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Updated on Friday, September 18, 2015
Student Debt Center offers student loan borrowers a service to help them consolidate their student loans, as well as get their loans forgiven. It claims its mission is “to educate people on the different student loan relief programs” available, and “to assist people with student loans on qualifying, applying, and enrolling on the best available program.”
You may have seen a few of these “student loan relief” companies around, or have been contacted by them before. The first thing you need to know is the help of another company to apply for any sort of loan forgiveness or repayment assistance program offered by the Federal government isn’t necessary. Especially as they charge for their services. You can do it yourself for free.
Student debt relief companies try to market themselves as a convenient solution because they take care of all the paperwork, but do you really want a company (that isn’t certified in any way) working on your behalf to place you into these programs? If you’re already struggling to afford making payments, you should be aware of how you can get the same results for free.
Let’s take a look at why you’re better off improving your student loan debt situation on your own.
Services Offered by Student Debt Center
Right off the bat, Student Debt Center gets a strike as it says, “Want relief on your student loans? Act now before these programs are no longer available.” Please don’t buy into this sense of urgency. Student loan forgiveness programs and repayment assistant programs aren’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon, at least for federal student loan borrowers. You have access to these benefits as long as your loans are in good standing.
It also says there’s a “huge conflict of interest” when working with your student loan servicer to get placed in another repayment plan, as the servicer stands “to lose a lot of money on interest they will no longer collect.” However, it’s in Student Debt Center’s best interest to help you because it charges for the service!
In any case, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau works to ensure that all federal student loan servicers are complying with Federal consumer financial protection laws, and it has been very clear it expects more out of loan servicers. If you ever feel your loan servicer is hindering your ability to pay off your student loans, rather than help, you should submit a complaint.
Under its “Student Loan Forgiveness” section, it just says there are several programs out there you can use to get your loans forgiven, canceled, or discharged. Under its “Public Service Forgiveness” section, it goes a little more in-depth as to how you can qualify and what the program does for borrowers.
Under its “Student Loan Consolidation” section, it briefly explains under what circumstances a borrower should consider applying for a Direct Consolidation Loan. It doesn’t offer many additional details beyond what repayment programs you can choose.
The FAQ page, on the other hand, offers all the details you might be looking for, except that much of the information (word for word) is taken from studentaid.ed.gov.
How the Process Works
There are a few ways you can contact Student Debt Center – you can call, email, or chat with a representative on the website. It also provides a mailing address and a fax number.
There’s a form you can fill out to find out what programs you qualify for. It requires basic personal information along with your total amount of student loan debt. Be careful when filling out these forms from any of these companies, because you’re required to give them your email and phone number. If you read the fine print, that gives them permission to contact you, regardless of whether or not you’re on a “do not call” list.
Student Debt Center only details how the loan consolidation process works. It will locate your student loan information and apply for a consolidation on your behalf. You’ll then be mailed the application, which you have to sign and mail back. Your new lender will confirm how much is left on your balance with your old lender, pay off the loan, and then send you a statement so you can begin paying your loan under the new terms. The entire process can take up to 90 days.
The Free Options Available to You
If you’re looking to make your student loan payments more manageable, you can apply to consolidate your Federal loans through the Direct Consolidation Loan, all for free. The application takes approximately 30 minutes to fill out on studentloans.gov, and it has five steps to it. It’s not worth paying a third-party company to do it for you.
Note that consolidating isn’t always the best route to take as you may lose certain benefits in the process. It also doesn’t always lower your monthly payment by much as your new interest rate is the weighted average of your loans rounded up to the nearest 1/8th of 1 percent. It’s a good option to choose if you owe more than one servicer and can’t keep track of all your payments.
Another option is changing your repayment plan to an Income-Driven repayment plan, or the Extended or Graduated repayment plan. Most of these should provide you with a lower monthly payment, although Income-Driven repayment plans have stricter eligibility requirements.
An easy way to see the plans you’re eligible for is to use the Repayment Estimator provided by the U.S. Department of Education. If you log into your account, you’ll see the estimated payments you’d be required to make under each plan you’re eligible for. After doing your research, call your loan servicer (or go online to your account) and ask them if they can place you in a different repayment plan. They can do it for you, for free.
Have you already missed payments, or possibly entered into default status on your loans? Consolidating your loans may help here, too. You can consolidate a defaulted loan as long as you agree to pay under an income-based repayment plan, and it will take your loan out of default.
You also have the option of entering a loan rehabilitation program where you’ll need to make nine out of ten consecutive “reasonable and affordable” monthly payments. You won’t have to pay what you were previously paying under the standard 10 year repayment plan, and once you’ve completed the payments, your loan will be restored to good standing, and the default will be erased from your credit history.
Lastly, if you’re in a temporary rough financial situation, you can apply for deferment or forbearance, depending on your situation. This can also be done through your loan servicer.
Above all, always speak with your student loan servicer and keep them in the loop. The worst thing you can do is stay silent and try to ignore the issue. It won’t go away, and being in default can severely damage your credit score. Your student loan servicer can give you advice and tell you how to take action if you don’t know where to start.
Are There Fees?
There is no mention of fees on the website other than on its referral page. If you refer someone who signs up and applies with Student Debt Center, you’ll get $50 off your “enrollment fees.” Considering it also offers a money back guarantee, you will be paying for the services it offers, one way or another.
Honesty and Transparency and Other Claims
Student Debt Center says it has a 100% money back guarantee and also claims it’s honest and transparent for your peace of mind.
It at least mentions you can enroll in the programs offered for free if you do the work yourself, but goes on to say, “These programs are also budget based and will not be around forever.” That creates a false sense of urgency, as we pointed out in the first section of this review.
While it’s true that any government program can eventually be changed or stopped, the likelihood of that happening is very low at the time of publication. With so many borrowers struggling to afford their student loan payments, there would be a huge uproar if any of these programs were taken away. Besides that, the programs wouldn’t be gone overnight. There’s no reason to rush through this process.
Interestingly, on its “10 insider tips” page, it recommends not falling “for the trap of pushing selling techniques or discounts being offered if you act NOW.”
On the same page, it says to “never hire a company that charges you for their services by incorporating a monthly payment throughout the term of the new program in which you are being enrolled.” While we wholeheartedly agree with that (and not paying at all), Student Debt Center doesn’t make its fee structure known.
Lastly, “As seen on: ABC, Forbes, CNN, CBS, Fox News” appears as a graphic on the homepage, but doesn’t provide any links to the articles where the company appears.
What if I Have Private Student Loans?
Wondering if there are any solutions if you have private student loans along with your Federal student loans? There are several companies out there, like Earnest* and SoFi*, which will consolidate both federal and private loans. Consolidating may give you a lower monthly payment and a lower interest rate, and both companies currently offer flexible payments with repayment assistance options available.
You should take the same steps as those with federal student loans and speak with your lender. Let them know you’ve been struggling, and they may be able to offer you another solution such as a loan modification. While there aren’t any standards private lenders have to follow as far as repayment assistance goes, many are willing to work with borrowers as they would rather not have you default on the loan.
Take the Do-It-Yourself Approach
We’ve said it many times throughout this article, but it’s worth repeating: your limited money shouldn’t be going toward a service available for free elsewhere. Paperwork might be a pain, but getting your money tied up with a third-party company isn’t worth the additional stress. You should be talking with your student loan servicer, not a “student debt relief” provider.
You have all the steps you need to take outlined here. Take advantage of the many benefits offered to Federal student loan borrowers, and don’t fall for these companies trying to sell you on convenience.
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