If you’re asking yourself whether to settle your private student loan debt, then you’re probably in a bit of financial trouble with your student loans. The first thing you should do is take a step back and assess what’s happening. Understanding the full picture will help you make the right decision.
Doing that requires looking at the type of debt that you have – specifically whether you have private or federal student loan debt. Private loans are different than federal loans in many ways, including the repayment options available to you. With private student loans, you will not be eligible for many income repayment plans, forbearance, or deferment. Your specific options will depend on the terms of your loan and how willing your lender is to work with you. But, in general, if you cannot make your private student loan payments, your options are more limited.
How your private student loans can end up in collections
If you stop making payments on your private student loans, a private lender can call you and send you letters as a method of pursuing payment. Often, your private lender will have a third party debt collector do this. However, the private loan lender cannot pursue other avenues of repayment (such as wage garnishment) unless it first gets a judgment against you (by a court of law). This means that the private lender will have to sue you in order to take more action than phone calls and letters. This is different than federal loans because the Federal government does not need a judgment against you to take further action.
What it means if your private student loan lender sues you
If you default on your private student loans, then your lender can take action against you. The terms of your private student loan will define what constitutes a “default” (there is no one definition, as is the case with federal loans). If you default, your lender can file a lawsuit against you in court. The lender must be successful in order to pursue collection beyond phone calls and letters.
Once a lender has a judgment against you (i.e. that a court of law has entered a judgment stating that you are in fact in default on your student loans), it can use other collection methods, including: 1) garnishing your wages, 2) garnishing your tax return, 3) freezing your bank accounts, and 4) getting a lien on personal or real property. However, there are laws in place that limit the amount of money a lender can recover from you. For example, the Consumer Credit Protection Act limits the amount of money that lenders can garnish from your wages (roughly 25% of your disposable earnings or the amount by which your disposable earnings are greater than 30 times the Federal minimum wage). So, if you are facing garnishment, know that you have certain protections under the law.
Your options once your loans are in collections
If your private student loans are in collections or you have a judgment against you, you have the following options. You can 1) pay the amount in full, 2) negotiate a repayment plan or, 3) settle your debt. All of these options will vary depending on your debt collector and how much the collector is willing to work with you. Obviously, if you can pay the debt in full, you should. This is unlikely to be the case, though, or else you probably wouldn’t be in this situation.
The second option is to workout a repayment plan that you can afford. Some lenders or collection agencies will work with you to get on a repayment plan that you can afford. Debt collectors can be tricky to work with, though. A piece of advice: do not give the collector your bank account information (ever). The debt collector could use that information to take money from your account, and you may have great difficulty proving you didn’t authorize it. Whether you are negotiating a repayment plan (or a settlement), make sure you get the terms of your agreement in writing. How much your private loan lender is willing to negotiate a payment plan with you will depend on your specific lender. A good piece of advice is to learn a few negotiating tips before you start discussions.
Finally, you have the option of settling your debt. Usually, you’ll need at least 50% or more of the money you owe (including penalties and fees), for a lender to consider settling. The most important thing to remember when you settle your debt is that the forgiven amount is reported to credit bureaus, so it may hurt your credit (and you may owe taxes on this amount if the lender reports it to the IRS and you’re not insolvent). It’s up to the lender (or collection agency) to decide whether to settle with you.
When you negotiate a settlement, get everything in writing and keep all documentation. You want to have a paper trail to prove what actually happened in case something is mixed up in the process.
Because student loan debt is usually large, it’s a good idea to speak with an attorney who can help you through the process. An attorney can help you understand your specific options based on the law and the specific terms of your loan. Settling your student loan debt is not necessarily always the best way to get out of debt, but it may be a good fit for you, depending on your specific financial circumstances.