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How to make a student loan complaint that gets results

Posted at 7:22 PM, Mar 04, 2020

Trying to make a complaint against your student loan lender or servicer may feel like screaming into the void.

In 2019, federal student aid customers made 44,155 complaints using the Federal Student Aid Feedback System, according to the most recent report of the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman. The most common complaints dealt with repaying loans.

The Department of Education, in an email, said while all complaints will be reviewed and responded to, “we cannot guarantee a customer a specific result or change in their current situation.”

Don’t let that stop you from voicing your concerns to the powers that be.

Before you send off a fiery email, set reasonable expectations about the outcome — it may not be what you want. But it’s possible to get a result if you know the right steps to take.

Start with your lender or servicer

You’ll see results fastest by contacting your private lender or federal loan servicer first, says Betsy Mayotte, president and founder of the Institute of Student Loan Advisors.

Reach out to the lender or servicer’s highest office of customer service, whether that’s a consumer advocate, ombudsman or claims department. Its general call center might not give you the response you’re looking for or have the authority to make account changes.

Send an email first to the company’s general customer service address, which will get your message to the right person, says Mayotte. Written correspondence ensures you have a paper trail. A phone call might seem easier, but it’s more difficult to track interactions with your lender or servicer.

When you make a complaint, document everything and keep your narrative consistent, experts say. It also helps to be clear about what you’re asking for, says Bonnie Latreille, director of research and advocacy at the nonprofit Student Borrower Protection Center.

“It’s really easy for any company to send off a form letter,” she adds. “But if a borrower says, ‘I have called and sought relief, and you advertise relief on your website and I want to know what’s available to me,’ then the servicer needs to supply what plans you’re eligible for and a copy of the applications.”

Escalate your complaint

If your issue isn’t resolved with your lender or servicer, bring it to the government. All federal loan borrowers should submit complaints through the Federal Student Aid Feedback System . Private loan borrowers should submit complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau .

When you submit to the feedback system, you can expect a response via email or letter within 15 days and typically get a resolution within 60 days, according to an email from the Education Department. If not, you can contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group.

Seek outside help

Your state attorney general’s office, state consumer protection office and congressional representative are additional resources to lodge complaints with.

There’s also no wrong time in the complaint process to seek advice. Nonprofit consumer advocacy groups such as the Institute of Student Loan Advisors offer free help to student borrowers to navigate the process.

You can pay for legal services, but these services may be expensive, says Adam Minsky, a Massachusetts attorney who specializes in student loan issues. He recommends contacting an attorney only when you’ve exhausted all your options.

Learn how to change your lender or serviced

If all else fails, it is possible to change your lender or servicer .

You can refinance private and federal loans with a private lender. And federal borrowers can pick a new servicer after consolidating with the government.

But refinancing federal loans costs you benefits such as income-driven repayment options and opportunities for forgiveness, and consolidation increases the amount you repay overall.

You’re better off staying with your current servicer, if you can, and going through complaint and dispute channels.

Your complaints matter

Seth Frotman, formerly student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, says complaints matter — and not just for resolving your own problem.

“At nearly every single law-enforcement agency or regulatory agency, this is how they spot trends, this is how they see what’s going wrong in the markets,” says Frotman, now executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center.

For example, in 2017 the CFPB sued the federal loan servicer Navient based on borrowers’ complaints about its loan management practices. Following the CFPB’s action, attorneys general from around the country also sued Navient.

“Mistakes aren’t usually one-off situations,” says Frotman. “If it’s happening to you, it could often be happening to tens [or] hundreds of thousands of people.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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Anna Helhoski is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski.