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Updated on Thursday, September 10, 2015
Student Debt Relief’s purpose is exactly what it sounds like. The company provides debt consolidation services to graduates who are struggling to make payments on their student loans. It operates under the business name Online Portfolio, Inc. and is based in Florida.
Student Debt Relief looks to target borrowers who decide not to go through the process of applying for a Direct Consolidation Loan on their own. It offers assistance, but for a fee, typically over $100.
Applying for a Direct Consolidation Loan isn’t that difficult. In fact, there are only five steps to the entire online application. Plus, you have the peace of mind that you’re managing your loans, and not a third-party. Make no mistake; companies like Student Debt Relief aren’t affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education (some claim to be, Student Debt Relief doesn’t).
Most of the information in this review is for those who have federal student loans. Those with private student loan debt can consolidate through private lenders that don’t charge astronomical fees, like SoFi, Earnest, and others.
Student Loan Consolidation Details
Student Debt Relief offers borrowers an option for consolidating both federal and private student loans.
On its Federal Loan Consolidation page, it says, “There is no cost to applying for a consolidation if you plan on applying on your own. If on the other hand you need assistance and would like someone to represent you through the consolidation process, and to make sure you get the most benefits available to you, please contact us.”
The first part of that is right – there’s no cost associated with applying for a Direct Consolidation Loan. However, Student Debt Relief makes it seem as though you get an advantage by applying with them. That’s false. The U.S. Department of Education (and your student loan servicer) is there to help you through the process, step-by-step if need be.
You gain nothing by “being represented” by another company. There are no “inside” tricks you’re not aware of. Student Debt Relief is marketing itself as making your life easier, but in exchange for fees – upfront fees typically over $100. If you’re struggling to afford your student loan payments, you’re much, much better off getting the free assistance you’re entitled to from the government.
As for its Private Student Loan Consolidation section, it lists several private lenders that we recommend here on MagnifyMoney. However, it doesn’t offer to place you in a program, but it does provide referral links without a disclosure, so the company is still making money off of you.
Loan Forgiveness Programs and Knowledge Base
Student Debt Relief has a mix of factual and misleading information on its website, and it often quotes the good parts about consolidating (to make it look like the best solution), but leaves out the downfalls.
For example, on its loan forgiveness page, it says, “At the end of your consolidated loans term, any unpaid balance will be forgiven by the Department of Education.” What isn’t included is that you may be on the hook to pay income tax for any balance that is forgiven.
Student Debt Relief also has a “knowledge base” where you can educate yourself on the other programs and repayment options available to you if you have federal student loans. While most of this information is correct, you can find all of it on www.studentaid.ed.gov, and without a sales pitch.
The Process of Working With Student Debt Relief
You can receive a free quote from Student Debt Relief along with a free assessment of your student loan situation. Be aware that the representative you may speak with is not likely to provide you with unbiased help, as they’re trying to sell you on the company’s services. If you contact your student loan servicer, you’ll receive factual information intended to help you. They’ll also be able to assist you in making any payment or program changes.
The form to receive a quote from Student Debt Relief is simple. You need to enter your loan balance, interest rate, adjusted gross income, marital status, number of dependents, and the state you reside in. Once you fill out the form, you need to provide your contact information. A representative will get in touch with you after that.
If, for whatever reason, you choose to reach out to them, make sure you understand exactly what they’re offering and what you’ll be paying for. Many of the BBB complaints were made because customers were unsure of what they were signing up for. Don’t let anyone pressure you into making a decision on the spot.
Throughout the site, Student Debt Relief urges visitors to call them. There is no email address listed; only a contact form. Most of your interaction with the company is likely to be over the phone, so make sure you take down names and numbers so you have a written record of what happened and when.
Warning – What Student Debt Relief Provides Can Be Obtained For Free
While it packages its services attractively and explains it wants to help those overwhelmed by applying on their own, the truth is, you don’t need Student Debt Relief’s services to consolidate your loans. You certainly don’t need to (and should not) pay for its services, either.
Why? Because most of the information they’re repackaging is available for free on www.studentaid.ed.gov. If you want to consolidate your federal loans, you can do so for free (yes, free – there’s no application fee) on www.studentloans.gov.
Notice these websites have a .gov URL. That means these are legitimate government websites. In contrast, Student Debt Relief’s URL ends in .us, which is clever, but doesn’t mean anything. Anyone with a United States address can register a domain ending in .us.
If you look at any page on the website, you’ll notice several typos and grammatical errors as well. The Student Aid website provided by the government is much more polished and easier to read and understand.
Student Debt Relief says it charges service fees for its “time and expertise in processing clients consolidation documents.” It also says its fees are listed on its website, but they’re not. There is zero transparency offered.
One BBB review made on November 12th, 2014 references a fee of $188, which the reviewer later found to be $245 on their statement. Reading through numerous BBB complaints, you can see others were charged varying upfront fees – all over $100.
If You’re Already Struggling, Be Aware of Your Options
Unfortunately, many students are having difficulty affording their monthly student loan payments, and that makes them a target for these so-called “debt relief” companies. If you’re in this boat, please know the proper help is available to you through the U.S. Department of Education and your student loan servicer. The latter should always be your first point of contact when you have any issues with your student loans. Your servicer needs to be made aware before it can take any action to help you.
Don’t buy into what these “debt relief” companies are trying to sell. There’s no reason to worsen your financial situation by paying to consolidate your loans, or paying to get your repayment plan adjusted. When you have federal student loans, these free benefits automatically apply to you.
The law does not allow companies to charge fees for their services unless they can renegotiate, settle, or reduce a minimum of one debt. They’re also not allowed to make false claims they can’t fulfill. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do your research before agreeing to anything.
Protect Yourself With Knowledge
It’s unfortunate there are companies trying to take advantage of unsuspecting borrowers like this. Students are extremely vulnerable; as many don’t realize the rights or benefits they’re entitled to when it comes to student loans. Don’t let that be you.
If something seems too good to be true, in this case, it most likely is. Student loan debt isn’t fun, but it’s much worse when you’re needlessly paying for services you can receive for free. Always verify the legitimacy of a company before signing on the dotted line – and when it comes to student loans – only trust your loan servicer and the U.S. Department of Education. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for proof if you receive a call from a company claiming to be either. If any fees are involved, you know not to sign up.
You can always contact the Education Department at 1-800-557-7392 if you have any questions you’d like to ask regarding loan consolidation, and remember to reach out to your loan servicer if you’re having difficulty making payments. Loan consolidation is just one option you have with federal student loans, and it’s not the best option for everyone. There’s a great repayment estimator on the Federal Student Aid website that can help you understand which repayment options might be right for you.