Student debt relief means millions of borrowers will earn $10,000 or $20,000. Unfortunately, that also means millions of targets for student loan scammers.
Student loan scams are not new, but have gained momentum with the Biden administration’s decision to offer student loan debt relief. Last week, to help borrowers avoid falling victim to scams, the administration released a fact sheet detailing its actions to crack down on scams.
The administration also released an extensive list of do’s and don’ts for student debt relief, designed to help borrowers navigate them safely over the next two weeks until the application for loan forgiveness is published.
The Biden administration announced in late August that it would forgive up to $20,000 in student loans for students who received Pell grants while in college (Pell grants are federal financial aid typically given to low-income students ) if they meet the income criteria. Other eligible borrowers will see $10,000 back. Borrowers who earn less than $125,000 ($250,000 for couples) based on their 2020 or 2021 adjusted gross income will be eligible for the plan.
How is the Biden administration trying to prevent student loan scams?
The administration is launching an extensive campaign to provide student borrowers with accurate and timely information on student debt relief. The information campaign will include social media, email outreach and regular blog posts to help keep borrowers informed.
The administration will also work with various federal and state agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general, to provide information on and coordinate responses to scams. These efforts are aimed at helping law enforcement catch scammers as quickly as possible.
How can you avoid scams?
Many scams rely on creating a sense of urgency or the idea that you might be missing out to cause you to make rash decisions. It is therefore difficult to determine what is a scam and what is a legitimate organization trying to help borrowers in difficulty, such as the Project on Predatory Student Lending and the Student Borrower Protection Center. There are real deadlines for specific programs that many legitimate organizations will encourage borrowers to apply for in the coming month. For example, the civil service loan forgiveness waiver ends on October 31, and borrowers will be under increasing pressure to apply before the easier application rules go away.
New Department of Education (ED) guidelines include never paying anyone who promises student debt relief, avoiding providing personal information to unknown callers, and not refinancing federal student loans unless you didn’t know the risks of what you might give up. Borrowers who refinance federal loans with a private lender will not be eligible for debt relief.
There are proactive steps borrowers can take to make sure they know what’s going on with student debt relief. All borrowers should sign up for updates at www.ed.gov/subscriptions. Borrowers who sign up will receive ongoing email newsletters and will be the first to receive the announcement when the debt relief application becomes available.
ED also recommends that borrowers create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID on StudentAid.gov. The FSA ID is not a requirement for applying for debt relief, but allows you easy access to accurate information about your federal loans and ensures that the FSA can contact you with important information about the student debt relief and different payment options.
Whenever possible, it is best to verify any information with federal websites that end in a .gov web address. For student debt relief, ED said the application will be available until December 31, 2023. So anyone who says you need to apply immediately, or you’ll miss out on forgiveness is probably a scammer.
ED asks anyone contacted by scammers to report them to the Federal Trade Commission. Reporting scams makes it easier to stop them.
The application for student debt relief is supposed to go live in October, reducing uncertainty and minimizing opportunities for scammers to take advantage of borrowers. Until the app is available, it’s wise to be wary of any unsolicited or too-good-to-be-true offers of help with student loan debt.