Navigating the world of student loans sometimes feels like living in a country where you don’t speak the language.
The different programs, rules, and strategies are so complex, so dependent on your situation, and so full of jargon that it’s no wonder you feel frustrated.
If you don’t know what to do and want someone to analyze your financial situation and give you personalized student loan advice, these organizations might be able to help.
Where to get free or low-cost personalized student loan advice
There are plenty of scammy businesses that promise to magically erase your student loan debt.
Spoiler alert: They can’t.
The purpose of these nonprofits, however, is to help consumers like you. So here are two options for you to consider.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) is a network of more than 60 nonprofit financial counseling agencies. For nearly 70 years, NFCC-certified credit counselors have helped consumers navigate financial topics like housing and credit cards — and since 2016, student debt.
“The idea is to offer a holistic assessment of a consumer’s student loan repayment options,” said Matt Ribe, senior director of legislative affairs and corporate secretary for NFCC, “but to do so in the context of their broader financial picture — so understanding what their financial goals are and also what their obligations and constraints are.”
According to Ribe, counseling sessions typically cover:
- Which repayment options make the most sense for your situation
- The pros and cons of various strategies
- How repayment can fit with your other financial goals
To find a NFCC-certified student loan counselor, visit StudentLoanHelp.org and enter your information into the platform’s student loan “advice engine.” That way, Ribe explained, counselors can dive right into your situation — instead of spending time gathering data.
You can connect with a counselor immediately or schedule an appointment for later. Most charge between $50 and $200 per session and promise you’ll leave with a comprehensive game plan for paying back your student loans.
If that cost seems out of reach, don’t despair. Since the NFCC and its member agencies are nonprofits, they can’t refuse you services because you can’t pay, Ribe noted. So fill out your information, and if an agency determines you can’t afford its services, it’ll work with you on a fair price — which sometimes will be nothing.
“We are very proud of the service,” said Ribe. “And we hope that as many people will avail themselves of it as possible.”
American Student Assistance
Whether you’ve already taken out loans or are trying to decide how to pay for college, American Student Assistance (ASA) can help.
It offers services directly through phone, email, or chat. If you’re in Massachusetts, you also can seek in-person help at one of the organization’s college planning centers.
Here are some of the things ASA can help with, according to Alle Lanza-Cosgrove, director of communications at the organization’s Center for Consumer Advocacy:
- Determining how much to borrow
- Understanding different loan types
- Picking the right repayment plan
- Figuring out how to communicate with your loan servicer
- Deciding how to file paperwork appropriately
- Finding solutions when you can’t afford your payment
“Sometimes, borrowers want or need advice from someone who’s not collecting the debt or affiliated with the lender of the debt,” said Lanza-Cosgrove. “ASA is a good choice … because of our extensive experience (more than 60 years working with student loan borrowers) and our neutrality in that process.”
ASA’s services are free. Just register with its financial education site Salt, upload your loan information, and get in touch with a counselor.
“Our main goal is to help protect the interests of borrowers looking to fulfill the American dream with the hope of a higher education in a way unhampered by crippling student loan debt,” said Lanza-Cosgrove. “We do this on an individual level — one borrower at a time.”
If you’re overwhelmed by your student loans, remember that you don’t have to go it alone. Seek help from resources like the ones above — and start making forward progress today.
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