Debt Consolidation: Beware of Student Loan ScamsBy: Lacy Langley - February 25, 2014
It seems that just about everyone has student loan debt at one time in their lives, and as far as debt is concerned, that seems to be the kind that holds on the longest.
If you’re having trouble paying down your student loans, debt consolidation is sometimes the way to go. Wrapping several loans into one can make the payment easier to handle, and sometimes you can get a better interest rate.
However, experts say that these days the student loan debt consolidation market is ripe for fraud. It is recommended that if you have federal loans, you should always consider consolidating through the federal government’s own programs first, according to MainStreet.
“Scammers are definitely taking advantage young adults’ needs for student loan repayment options,” says Reyna Gobel, student loan expert for Wisebread.com and author of CliffsNotes Graduation Debt . “If you have Federal student loans, you automatically qualify for free debt consolidation programs offered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the agency that oversees federal student loan programs, which offers the best repayment plans and terms on Federal student loans.”
If you have private loans, it is a good idea to try to work with your lender directly before contacting a student loan consolidation company. By simply calling and asking what your options are to lower your payment, you could avoid dealing with a scammer who may have some pretty harsh tricks up their sleeves.
Just how common is student loan scamming and why should you be so careful? Surprisingly, it is quite common and widespread. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the creation of a new student protection unit to investigate the student loan “debt relief” industry just last month. Already, the unit has issued 13 subpoenas to student loan debt relief companies for false advertising, unreasonable fees, and enrolling people in programs for a fee which are supposed to be free.
If you decide to try an outside company, there are a few things to watch for. First, be sure you are the one that contacted them.
“Chances are, if you didn’t contact them, they are looking to sign you on to collect fees you would not have to pay by going through the Federal Student Loan Consolidation program or even through your own private lender for personal loans, and that’s a scam,” says Gobel.
Second, a reputable company won’t pressure you to complete the deal. Beware the “expiring interest rate”, “urgent” deadlines, and the like.
Third, be leery of discounts. Scam companies sometimes promise discounts, only to put conditions on them in the fine print. You may fall into a trap wherein that discounted rate only applies to part of the loan, or goes away after a time. Sometimes the rate is low until you miss a payment, then it skyrockets for the rest of the life of the loan.
And of course, never, ever, ever give personal info over the phone or email. Ever.
Again, if you have federal loans always check first with the federal government’s options. They will most likely have the best terms, best rates, and you don’t have to worry about getting scammed.
Image via Wikimedia Commons