Dozens of companies charge high fees and claim to help borrowers reduce or eliminate student loan debt. You may be dealing with one, but you’re not stuck. You can end contact with such companies and apply to federal student loan programs for free through U.S. Department of Education websites.
While not all companies that collect fees in exchange for student loan help are scams, more than 130 businesses have histories that give consumers reason to be wary, a NerdWallet public records investigation found. Those track records include penalties, investigations, lawsuits from federal and state authorities, private lawsuits and poor ratings from the Better Business Bureau.
Unsure if you’re dealing with a fraudulent student loan company? The NerdWallet Student Loan Watch List is a good place to start. Here’s what to do if you’re involved with a misleading student loan relief company.
1. Sever connection with the company
Call the company to request a refund and cancel your contract, if you signed one. If you’ve set up automatic payments, alert your bank or credit card issuer that you no longer authorize charges from the “debt relief” company.
The company may not respond or cooperate with your request to cancel. You can stop making payments anyway, says Persis Yu, director of the Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project at the National Consumer Law Center.
“Given that these companies exist on the fringe of legitimacy,” Yu says, “I think borrowers should feel OK to stop making payments.”
However, there’s an “outside possibility” that the company could sue you for breach of contract or send your bill to collections, she adds.
Once you’ve cut off contact with the company, monitor your personal and financial information for a while afterward, says Suzanne Martindale, a staff attorney at Consumers Union. Make sure that you’re no longer being charged and that negative marks don’t appear on your credit report.
2. Contact your lender or servicer
Call your servicer or lender and explain that you’ve paid a third-party company for student loan assistance.
If you don’t know who your servicer is, log into the Federal Student Aid website to check. Your loans are likely private if you don’t see them listed on the government’s website, but they will appear on your credit report. If you have more than one loan, you may have accounts at multiple servicing companies.
If the agent from the loan servicing company you speak with isn’t helpful, ask to talk with their manager, says Robyn Smith, an attorney who works with Yu at the NCLC and also at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
“Take it as high as you can,” Smith says.
3. Regain control of your student loan account
If you’ve given the “debt relief” company access to your student loan account through a power of attorney form, revoke that agreement. To do so, contact your lender or servicer in writing and attach the original agreement if you have it. Send a copy of the letter to the debt relief company.
Smith suggests saying something in the letter to the servicer like, “I am notifying you that I am revoking the attached consent. As of today, please stop all communications regarding my account with [the debt relief company’s name].”
You may need to get the statement notarized if your servicer requires it, Yu adds. Even if it doesn’t require it, notarizing the statement will help it carry more weight. Make copies of the statement and save them for your records.
Once you regain control of your student loan account, resume making loan payments to your federal loan servicer or lender if you stopped.