Update: Since the publication of this report, the government has extended the student loan repayment pause (forbearance) and enacted a wide-sweeping debt forgiveness program. See our report for more details.
With all of the challenges you’re facing right now from the coronavirus pandemic, the last thing you want to worry about are your student loans. Unfortunately, scammers might take advantage during this vulnerable time to try to trick borrowers out of their hard-earned money or sensitive personal information.
Here are four student loan scams to watch out for during the coronavirus outbreak:
1. Charging fees to change your repayment plan
2. Promising student loan forgiveness if you pay up
3. Offering to put your private student loans into forbearance
4. Calling you for your personal information
Plus, check out these tips, including how to separate fact from fiction:
If a company wants to charge you money to change your student loan repayment plan, beware. The company could be a downright scam, or it could be charging fees for a service that you can do on your own for free.
For one thing, all federal student loan payments have been suspended for six months to ease the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, so there’s far less urgency to switch plans right now. And even if you did want a new federal repayment plan (such as income-driven repayment, for example), it costs nothing to do this — you can apply for free on the Federal Student Aid website.
If you want extra assistance with switching plans, contact your student loan servicer for help. Don’t rely on a third party, especially if it’s trying to charge you an unnecessary fee.
Along similar lines, you might see fake ads promising to forgive your student loans… for a certain price.
Again, repayment has been suspended for all federal student loans — but even if you’re seeking forgiveness anyway, no legitimate student loan forgiveness program should charge you money. Likewise, no such program will cancel your student debt overnight, whether you hold federal loans, private loans or both.
Familiarize yourself with real student loan forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness or Teacher Loan Forgiveness. By educating yourself on their requirements, you can avoid falling for a student loan forgiveness scam.
As mentioned, the government has put federal student loan repayment on pause, and this is set to run through the end of January 2022. Unfortunately, however, private student loans do not qualify for this federal protection.
That said, if anyone contacts you about putting your private student loans into forbearance, they are likely trying to scam you. Some private lenders might be flexible during this crisis, but you would work out any forbearance or pause to your payments with them directly, not through a third party.
If you’re struggling to keep up with your private student loan payments, contact your loan servicer about your options. Don’t fall for anyone who contacts you out of the blue saying they can offer relief on your private student loans.
Finally, it’s important to remember that neither the federal government nor your loan servicer — federal or private — is going to call you to offer you new options for repayment. If someone reaches out, they could be a scammer trying to get their hands on your personal information.
Never share sensitive personal details (such as your Social Security number, FSA ID or bank account number) over the phone with someone who contacted you. You should only offer this information if you have reached out to the appropriate channel.
If you’re worried you’ve fallen prey to a student loan scam, here are a few steps you can take:
- File a complaint with your state attorney general.
- Call your student loan servicer to alert them to any possible changes to your account. You can also contact the U.S. Department of Education by calling (877) 557-2575 or submitting a complaint online.
- To help the Federal Trade Commission keep track of scammers, you can file a complaint with the FTC.
- Consider canceling your credit cards and ordering new ones if you’ve passed your credit card information to a potential scammer. Monitor your credit cards, bank accounts or any other financial accounts you think could have been compromised.
One of the best ways to protect against scams is to educate yourself on legitimate sources of student loan relief. By learning about your options, you’ll be better able to know when someone is spinning lies.
With this in mind, here are some facts about the government’s student loan relief measures, passed on March 27:
- Besides offering a suspension of payments, the federal government is also automatically waiving all interest on government-held student loans. Both relief moves run until Jan. 31, 2022.
- Borrowers who prefer to keep paying off their federal student loans can choose to do so.
- Even if you don’t make payments on federal loans during the suspension, it won’t count against your progress toward any loan forgiveness programs.
- Private student loans are not eligible for these new federal protections. If you need relief, call your private loan servicer to ask about your options for deferment or forbearance.
- You might also consider refinancing your private student loans for lower rates. But be careful about refinancing federal student loans right now, as doing so would turn them private and thus ineligible for federal programs (including the repayment suspension). In addition, note that you shouldn’t have to pay a fee to refinance student loans, at least not if you work with a reputable lender.
For more information on the latest student loan protections, check out Student Loan Hero’s Coronavirus Information Center. You can also find updates from the Department of Education on their Federal Student Aid page titled “Coronavirus and Forbearance Info for Students, Borrowers, and Parents.”
In the end, remember that you should never have to pay a fee upfront to change your repayment plan or consolidate your debt. Nor will your loan servicer call you to offer help — it’s on you to be proactive and contact your servicer or the Education Department for assistance.
Anyone who’s reaching out and making promises that sound too good to be true likely isn’t a trustworthy source.