Americans owe $1.67 trillion in student loans, and rapacious private companies or outright scam artists are rampant, luring borrowers with offers of debt elimination or reduced payments. If you are asked to directly pay an upfront fee before you see student debt relief, stay clear. It’s a scam.
How to know if a debt relief offer is a scam
Not all debt relief companies offering to consolidate your loans are scamming you, but they might feel like it. These companies can aggressively advertise on Facebook and Google, or they might reach you by phone. Typically they fill out paperwork on your behalf and charge you extra for something that’s otherwise free to do on your own, so remember that government repayment program enrollments can be done directly through the US Department of Education or their loan servicer. Visit the Federal Student Aid site for more details (for private loans, contact your loan company directly).
Debt relief companies are considered fraudulent when they charge you for a service and then don’t do what they promised. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to identify fraudsters offering debt relief.
Don’t pay an upfront cost or monthly payments
When a student loan company offers you an enticing interest rate or loan terms then demands an upfront fee, it’s a scam. The fee can be in the form of a small percentage of the loan amount, monthly fees, or a flat rate of a few thousand dollars, or even a second, personal loan that you “repay.” It’s illegal for student debt relief companies to collect fees before they lower or settle a customer’s loans.
Don’t trust promises of immediate loan forgiveness
Student loan companies can’t promise immediate student loan forgiveness or cancellation. There are legitimate loan forgiveness government programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness, but they require years of qualifying payments or qualifying employment before loans can be forgiven. Watch out for any company that claims to have a special relationship with the Department of Education (they don’t).
Never share your FSA ID password or other personal information
Never share your FSA ID with anyone, as it has the same legal status as a written signature. Nor should you give out your social security number, which is not needed. This data gives the businesses the ability to sign into your account and make decisions on your behalf. If you think you’ve spotted a scam, report it to the FTC, CFPB, and your state attorney general’s office.