Whether you feel buried by your student loan debt or merely have pressing questions, it’s always wise to ask for help.
However, with friends sometimes giving questionable advice, and with debt relief companies offering high-priced services, you might not be sure where to go.
Here are six reliable people to count on for repayment support, at little risk and potentially less cost to you.
1. Your support system
Asking Mom, Dad or your significant other for help with your student loans might not be your first choice — but it’s a good first step.
Regardless of whether your parents help you financially, they might offer sage advice. Alternatively, your significant other could agree to help you increase your monthly payment, for example, if it can speed you toward your shared financial goals as a couple.
Instead of asking for handouts, look to your family and close friends as a support system. Although they might be limited in how they can help, they could be willing to listen and share your burden.
Plus, if you can’t talk about your student loan situation in your household, how can you expect to seek help elsewhere?
2. Your school or your employer
If you’re no longer enrolled, you might think your school’s financial aid office is now off limits. Think again. Your ex-campus’s aid representatives could explain how to get on the right foot with your repayment, for example, or answer some of the questions you might have about your options.
If you’re already well on your way in the real world, however, you might also find advice in a seemingly unlikely place — at work. Talking about your student loan debt at work could help to remove the taboo from the topic. You might find an unlikely co-worker with whom you could commiserate.
Even more importantly, an employer with a generous benefits package might be willing to tack on student loan repayment assistance or substitute it for 401(k) matching. If your boss or human resources department needs some convincing, you might mention some of the well-known companies that offer student loan support.
3. A certified or licensed financial professional
When dealing with thousands of dollars in student loan debt, you might be looking for more than just a little advice or a bit of help with your monthly payment. A financial professional could help you navigate more nuanced repayment problems, and they don’t always have to come at a premium cost. The Financial Planning Association hosts events where CFPs consult on a pro bono basis, for instance.
For more formal or extended sessions, you might consider a nonprofit like American Consumer Credit Counseling which offers one-on-one support for student loan borrowers. During a free session, you’d work with a counselor to create a budget and action plan for your repayment.
And before deciding to hire a student loan counselor at a higher cost, consider another free resource: Nonprofit Inceptia offers trained counselors over the phone if you’re delinquent on your loans and in danger of defaulting.
4. Student loan lender or servicer
If you’re having trouble making payments or just want to optimize your repayment, talking to your lender or loan servicer is always a smart move.
For more traditional questions, find your servicer — the private company that manages your repayment — via the National Student Loan Data System. Your servicer could help you process an application for a deferment or forbearance, for example, or switch to an income-driven repayment plan. And if you’re interested in Public Service Loan Forgiveness, note that FedLoan Servicing (one of the government’s nine servicers until NextGen takes effect in 2019) handles all such requests.
For federal loans, your lender and servicer aren’t one and the same. Your lender might be the Department of Education or, in the case of Perkins loans, your school. The Department of Education offers different phone support for different repayment problems:
- For loan forgiveness because of your school’s wrongdoing: Contact Borrower Defense Customer Support at 1-855-279-6207.
- For help with income-driven repayment plan or loan consolidation applications: Contact the Student Loan Support Center at 1-800-557-7394.
- For help with a default or wage or income tax refund garnishment: Contact the Default Resolution Group at 1-800-621-3115.
- For disputes with your servicer: Contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group at 1-877-557-2575.
If you feel that your federal loan servicer isn’t acting in your best interest — some servicers have been accused of misleading borrowers — lean on the federal student aid ombudsman. They can help you evaluate your loan repayment options and will act as a neutral party.
If you borrowed via the Federal Family Education Loan Program before its closure, it’s possible your guarantee agency could have an ombudsman. Like the federal student aid ombudsman, they’re neutral and won’t favor you or your servicer during a dispute.
In the case of private student loans, contact your lender’s customer service department. Although it’s become common for banks, credit unions and online lenders to offer chat and email support, you can also dial their phone number to get a real person on the line.
If you borrowed from a bank with a brick-and-mortar branch, you also have the option of walking in for a face-to-face catch-up. Similarly, if you’re shopping around for refinancing lenders, you might prioritize those with top-notch customer support.
Private lenders might not offer you the services of an ombudsman or other unbiased third party, but you could rely on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The government agency accepts complaints about student loan servicers and reroutes them to your lender or servicer for a response. The CFPB also offers phone support at 1-855-411-2372 to talk through this process.
5. Student loan lawyer
You could also consider asking a lawyer for advice if things are getting prickly, though you’ll likely have to reach deeper into your pockets.
Student loan lawyers could help you navigate some especially troublesome situations, including:
- Negotiating a loan settlement with a lender, servicer or collections agency
- Representing you in court if you face or file a lawsuit over your debt
- Filing and handling your bankruptcy case
With that said, a lawyer who specializes in federal and private student loan debt — not every lawyer is knowledgeable about both — might advertise services that you can handle yourself. You don’t need a lawyer, for example, to correct your credit report or pause your loan payments via deferment or forbearance.
When the need arises, finding a student loan lawyer is a lot easier than finding the right one. Ask the right questions to ensure they’re a fit for your case. You might want to know if they’ve solved a problem like yours in the past.
6. Tax professional
If you think student loans are more complicated than they need to be (we’d agree), try taxes on for size. It can get incredibly confusing when student loans and taxes intersect, so in those cases, you might benefit from working with a tax professional.
A tax expert could help you explore your options if you’re facing a hefty tax bill as a result of receiving student loan forgiveness or cancellation.
As with a lawyer, however, ask yourself if you could complete the same task on your own without a tax professional. Better yet, ask the tax professional that question. You can estimate your tax benefits from repaying your education, for example, using our student loan interest deduction calculator.
Talking to someone — anyone — before making major decisions about your student loan debt is the way to go. Even if they don’t offer a ready-made solution, you can benefit from the back-and-forth discussion.
Aside from our six suggestions, think about the people inside and outside of your social circle who could be helpful as you pay down your debt. For example, we interviewed one woman who repaid her debt after seeking the advice of millionaires. There’s always assistance available out there somewhere — it’s just a question of asking.
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