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How These Student Loan Borrowers Are Getting Their Debt Dismissed in Court

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Student debt is only forgiven or discharged in special cases, but a new report by The New York Times might offer a glimmer of hope to some student loan borrowers struggling to manage their debt.

If a student loan lender or servicer can’t prove that they own the debt that they are attempting to collect from a consumer, it’s possible that the debt can be dismissed in court.  That’s what happened in a recent case profiled by New York Times reporters Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg involving private student lender National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts, one of the nation’s largest owners of private loans.

National Collegiate sued dozens of former students who had defaulted on their private student loans. But in court National Collegiate failed to prove they owned the loans. This happens often when loans are sold to another lender, or otherwise handed to another account manager and paperwork gets lost. Ultimately, the courts dismissed the lawsuits, citing the fact that National Collegiate had no way of proving they owned the debts in the first place.

This isn’t always how the scales tip in cases against consumers for unpaid debts.

If consumer debts are left unpaid for an extended period of time, consumers can and often are taken to court by the companies they owe. Often, consumers don’t answer these lawsuits at all. And when lawsuits aren’t answered, judges usually rule in favor of the plaintiffs. With those judgments in place, companies can then push to have the consumers’ wages or federal benefits like Social Security garnished.

The outcomes in these National Collegiate lawsuits are proof of what can happen if consumers simply show up at court and try to fight back.

“Individuals trying to get rid of student loan debt should be proactive in demanding proof of ownership of the loan documents from the lender that is collecting or trying to enforce the [loan],” says Attorney Evelyn J. Pabon Figueroa, based in Orlando, Fla.

People who are going through the bankruptcy process and are attempting to have student loan debt discharged should also ask their lenders for proof that they own the debt, Figueroa says. If proof isn’t provided, they should dispute the debt.

Figueroa says in some cases borrowers should even stop making payments if they believe the lender doesn’t have the right documents to prove they own the loan. Instead, send the lender a debt verification letter, which asks lenders to provide proof that the debt belongs to a person. You can download a sample debt verification letter from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.

The CFPB suggests asking these three questions in your letter:

  • Why a debt collector thinks you owe this debt.
  • The amount of the debt and how old it is.
  • Details about the debt collector’s authority to collect this money.

If the lender can’t provide proof, you should consider disputing the debt, either in court (if the lender has filed a lawsuit against you at that point) or through the three major credit bureaus (if the debts are appearing on your report and subsequently hurting your credit score).

How student lenders lose track of their debts

If the National Collegiate debacle sounds familiar, it should. It’s similar to the same issues mortgage lenders encountered during the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. Lenders took borrowers to court to pursue unpaid mortgage debts, but when the lenders could not provide proof that the borrowers owed the debt, courts often ruled that the loans were not collectible. The lack of documentation was so pervasive that many borrowers intentionally defaulted on their mortgage loans on the off chance a lender could not prove they owned the debt.

National Collegiate is already anticipating that it will face the same problem — that borrowers will simply stop paying their debts — as word spreads of its inability to win lawsuits against borrowers. “[A]s news of the servicing issues and the Trusts’ inability to produce the documents needed to foreclose on loans spreads, the likelihood of more defaults rises,” the company said in a recent legal filing.

What to do if you’re sued by a student lender or debt collector

First, don’t panic. The last thing you want to do if you’re ever sued is admit in writing or verbally that you owe the debt. In the event the lender can’t prove they own the debt, this may come back to haunt you. By taking these few key steps, you can protect yourself both legally and financially in the event you’re served with a lawsuit from a lender:

  1. Ask them to verify the debt. If you’re already suspicious your loan lender may have lost your paperwork and can’t prove the debt, start by sending out a debt verification letter. If the lender doesn’t respond (give them 30-60 days), they must cease attempting to collect the debt. If they don’t stop, you’ll likely need to contact a lawyer. You may not need to hire one, but a quick consultation for legal advice for your best course of action will be well worth it.
  1. Never discuss the debt over the phone. If a lender or collection agency contacts you via phone before you are served a lawsuit or receive anything in the mail, be sure to get the caller’s name, company, and license number. Once you have this information, it’s best to communicate via certified USPS mail to track and document that every correspondence has been received by the legitimate collections company and lender. If you end up in court, this is important, as it establishes a paper trail for your communications. (Email and electronic timestamps can easily be forged.) Keep in mind you don’t ever have to answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number, and you have a legal right to tell debt collectors to stop contacting you entirely.
  1. Contact a lawyer. Lawsuits involving large sums of money are no small game to play in a courtroom. Most consumers don’t know the intricacies of the laws that actually protect them (and sometimes may not know how to read the contracts they signed), but a lawyer versed in contract law or one who specializes in bankruptcy can easily help dispute the debt and, if it’s valid, negotiate a settlement without ever stepping into a courtroom. The CFPB keeps a handy list of legal aid groups so you can find an affordable lawyer in your state.

 

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Kelly Clay
Kelly Clay |

Kelly Clay is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kelly here

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Multi-Level Marketing and Military Families: How to Spot a Scam

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Being a military spouse isn’t an easy job. Non-enlisted spouses deal with difficult realities that many Americans don’t understand, from frequent relocation to defacto single parenting during deployment periods. That makes earning an income while caring for a family — especially one with young children — extremely difficult.

With challenges like these, it’s no wonder the unemployment rate among military spouses is 13%. That’s more than three times as high as the unemployment rate among civilian men and women.

Enter multilevel marketing businesses, or MLMs for short, that promote the opportunity to make money selling products directly to others. On the surface, their flexibility and built-in community may seem like a godsend to military spouses looking to bring in some extra cash. But are they all they’re cracked up to be?

How MLMs work

Besides selling your own products, MLMs involve recruiting others to join your team and sell products to the people in their circles as well. With most MLMs, you get a portion of your team member’s profits when someone joins your sales network. As the process repeats itself and your team members recruit sales networks of their own, you may continue to get a piece of the profit from everyone who signs up underneath you.

You can probably name several MLMs, also called network marketing companies, off the top of your head. There are the classics, like Tupperware, Amway, Avon and Mary Kay, along with newcomers like Beachbody, LuLaRoe and Rodan + Fields.

Yet although MLMs have been around for decades (or centuries — Avon was founded in 1886), they’re often a poor investment of your time and money. An AARP Foundation study reveals that 74% of people reported making no money or losing money as a result of their involvement with an MLM. (Investing your cash in a high-yield online savings account would actually be a safer bet, statistically.)

Why MLMs are so popular with military families

Military families in particular are often targeted by direct-selling consultants. Sometimes, this comes from a genuine desire to help military families that are looking for an additional source of income, suggested Anthony Kirlew, financial coach at Fiscally Sound.

Yet others believe the intentions of MLM recruiters may be more sinister. “Military wives are an easy target [for MLMs],” said Melissa Blevins, founder of Perfection Hangover, a small business website geared toward women, “because they’re seeking community, purpose and ways to stay busy and make money while their husbands are deployed.”

MLM recruiters often approach women (military wives or otherwise) with promises to solve the problems they’re facing. For example, a recruiter may show you a flexible way to earn extra cash (often lots of it) with a work schedule that fits your busy life. Plus, if you move, you don’t have to start over. You can take your direct-selling business with you.

The targeting of military families has a lot to do with the transient nature of military service, said Peter Marinello, vice president of the Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council for Better Business Bureau (BBB) National Programs. “I think the military community is very vulnerable to direct-selling opportunities and a lot of different kinds of scams.”

This frequent relocation can also lead to loneliness among military spouses, and MLMs offer to help those who are seeking new friendships. But Blevins, who had her own negative experience selling for Beachbody, warned the friendships you make when you join an MLM may not last once you stop participating, and you run the risk of losing your existing friends if you start bombarding them with sales pitches.

The difference between a legitimate opportunity and a scam

You’ll find people who are superfans of multilevel marketing programs and others who despise MLMs as a whole. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.

Marinello confirmed, “There are a lot of good MLM opportunities out there. They are not all scams.” But they require due diligence before signing up. To properly vet an MLM, Marinello suggests reading income disclosures to “see who’s making money [and] at what level.” You should also review compensation plans and rely on outside resources to help shape your decision.

If you want to learn more about a specific direct selling organization, the following ideas may help:

  • Check with your state attorney general for complaints before signing up for any networking marketing opportunity.
  • Search online to see if any lawsuits have been filed against an MLM before joining — such as the FTC’s settlement with Herbalife or the more recent lawsuit brought against LuLaRoe by the Washington state attorney general.
  • Talk to former consultants or search online for the opinions of people who once joined a particular MLM but ultimately left.
  • The BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust sponsors the Military & Veterans Initiative — a program designed to help veterans, servicemembers and their families avoid scams.
  • The Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council (DSSRC), a collaboration between the BBB and the Direct Selling Association (DSA), is another solid resource to use when vetting MLMs.

How to spot a pyramid scheme

Some MLMs are pyramid schemes in disguise. A pyramid scheme may look like a legitimate network marketing opportunity on the outside. But there are key distinctions that could waste both your time and your money if you fall for it.

  • You don’t earn money by selling a legitimate product or service.
  • You’re trained to focus primarily on recruiting new team members underneath you.
  • Financial statements from the company either (a) are not available or (b) show that the MLM earns most of its money from recruitment instead of sales.
  • The commissions you earn come primarily from money paid by new team members themselves, not outside sales.

Working for an MLM is not a quick fix to your financial struggles

The reality doesn’t always live up to the hype where MLMs are concerned. Some MLM participants are quick to over-promise your chances of success in an effort to add a new team member to their network.

In reality, most people who join MLMs don’t earn the enormous sums of money often advertised by salespeople. AARP’s study found that nearly 21 million Americans have participated in an MLM. Yet only 7% earned over $10,000. Fewer than 1% earned more than $100,000.

Even those who do manage to make some money through MLMs may have to work much harder to earn that income when compared with other jobs. A MagnifyMoney survey finds that the vast majority of multilevel marketing participants earn less than 70 cents an hour.

Kirlew also advised approaching MLMs with the right mindset. “While MLM’s are pitched as a great way to earn extra income, people should know it’s not like a part-time job, but rather a part-time business.”

“If someone has a need for immediate income,” he continued, “I would recommend a part-time job and not an MLM.”

Most businesses don’t succeed — including MLMs — Kirlew pointed out. “The extra added pressure of trying to meet short-term financial goals is usually not a good combination with starting a new business.”

If you’re already in debt because of an MLM investment or other financial missteps, there are a number of tools you can use to improve your situation. This guide detailing financial resources for veterans in debt is a great place to start.

Seven red flags to look for before joining a multilevel marketing team

  1. Beware of MLMs that require a hefty buy-in. If you’re asked to put up a large upfront amount to join, Kirlew said it could be a sign of a scam.
  2. An aggressive sign-up pitch is cause for concern. Kirlew advised looking out for “high-pressure sales tactics to get you to sign up” when you’re considering an MLM. If someone tells you to “act now” or lose out on an opportunity, you should probably walk away.
  3. Proceed with caution if a company won’t buy back unused products. If you purchase product to stock your inventory and don’t sell it all, some MLMs offer to buy your unused product back. Mary Kay, for example, will repurchase product at 90% of the original cost for up to one year after purchase. MLMs that won’t rebuy your unused products should be avoided.
  4. Watch out for companies that require you to continue purchasing inventory after your sign up. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns if you have to buy more products than you can sell in order to stay active in an MLM, you should hang on to your money.
  5. When an MLM focuses on recruitment, not sales, it could be a sign of trouble. Marinello said, “Anytime you hear a sales pitch that’s recruitment heavy and not focused on selling the product, I’d be very wary.”
  6. If a company promises a huge return on your investment, be on guard. Extravagant income claims made by a salesperson, particularly in the social media space, may be a warning sign, Marinello advised.
  7. You should also be on guard if an MLM company promises “miracle cures” for buyers. The FTC recommends avoiding any companies that make claims of “miracle ingredients” or “guaranteed results” where health products are concerned.

The bottom line

While some MLMs may offer the flexibility and community military spouses crave, don’t make any rash decisions and do your homework. Kirlew also advised that you trust your gut instincts before signing up.

“If something doesn’t feel right,” Kirlew said, “it is either not right or not right for you.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Michelle Black
Michelle Black |

Michelle Black is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Michelle here

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10 Great Free Checking Accounts

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

The humble checking account may not offer rewards, cash back or many of the other perks offered by ritzy credit cards, but it remains the cornerstone of your financial life. Nobody likes paying monthly maintenance fees, so why not pick a free checking account that does away with them altogether?

Below, we’ve selected nine of the best free checking accounts by scouring our database for products meeting the following criteria:

  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • A low initial deposit amount (between $0-$50) needed to open the account
  • No minimum balance requirement
  • Minimal third-party ATM fees
  • Available nationwide

10 bests free checking accounts of November 2019

Account Name

Minimum needed to open

APY

Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking$05.09% (applies to balances up to $10,000)
TAB Bank Free Kasasa Cash Checking$04.00% (applies to balances up to $50,000)
Orion FCU Premium Checking$25 deposit in Primary Share Account4.00% (applies to balances up to $30,000)
T-Mobile Money$04.00%(applies to balances up to $3,000)
One American Bank Kasasa Cash Account$503.50%(applies to balances up to $10,000)
Evansville Teachers FCU Vertical Checking$30 ($25 if you're already a member of this credit union)3.30% (applies to balances up to $20,000)
Lake Michigan Credit Union Max Checking$03.00%(applies to balances up to $15,000)
Andigo Credit Union High-Yield Checking$03.00% (applies to balances up to $10,000)
All America Bank Ultimate Rewards Checking$50, in-person2.75% (applies to balances up to $10,000)
Simple Account$02.02% to 2.15% on balances in Protected Goals

Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking

The Consumers Credit Union provides an online-only Free Rewards Checking account to anyone in the nation who becomes a member. You can qualify for membership with a one-time $5 payment to Consumers Cooperative Association. Perks of the account, which charges no monthly maintenance fees and requires no minimum balance, include unlimited third-party ATM fee refunds.

However you do have to meet some requirements in order to get all of the benefits of the account (including the high APY). The APY for this account is divided into three tiers, with the lowest earning 3.09%, the middle 4.09% and the highest tier 5.09%. The requirements for each of these tiers are:

To earn 3.09%

  • Receive eStatements
  • Make at least 12 debit card purchases a month
  • Post direct deposits or ACH payments of at least $500 each month

To earn 4.09%

  • Meet all the requirements of the previous tier
  • Have a Consumers Credit Union Visa credit card and spend at least $500 a month on it

To earn 5.09%

  • Meet all the requirements of the previous tier
  • Spend at least $1,000 a month on your Consumers Credit Union Visa credit card

Keep in mind these high APYs only apply to balances up to $10,000. The portion of any balance between $10,000.01 and $25,000 earn 0.20% APY, and balances greater than $25,000 earn an APY of 0.10%.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Consumers Credit Union (IL)’s secure website

NCUA Insured

TAB Bank Free Kasasa Cash Checking

Headquartered in Ogden, Utah, TAB Bank offers a great rate on its Free Kasasa Cash Checking account. Developed by the Kasasa Corporation, a Texas-based financial services and marketing organization, Kasasa accounts help smaller banks compete against larger rivals by providing higher rates.

TAB’s account charges no fees for using third-party ATMs, and reimburses up to $15 in third-party ATM fees per month. There are no fees and no minimum balance requirement for this account, but to earn 4.00% APY reward rate, every month you must:

  • Deposit at least one ACH payment or direct deposit, or make one bill pay transaction
  • Make at least 15 signature-based debit card purchases

If you don’t qualify in any given month, your balance earns 0.05% APY, and third-party ATM fees are not refunded. You can earn the reward rate APY on balances up to $50,000, which is well above the other maximum balances on this roundup. Balances greater than $50,000 earn an APY of 0.25%.

LEARN MORE Secured

on TAB Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Orion Federal Credit Union Premium Checking

Orion Federal Credit Union has served the community in Memphis, Tenn. since 1957 — and now it offers its outstanding Premium Checking product online to anyone who becomes a member. This involves opening a Primary Share Account savings account with a $25 deposit, and donating $10 to one of five local charities.

This account charges no fees for using third-party ATMs, and reimburses fees charged to you by owners of third-party ATMs, making it free to access your cash from anywhere. To earn the 4.00% APY interest rate, and also get ATM fee reimbursements and waive the $5 monthly fee for the account, you must:

  • Deposit at least $500 a month in the account, either by direct deposit or other mobile electronic deposit
  • Perform at least eight signature-based debit card transactions

Orion lets you earn their high APY on balances up to $30,000. Balances greater than $30,000 earn an APY of 0.05%.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Orion Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

T-Mobile Money

Wireless carrier T-Mobile is venturing out into new territory with a financial product – a competitive one, too. T-Mobile Money is a new checking account that pays a 4.00% APY on balances up to $3,000. Balances over $3,000 earn an APY of 1.00%. There are no monthly fees, overdraft fees, transfer fees, ATM fees or minimum balance requirements.

In order to receive the 4.00% APY, though, T-Mobile Money does require the following:

  • Enroll in a qualifying T-Mobile wireless plan
  • Register for Perks with your T-Mobile ID
  • Make at least $200 in qualifying deposits to your checking account in the calendar month

Balances that do not meet these requirements, or balances over $3,000, will earn 1.00% APY.

LEARN MORE Secured

on T-Mobile Money’s secure website

Member FDIC

One American Bank Kasasa Cash Account

This small community bank, based in Sioux Falls, SD, offers a nationally available Kasasa Cash checking account that earns a decent 3.50% APY on balances up to $10,000. You need a minimum of $50 to open the account, but after that all you need to do to earn the very competitive APY of 3.50% is:

  • Make at least 12 debit card purchase transactions a month of at least $5.00 each
  • Receive electronic bank statements, account notices and disclosures
  • Log in to online banking at least one time a month

If you meet these qualifications, One American Bank also refunds up $25 in third-party ATM funds per month.

LEARN MORE Secured

on One American Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union Vertical Checking

Don’t let the name of this credit union fool you—anyone can become a member if they open a $5 savings account, which then allows you to open a Vertical Checking account with a minimum balance of $25.

This free checking account doesn’t charge a monthly service fee or require you to maintain a minimum balance, and in return gives you an APY of as high as 3.30% on balances up to $20,000, provided you fulfill the below requirements:

  • Make at least 15 debit purchases each month
  • Make at least one direct deposit into the account each month
  • Login to your mobile or online banking at least once each month
  • Opt in to receive eStatements
  • In addition to the high APY, meeting these requirements entitles you to $15 a month for reimbursing third-party ATM fees.

In addition to the high APY, meeting these requirements entitles you to $15 a month for reimbursing third-party ATM fees.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Lake Michigan Credit Union Max Checking

Despite its name, the Lake Michigan Credit Union is open to anyone who makes a $5 donation to the ALS Foundation. That small donation can pay off tenfold with the credit union’s Max Checking account, which features a 3.00% APY on balances up to $15,000. The account also has no minimum balance requirements and no monthly fees.

In order to receive the 3.00% APY, you must:

  • Direct deposit into any LMCU account
  • Make a minimum of 10 debit or credit card transactions per month
  • Make 4 logins to home banking per month
  • Sign up for e-statements

The Lake Michigan Credit Union’s Max Checking account also offers up to $10 in monthly reimbursements for non-LMCU ATM fees.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Lake Michigan Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Andigo Credit Union High Yield Checking

Another credit union with a competitive checking account is the Andigo Credit Union High Yield Checking account. With a handful of physical branches in Illinois and mobile banking services, Andigo Credit Union is open to anyone who makes a $15 donation to ConnectVETS.

Andigo’s High Yield Checking account features a 3.00% APY on balances up to $10,000, has no monthly fees, no minimum balance requirements and $12 a month in ATM surcharge rebates. However, to take advantage of the 3.00% APY, you must:

  • Have $500 or more in total direct deposit
  • Make 15 or more debit card purchases per month

Accounts that do not meet those qualifications earn a 0.06% APY. Balances above $10,000 earn 0.10% APY.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Andigo’s secure website

NCUA Insured

All America Bank Ultimate Rewards Checking

All America Bank’s Ultimate Rewards Checking is a standout account that features a 2.75% APY, no monthly service charge, no minimum balance requirements and free ATM transactions.

It’s worth noting, however, that to open an account you must make a $50 minimum deposit in-person – All America Bank has physical branches in Oklahoma. If you cannot make the deposit in-person, there is a hefty minimum balance of $500 required to open an account online.

To receive the 2.75% APY on this account, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Make 10 All America Bank Visa debit card transactions per month
  • Receive statements electronically

If those requirements aren’t met, you’ll earn an APY of 0.25%. Balances over $10,000 will earn 0.50% APY.

LEARN MORE Secured

on All America Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Simple Account

Another online-only account, Simple is owned and backed by regional bank BBVA Compass and offers customers a checking account that’s intertwined with the app’s Protected Goals savings account, and additional budgeting tools. Simple doesn’t charge any fees, meaning users enjoy:

  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • No minimum balance needed
  • No account closing fee
  • No stop payment fees
  • No debit card replacement fee
  • No ATM fee if using Simple’s network, but users can be charged a fee by other banks if using a non-network ATM

One fee you do have to pay is a foreign transaction fee when using your Simple card internationally, which can be up to 1% of the transaction.

As a cash management product, the Simple Account automatically comes with a savings account feature. While the checking balance in a Simple Account earns a token 0.01% APY, Simple’s Protected Goals savings balances earn an APY of 2.15%.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Simple’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here