have time to get your finances organized before you must start repaying your federal student loans. For Federal Direct Loans borrowed by students it goes for 6 full months from the day after you stop being enrolled half-time. It runs 9 full months from this date on Federal Perkins Loans.

Notice the reference to full months. For every loan you owe that hasn’t used up its entire 6 or 9 month grace period, you’ll get a full new grace period when you next drop below half-time.

Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loans don’t get grace periods but, working their loan servicers as listed in their National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) records, parents can defer payment while their students are in school and for 6 months after the students for whom they borrowed drop to less-than-half-time.

A lot happens during your grace period . . .

  • Your loan servicer sends you notices about your first payment due date andIMG_6401 choosing your repayment plan options — stuff you really need to know. So keep your servicer apprised of any changes in your email and mailing addresses. You can find its contact information on NSLDS.
  • You’ll get these notices 60 or more days before your first payment due date. Use those 60 + days to set up a monthly budget including amounts for your loan payments.
  • Interest accumulates on any Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans you have and, when your grace periods end, outstanding interest is capitalized — added to principal — inflating the amount on which future interest is charged.
  • Payments aren’t required during grace periods, but they’re not prohibited, either. Whenever you can afford to make a payment, send a note with it directing your servicer to apply it first to your outstanding unsubsidized loan interest. Anything left will be used to reduce your loan principal.
  • Institutional, private, and state student loans may or may not have grace periods of varying length. To check this out, review these loans’ promissory notes.

But no matter what loans you have, use your grace period wisely to prepare for making monthly payments on them when that period ends.

Need advice on managing your college debt? College Affordability Solutions has 40 years experience on this subject. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com if we can help you.

Special Bulletin: Status of IRS Data Retrieval Tool

A key tool used by students seeking financial aid borrowers applying for income-driven repayment plans on their federal student loans is still offline. However, a new government announcement outlines a schedule for getting it back up and running.

In March, the government shut down the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), expressing concerns about the need for extra system security. Here’s where things are now according to a recent status announcement from the U.S. Department of Education —

DRT in October for Student Financial Aid Applicants: For the next 5 months, students will need to keep finding and using recent federal tax returns for themselves and their parents in order to accurately complete their Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAs). The government’s announcement says it’ll be October 1 when a new, more secure DRT will become available to them.

DRT on May 31 for Student Loan Borrowers: Parents and ex-students seeking to certify their eligibility for one of the 4 federal student loan income-driven repayment plans will again be able to access to the DRT beginning May 31, the announcement says. Until then, they’ll need to keep submitting alternative documentation when applying for these plans. Alternative documentation could be paper copies of their federal tax returns or pay stubs.

If and when more information about this problem becomes available, College Affordability Solutions will post another bulletin.