Servicers can guide you through the confusing world of student loans, but you need to help your servicer help you.

In the student loan industry, the Department of Education hires servicers specifically to provide customer service to their borrowers. In that context, it’s ironic that borrowers often complain about these companies’ alleged subpar service and far worse behavior.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore your servicer or avoid asking for help. You’re not destined to get poor customer service by working with the servicer – that’s a myth that borrowers talk themselves into, especially if they’re struggling with their debts.

Student loan servicers are there to help you, but you need to help yourself too. Customer service representatives aren’t mind readers. By knowing what to say – and what not to say – you can have a positive discussion and ensure you receive the best service possible. Here are examples of how to approach your student loan servicer.

• Don’t say, “I can’t pay.” Instead, say “I can’t pay because I’m unemployed, dealing with an unexpected expense, etc.”

Many borrowers call their servicers because they can’t afford to make their payments. In this situation, servicers may offer a payment postponement to get you back on track. The information you provide them will determine how helpful this option really is.

Federal student loan borrowers may be able to pause their payments temporarily via two different options: deferment and forbearance. Forbearance has its merits, but it’s not as good as deferment.

That’s because during a deferment, the government covers the interest on subsidized loans. You can find out if you have these loans by visiting the National Student Loan Data System.

If you only tell your servicer that you can’t pay, the servicer may funnel you right toward forbearance. But if you detail your financial situation, the servicer may be able to identify a better option – like an unemployment deferment, economic hardship deferment or income-driven repayment plan – that meets your short-term needs and saves you money in the long run.

• Don’t say: “You never contacted me about my loans.” Instead say, Do say: “What contact information do you have for me?”

You are responsible for repaying your student loans – regardless of whether you receive a bill from your servicer. The student loan servicer can change, which makes it so important to have up-to-date contact information on file.

Call your servicer to confirm that your phone, email and address information on file are accurate. After all, it’s impossible for a servicer to provide good customer service if it can’t reach you in the first place.

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