Student Borrowers Pay Firms for Free U.S. Programs

June 19, 2013
Bloomberg Businessweek 
student loan news

Despite the availability of free government-sponsored aid programs for people with student loans, a growing number of businesses are charging as much as $1,600 for repayment plans, according to a new report by the National Consumer Law Center. Student loans now total more than $1 trillion; and defaults are at the highest level in 14 years, with about 5.7 million borrowers in default last year on outstanding balances topping $77 billion. Debt-relief companies are thriving as a result of borrowers' desperation and confusion. According to the NCLC report, the websites of such firms often provide inaccurate information about government programs; make "suspect" claims such as "guaranteed results" in four to six weeks; and post undocumented claims of satisfaction rates as high as 97.5 percent. "Many borrowers trying to get ahead through education end up with nothing but mountains of debt," wrote Deanne Loonin in the report. "Their problems only get worse when unscrupulous businesses take advantage of them." Although free government help is available, many consumers struggle with these complicated assistance programs. Possible options for former students include temporarily stopping payments, making smaller ones, or tying payments to incomes or family size. NCLC, however, calls the government programs “unnecessarily complex" and operated by “an impenetrable bureaucracy.” The report notes a Dallas-based company called Student Loan Relief, which charges no more than $46 for its services and no upfront fees. "There's help out there for everyone," says Jason Spencer -- CEO of the outfit, which plans to become a nonprofit. "But no one knows about it."
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