In the past few months, the U.S. Department of Education – headed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos – has made two significant changes:
It has rolled back protections that hold student loan servicers accountable to work in the best interests of borrowers.
It eliminated the 60-day grace period that prevents borrowers from being charged a default fee, even if they promise to make good on their debts.
Without these protections, many student loan borrowers are on their own. These changes, as well as ongoing issues, have caused complaints about loan servicers submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to skyrocket.
Common complaints against student loan servicers
The complaints the CFPB has been receiving from borrowers expose significant issues within the student loan system. A new report from the CFPB highlights the breakdowns and communication issues among loan servicers. These are some of the most common problems:
1. Servicers do not inform borrowers of their options
Many borrowers who could not keep up with their payments contacted their loan servicers to find out about their repayment options. However, servicers frequently did not inform borrowers of their options, such as income-driven repayment plans, deferment, or forbearance. This caused many borrowers to end up delinquent or in default.
Moreover, for those who were on income-driven repayment plans, servicers did not inform borrowers that they had to reapply annually. That caused many to miss important deadlines and lose out on the reduced payment they had.
2. Processing errors
The CFPB found that loan servicers regularly made mistakes and gave borrowers incorrect information. For example, some servicers failed to refund interest charges or late fees even after borrowers informed them of the error. Those charges compounded, causing the borrowers’ loan balances to balloon.
Those who had loans discharged by the government also found themselves reported as in default. Even though loan servicers lawfully forgave borrowers’ loans, they still erroneously sent negative data to the credit bureaus, damaging borrowers’ credit reports.
A huge increase in complaints
In just three months, the CFPB has had a staggering 325 percent increase in complaints. They received 3,284 complaints in 2017 versus only 773 complaints during the same period last year.
The CFPB says the increase is due to a wide range of factors, from the loss of borrower protections to the enforcement action the CFPB initiated against Navient. And when it comes to student loans, the CFPB says Navient receives the most complaints.
What you can do to protect yourself
It’s important that you not assume your student loan servicer is working in your best interest. It’s up to you to find the necessary information you need to manage your student loans. Here are three ways you can protect yourself from misinformation and errors:
1. Keep detailed records
When dealing with student loan servicers, make sure you keep your loan information organized. Know who your loan servicer is, how much the total loan balance is, and what your payment is each month.
If you are disputing information with your lender, keep detailed logs of every conversation you have. Having that documentation can help you if you get different responses, or if the servicer agrees to fix your problem and doesn’t follow through.
For conversations via email, save copies of each correspondence in a separate folder. And for those who talk to the servicer on the phone, keep a log with the date, time, and loan servicer representative’s name for each call.
2. Know your repayment options
If you are struggling to keep up with your payments on your current salary, being aware of your repayment options can prevent you from entering into default.
One option is applying for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. While there are four types of IDR plans, the essentials are the same: the government caps your payments at a percentage of your discretionary income and extends the repayment term. That approach can dramatically reduce your payments and make it easier to pay the minimum each month.
If you’re facing a financial hardship, such as a job loss or medical emergency, you may qualify for forbearance or deferment. Under these options, you can postpone your payments for months or even years without going into default. While not ideal because interest continues to accrue on your debt, entering forbearance or deferment can give you the time you need to get back on your feet.
If you have private student loans, find out if your servicer offers similar benefits to the federal options outlined above. If not, you might consider refinancing with a better company.
3. Log a formal complaint
If your loan servicer is not working with you to solve issues, such as discrepancies with your loan balance, you can file a formal complaint. You can contact the CFPB online or call 855-411-2372. The CFPB will work with the loan servicer on your behalf to solve the problem.
After exhausting your other options, you can also contact the student loan ombudsman to help reach a resolution. A student loan ombudsman is a neutral third-party who will work with you and your servicer to identify the problem and a solution.