This is actually a guest post submitted to my on my Get Out of Debt site. However, it contains such good commonsense advice for people looking to hire a student loan assistance company, I wanted to share it with you here.
I recently asked the Association for Student Loan Relief (AFSLR) to submit a guest post that described what consumers should do when a student loan relief company, and even an AFSLR member, didn't deliver as promised.
Imagine my pleasant surprise when they stepped-up and accepted the challenge.
A big hat tip goes out to Ward Welke and Robby Birnbaum for contributing this material.
The student loan burden currently facing our country is much larger than most people realize. Currently there are approximately 37 million Americans with outstanding student loans with an aggregate face value of around $1 trillion. Of those it is estimated that over 5 million borrowers are past due on at least one of their student loans. - Source
This enormous problem has given rise to an industry seeking to help guide these struggling borrowers to a relief solution that suits their needs. Like almost any other service industry, sometimes things do not go exactly according to plan. We would like to take a moment to try and best address some of these scenarios so that consumers can make good, well-founded decisions in addressing their current financial hardship situations, as well as what solutions might be available to them in the event that the company they selected does not deliver the result that was intended.
The Association for Student Loan Relief (AFSLR) exists as a body to educate companies that are currently in the student relief industry on the various issues of regulatory compliance, as well as the various products and services that might currently be available. We do not police the industry, nor provide legal advice of any kind. We encourage all companies, whether they are members of AFSLR or not, to become more educated on the various relief options that are available to consumers. Everyone's situation is unique and must be treated as such.
All of our member companies are required to abide by a Code of Ethics. These core values include Honesty, Fairness, Promise-Keeping, Respect for Others, Compassion and Integrity.
It should be noted that if you are dealing with a member of AFSLR (and we will be happy to verify any company's membership in our organization [click here]) then we will be happy to act as an intermediary between you and the company to help address any issues you may have with that company. While we cannot guarantee any outcomes, we can ensure that your issue is addressed appropriately or else the member company may be subject to expulsion from AFSLR.
Know Before You Buy
It sounds very straightforward and simple - know what you are getting into before you commit to it. However, when dealing with financial hardship, quite often a consumer's judgment becomes cloudy purely with the oppressive burden of their current hardship situation to the point that any relief scenario sounds like the right idea. Almost all of the scenarios we will discuss in this paper can be avoided by understanding your situation fully and knowing your options.
Almost every state allows for at least a 3 day rescission period when signing up with a student debt relief firm. Please avail yourself of this time period and read, re-read, and read again your consumer contract. If you have ANY questions about exactly what you signed up for, then call the company you signed up with ASAP and get to the bottom of things. You want to ensure the outcome you hope to achieve is in fact the outcome you have agreed to pay for.
With regard to fees, make 100% certain you understand all of the fees associated with your program. Every company sets their own fees and they can vary drastically based on the service you have selected.
Know that if you are doing a federal loan consolidation ALL of these programs are available for free via the US Department of Education.
Any relief firm that holds themselves as having a special connection to the DOE, or a program of their own is not telling the truth and should be avoided. While there are programs available for free that you can indeed complete by yourself, be advised that, much like a CPA for your tax filings, sometimes it is easier and preferential to have a skilled professional ensure that you have enrolled correctly and can walk you through each step in the process.
Find out if the company you are dealing with is licensed to perform the services they are selling. In many states this involves a telemarketing license. Every state is very different and laws can change annually, but it never hurts to ask and understand.
Fees are Not What I Agreed To
In the event that you are charged amounts that are not expressly stated in your contract, you should contact your student loan relief company immediately. Often times there may be banking or other fees associated with your program, however if these are not explained to you in the enrollment process and detailed in your consumer agreement then you should absolutely address this with your student loan relief company.
Can't Get in Touch / Company Won't Call Back
This is a completely unacceptable scenario when you are dealing with a student loan relief firm. While there is not a hard and fast rule for when companies should respond, 24-48 hours is a reasonable time to expect to hear back from the company you have selected. If you do not hear back within a reasonable time there are a few options available to you:
- Request a bank or credit card (merchant) charge back. The effect of this is that it puts the burden of proof back on the student loan company as they will have to go through an investigation by the bank/merchant to determine if they have been providing services as detailed in your agreement.
Unsatisfied with the Result of My Program
All student loan relief companies should identify, in their services agreement, written materials and on the phone, exactly what work they will be doing on your behalf, the time frame for that work to be completed, and the service fees they charge for the work.
Some consolidation applications can be approved in a very short period of time while others may take the DOE stated timeframe of 45-90 days.
No relief company should ever tell you that they can guarantee your application will be approved and within a certain period of time as it is simply not in their control. This is out of their control and they should not make such claims. If your company provided you with a satisfaction guarantee or a refund of any money you may have paid them, then you should contact them immediately to discuss this.
Again, be aware of the promises or guarantees your company is making PRIOR to signing up for their services. A simple and effective way to handle a company who is not responding to your lack of satisfaction or lack of service rendered is to request a charge back from your bank or credit card company. Merchant and banking regulations will side with the consumer and put the burden of proof on the company. - Source