Consumer News

Getting help to pay off student loans

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A push to restore lower student interest rates failed in the Senate Wednesday.

That means new Stafford loans remain at 6.8 percent, double what they were a week ago.

With Americans owing more than $1 trillion in student debt, what can you do if you can't afford to repay or want to lower your monthly payments?

If you have student loans, you may get an unsolicited offer of help. But who's behind the offer? And if there's a cost, is it worth your money?

"I have about $55,000 of student loans left," said Markita Morris-Louis.

So when Markita got an offer about the Reform Act Student Loan Program, she was intrigued.

"It told me to enroll by July 10, 2013 so I could defer my payment until September, which sounds like a pretty good deal," she said.

The mailing looks official, but make no mistake: it's NOT from the government.

It's from a for-profit private company that calls itself the Student Aid Institute.

The company's mailing provided Markita with her own eligibility number.

When she called, the man she spoke with "said he could lower my monthly student loan payment by about $200 a month."

But Markita says the cost was a minimum $895 enrollment fee, plus a monthly maintenance fee of about $39.

"This is something people can do on their own," she said. "I did it a few years ago myself for free, and it's not a terribly difficult process."

Markita consolidated her loans directly with Sallie Mae.

And it's no surprise she knew to do this. She works for the local non-profit Clarifi, a consumer credit counseling service.

Patty Hasson is Clarifi's President.

"Oh, I definitely think there's been a growth in the number of companies offering assistance with student loan debt," she said.

So Hasson is issuing an alert. Instead of paying a third party, call your servicer directly for FREE help.

Clarifi also offers free student loan counseling.

Now I talked to the C.E.O. of the Student Aid Institute.

Steve Lamont admits you can, in fact, do for FREE what his company charges you to do.

But he believes his company charges a fair fee for its service. He says it helps people who are unaware of available programs, and the company take less time to process applications. Plus, he says it has a 100-percent refund policy.

By the way, companies including the Student Aid Institute may ask for things like your social security number and federal student loan PIN.

Do NOT provide your information to people or companies you don't know.

RELATED LINKS

http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/understand/plans

http://www.consumerfinance.gov/paying-for-college/

http://clarifi.org/

http://www.ed.gov/fund/grants-college.html

http://www.ed.gov/blog/2013/01/new-student-loan-repayment-option-to-help-recent-graduates/

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lifestyle, consumer news, nydia han
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