Watch Out for This 16% Student Loan Fee

The Trump administration has made it possible for debt collectors to once again charge hefty fees to some student loan borrowers who miss several payments in a row — even if those borrowers make an effort to get back on track right away.

These fees, which can be as high as 16%, are typically levied against the borrower’s entire outstanding loan balance and accrued interest charges. The so-called “collection charges” are meant to help recoup losses incurred by pursuing unpaid debts.

In a recent letter, the U.S. Department of Education rescinded an Obama-era rule that forbade guaranty agencies — debt collectors charged with recouping unpaid federal student loan debt — from charging defaulted borrowers collection fees if the borrowers began a repayment plan within 60 days of defaulting on their loans. In the new letter, the agency said the previous guidance should have included time for public comment and review before it was issued.

The reversal comes days after the Consumer Federation of America released an analysis of Department of Education data that shows the rate of student loans in default has grown 14% from 2015 to 2016.This certainly isn’t the first Obama-era rule or legislation the new administration has sought to undo, with an Obamacare replacement plan on its way to a vote in the House and plans to unravel regulations meant to crack down on for-profit colleges and universities.

A Department of Education spokesperson declined to comment.

Bad news for 4.2 million borrowers

The changes will impact borrowers who took out federal student loans under the old Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. The FFEL Program was phased out in 2010 and replaced with the current Direct Loan Program, but millions of borrowers are still paying back FFEL loans issued prior to that change. Those who have loans under the Direct Loan Program will not be impacted by the changes.

As it stands, some 4.2 million FFEL borrowers are currently in default on loans that total $65.6 billion, according to Department of Education data. Loans are considered to be in default after 270 days of nonpayment.

The changes will raise the stakes for borrowers struggling to make payments on their federal student loans, and make it even more important for those borrowers to avoid missed payments.

Fortunately, federal student loan borrowers are eligible for several flexible repayment methods, as well as forbearance and deferment.

An Ongoing Debate

The debate over a servicer’s right to charge borrowers a default fee has gone on for several years.

In 2012, student loan borrower Bryana Bible sued United Student Aid Funds after she was charged more than $4,500 in fees after defaulting on her loans. She started a repayment agreement to resolve the debt within 18 days, but was still charged fees.

The Department of Education sided with Bible and said companies had to give borrowers 60 days after a loan default to start paying up before they are charged fees. The Obama administration backed the Department of Education and issued the letter when the court asked for guidance on the issue.

There is one clear winner with this rule change: debt collectors.

“Rescinding the [previous guidance on collection fees] benefits guarantee agencies at the expense of defaulted borrowers,” says financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. He adds the change may increase the cost of collecting defaulted federal student loans, since borrowers will have less incentive to quickly rehabilitate their defaulted student loans.

What Happens If I Default on My Federal Student Loans?

Federal student loans are considered to be in default after a borrower misses payments for 270 days or more.

About 1.1 million federal student loans were in default status in 2016, according to Department of Education data.

The consequences of going to default are severe.

  • The entire balance of your loan + interest is immediately due
  • You lose eligibility for deferment, forbearance, and flexible repayment plans
  • Debt collectors will start calling
  • Your credit will suffer
  • And … your wages and/or tax refunds could be garnished

Are you missing federal student loan payments?

You’ve got options.

  • Contact your loan servicer ASAP
  • Find out if you’re eligible for a flexible repayment plan
  • Or ask about forbearance

Already in default?

  • Ask your loan service about loan rehabilitation
  • If you make 9 on-time payments over the course of 10 months, your default status will be lifted

You’ve only got one shot to rehabilitate your federal student loans after going into default. Don’t miss it.

 

The post Watch Out for This 16% Student Loan Fee appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

How to Qualify for Obama’s New Student Loan Forgiveness Measure

studentloanforgiveness

The Obama administration announced Tuesday a plan to forgive $7.7 billion in federal student loans held by an estimated 387,000 permanently disabled Americans, of which roughly half (179,000) are in default.

While the administration tried to streamline the discharge of student loans for the permanently disabled four years ago, few eligible borrowers took advantage. Now, the Department of Education is starting to identify and reach out to eligible borrowers to help them take the necessary steps to discharge their loans.

“In 2012, the Administration took steps to streamline the process to allow for Americans who are totally and permanently disabled (TPD) to use their Social Security designation to apply to have their loans discharged. But too many eligible borrowers were falling through the cracks, unaware they were eligible for relief,” U.S. Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell said in a prepared statement. “Under the new process, we will notify potentially eligible borrowers about the benefit and guide them through steps needed to discharge their loans, helping thousands of borrowers. Americans with disabilities have a right to student loan relief. And we need to make it easier, not harder, for them to receive the benefits they are due.”

Starting April 18, borrowers identified in the match will receive a letter from the government explaining the steps needed to receive a discharge. They will not be required to submit documentation of their eligibility, unlike disabled borrowers who apply for the discharge on their own. Notification letters will be sent over a 16-week period and followed up with a second letter after 120 days.

The letters will inform borrowers of the tax implication of the discharge, since the government can tax the loan amount forgiven. While the President’s 2017 Budget proposal seeks to exclude TPD discharges and other Department of Education loan forgiveness programs from taxable income, it will require Congressional action to make that happen.

What to Do If You’re Eligible But Not Contacted

Eligible borrowers who do not receive notification from the Education department can initiate the necessary steps to have their student loans forgiven by following the steps outlined on an Education department website:

  1. If you are a veteran, you can submit documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs showing that the VA has determined that you are unemployable due to a service-connected disability;
  2. If you are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits, you can submit a Social Security Administration notice of award for SSDI or SSI benefits stating that your next scheduled disability review will be within five to seven years from the date of your most recent SSA disability determination; or
  3. You can submit certification from a physician that you are totally and permanently disabled. Your physician must certify that you are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that:
  • Can be expected to result in death;
  • Has lasted for a continuous period of no less than 60 months; or
  • Can be expected to last for a continuous period of no less than 60 months.

Initial notification letters will be sent over a 16-week period and will be followed up with a second letter that will be sent 120 days after the initial letter if a signed application is not received. Notification will also include information to ensure borrowers understand the potential tax implications for this benefit and can make an informed decision about electing a discharge.

Help for Non-Eligible Student Loan Borrowers

Defaulting on a loan seriously damages your credit score, and because student loans are rarely discharged in bankruptcy, the debt can beat down on you for decades. (You can see how your student loans are currently impacting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

There are some options for people who are behind on payments to get back on track, though, even if forgiveness isn’t an option. To get out of default, you can combine eligible loans with a federal Direct Consolidation Loan, or you can go through the government’s default rehabilitation program. If you make nine consecutive on-time payments (the payments can be extremely low), your account goes back into good standing, and the default is removed from your credit report.

More on Student Loans:

Image: Nick White

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