Guest Contributor: Cynthia Dorrough
As an impressionable 20-something, I didn’t heed the small print on the promissory note or the spiel in the loan exit interview that is required by the Department of Education (DOE). I made the gross assumption of thinking “I’ll deal with these loans when I deal with them.” They stopped calling and sending letters to the house, so everything was alright…right?? As Charlie Murphy would say, WRONG!! WRONG! I defaulted on my loans.
When you default on your student loans, each semester’s loan is broken out on your credit report. So, 8 semesters of school equaled 8 negative trade lines. In addition, the government adds a 20% collection fee to your student loan balance when you default. A daunting situation.
I pretty much lost all faith in having some form of a decent life and figured that even though there is no such thing as a debtor’s prison, my poor credit score had me in shackles. But I decided not to wallow. I put on my big girl panties and contacted the DOE. A nice representative named Eric pulled up my account, and I asked him about the loan rehabilitation program. Here are the steps I took and some advice for anyone who is in the same situation:
- Be Proactive: Contact the Department of Education (don’t be afraid, they won’t bite) and they will transfer you to their collection agency. The Department of Education outsources their collections to a 3rd party collection agency, so you may not deal directly with DOE.
- Be Specific: Tell them you are interested in rehabilitating your student loan and you are looking for “reasonable and affordable” monthly payment. Please remember to use those two words. For some reason those words are magic. The Student Loan Rehabilitation Program allows you to make a minimum of nine (9) consecutive, on-time payments to bring your loan back to current status. They will come up with an amount based upon the amount you owe. Typically, your payment will be around 1% of your loan balance or it will at least cover the monthly interest amount associated with your loan.
- Set Up Payments: Once you receive your schedule and amount to pay, you can either do automatic debit or call in and make the payment. Please keep in mind, you will not receive paperwork when you enter the loan rehabilitation program because of the promissory note. However terms of the rehabilitation are outlined in the Higher Education Act. I wouldn’t give a collection agency my primary bank account information. I had a separate account at a different bank that I used for my student loan rehabilitation or you may be able to use one of those reloadable credit/debit cards or an Internet Banking account and they would draft the money from the account. Note: A word to the wise, as stated above, the Student Loan rehabilitation program consists of you making nine consecutive on-time payments and they will send you a letter in the mail informing you that your loans are in current status after the 9th payment has posted. That is one of the only times you will receive something in the mail addressing your loan rehabilitation. Wait until you receive your letter before you decide to be late or think that because you made 9 payments, you are through.
- Follow Up: Stay on them and I would call and check in periodically to make sure we were on the same page, especially when you are approaching that ninth payment.
Remember that nasty 20% collection fee that I mentioned that the DOE tacks on when you default? It goes away when you rehabilitate your student loans! Whoo Hoo! Another good thing is the trade line will still have the original date in which you took out the loan which means that debt is seasoned, giving you a longer credit history. I usually tell people to rehab your loans first if you are in default rather than consolidate because they will consolidate that extra 20% collection fee into your loans, which you don’t want to do. It may be a sacrifice for those 9-10 months, but your principal will be lower.
That is my story on my road to redemption. One lesson I learned is things will get a lot worse before they get better when you ignore things. The Department of Education is not trying to shame you or place you in the gallows. They will work with you as long as you are proactive.