Why seek student loan counseling? Because it can help you analyze your financial situation and offer personalized student loan advice.
But you don’t have to pay big bucks for a loan counselor. We’ve rounded seven organizations, agencies and other sources dedicated to providing low- or no-cost help to students and borrowers:
- The National Foundation for Credit Counseling
- American Student Assistance
- Clearpoint and other nonprofits
- The federal government
- Loan servicers, lenders
- Private student loan counselors
- Student loan lawyers (in more serious cases)
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) is a group of member agencies with national offices in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
Since 1951, NFCC-certified credit counselors have helped consumers navigate financial topics like housing, credit cards and, more recently, student debt.
Student loan counseling sessions typically cover repayment plan options and various loan management strategies.
To find a NFCC-certified student loan counselor, visit StudentLoanHelp.org. According to the website, “a typical financial review and student loan counseling session could take 1 to 2 hours.”
The NFCC and its member agencies (some may charge fees, depending on the agency) are nonprofits, and they can’t refuse you services because you can’t pay. Instead, a loan counselor will work with you to establish a fee that you can actually afford.
Whether you’ve already taken out loans or are trying to decide how to pay for college, American Student Assistance (ASA) can help. This nonprofit offers student loan advice directly through phone and email. If you live in Massachusetts, you also can seek in-person help, perhaps in the form of a loan counselor, at one of the organization’s college planning centers.
Here are some of the things ASA can help with, according to Allesandra Lanza, the organization’s manager of policy content:
- 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
Clearpoint, a nonprofit organization focused on offering credit and debt counseling programs, offers a free consultation to assess a borrower’s individual situation. Then, the nonprofit will provide a full evaluation and plan, which costs $99 for student loan counseling.
Clearpoint offers advice on both federal and private student loans and, according to the website, may suggest a debt management program, if it’s applicable.
If you have federal student loans, a Clearpoint loan counselor will walk you options like income-based repayment plans, student loan forgiveness and student loan consolidation, helping you decide what’s best for your budget.
Student loan counseling at similar rates can be found via other nonprofits, including NFCC-approved GreenPath.
However, it is possible to learn about federal programs directly from the source, so it may be advantageous to reach out to the Department of Education before you pay any fees.
If you apply for federal loans, you will automatically receive some free student loan advice, via these Department of Education programs:
- Financial Awareness Counseling is an option available to students and their families preparing to pay for college. The online student loan counsel runs about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Entrance student loan counseling is a requirement to fulfill before you receive your loans. The counseling is for first-time borrowers and isn’t too lengthy — about 20 to 30 minutes online.
- Exit student loan counseling is also required, but for borrowers leaving college and on the cusp of repayment. This session is also 20 to 30 minutes long.
While these programs may not be as in depth as private consultations from certified loan counselors (see option no. 6 below), they are worth checking out.
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When you sign up for a federal student loan, your loan servicer becomes a de facto loan counselor. Contact them if you are struggling to pay your loans — your federal student loan servicer can offer ways to help you, including deferment or forbearance.
Don’t be afraid to admit to your servicer that you are in trouble. Although loan servicers have gotten in trouble for leading borrowers astray in the past, they should at least explain options you can take to avoid student loan default.
If you are applying for or hold private student loans, don’t feel left out. Your bank, credit union or online lender may have alternative programs to help you. Discover, for example, allows its customers to temporarily pause or adjust their repayment.
Start by phoning your lender and ask them what kind of relief options they offer. If you are seeking student loan advice about taking out new loans with a private lender, ask them about their various products.
If you have the resources to pay a student loan consultant, it may be worth it, depending on your situation. Private student loan counseling can be expensive, however, from a phone call that could cost as much as nearly $500 to an similarly-expensive in-person consultation.
Besides individual student loan counselors, companies like PGPresents focus on helping borrowers with high amounts of student debt and whose time-consuming jobs leave them with little free time to manage their repayment.
It’s important to make sure any loan counselors you contact are credible. You can vet candidates using the following methods:
- Check up on candidates in sources such as the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s Consumer Complaint Database
- Conduct an online search for red flags
- Seek out customer reviews
- Ask for student loan counseling referrals
If you’ve tried student loan counseling but are still struggling with your debt, you may need to reach out to a student loan lawyer. This area of law is extremely specialized, but there are affordable options out there.
For example, the American Bar Association offers pro bono legal advice. Try to find a lawyer who either specializes in student loans or one who may have some experience in the field.
If you can afford to pay for services beyond basic student loan advice, checking out your state’s bar association is a good place to start your search.
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There are a handful of reasons why you shouldn’t have to pay for student loan counseling. For one, big promises backed by high fees can be part of scams.
Has a self-described loan counselor told you that they’re able to wipe out your student debt, for example, or pressured you to apply for a “program” that sounds too good to be true? Chances are, it’s a scam.
Because there are bad actors out there, never give a loan counselor that isn’t vetted any personal information, like your Social Security number.
Yes, it can be a challenge to manage your student loans, but you don’t have to go it alone. To seek reputable student loan counseling, reach out to the right places and ask questions — and receive the help you need to navigate applying for and paying off your student loans.