There are free resources out there to help you with your student loans. For many people, these resources are enough to set them in the right direction.

Are you trying to figure out how much you owe and how to pay it back?

If all your loans are federal loans, you can can set up an Federal Student Aid account and see all your federal loans at one time. Within this account you can use their repayment estimator to get a sense of what you might owe.  You can also use the estimator without an FSA login to ballpark repayment amounts.

However, the repayment estimator has its limitations, and may not be that helpful if you are already in repayment and looking to switch plans or if you have complex questions about the best income-driven repayment plan for you.  If you want to run the calculations for yourself, you can check out my series on the various repayment plans

Student Loan Repayment Plans – Part 1, Fixed Balance-Driven Plans

Student Loan Repayment Plans – Part 2, Graduated Balance-Driven Plans

Student Loan Repayment Plans – Part 3, Introduction to Income-Driven Plans

Student Loan Repayment Plans – Part 4, PAYE (Pay As You Earn Plan)

Student Loan Repayment Plan – Part 5, IBR (Income Based Repayment)

Student Loan Repayment Plan – Part 6, RePAYE (revised pay as you earn)

There’s a lot of detail there, but if you’re looking for even more, Equal Justice Works has an excellent free ebook for public interest attorneys that works just as well for every other type of borrower.

You can also check out Student Loan Borrower Assistance, a project of the National Consumer Law Center or The Institute for Student Loan Advice (TISLA).

You should also consider calling your servicer (NelNet, Navient, FedLoans, etc.) and asking them for options.  But be aware that we have seen servicing issues throughout the industry, so be sure to verify what they tell you with independent resources.

If you have private loans, you will have to talk to your lender / servicer to learn about repayment options.  Under private loans, you won’t have as many options as under the federal plan.

Are you having an issue with your servicer?

If you have called and re-called your servicer over a dispute and not gotten anywhere, it may be time to try a different approach.  The Department of Education has an Ombudsman office that you can use to escalate a dispute with your student loan servicer.  Write a clear letter explaining the issue and submit it here.  In the past, my clients have had the most success with using the online portal option — response times seem to be faster that way.

Are you worried about qualifying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

The basic PSLF checklist is (a) right type of loan on (b) the right type of plan while working (c) the right type of job.  Learn ore about each of these requirements with the PSLF FAQ here.

If you were paying on the wrong type of repayment plan, you can potentially qualify for forgiveness under the Temporary Extended PSLF Program.  You can learn more of the details and apply for that program here.

Are you in default?

When you are in default it’s important to bring the loans back into good status so that you don’t get a wage garnishment. Although you may have to pay some amount of money (it can be as little as $5) for the initial months, it may be possible to get your loans into a $0 repayment plan depending on your income.  Typically your options are either consolidation or rehabilitation to get out of default.  You can read about the pros and cons of these options here.

Be aware that your servicer is paid money to bring you out of default and that the payment amount depends on the option you choose.  In other words, your servicer may not suggest the option that’s in your best interest.  Do your own research on the best way to get out of default.

Are you considering refinancing?

Private refinance companies are increasingly reaching out to federal borrowers to entice them to refinance into private loans at lower interest rates.  Be sure you understand the tradeoff before you agree to refinance.  You lose all federal benefits and cannot take those balances back into the federal system.  Still, some people find it to be the best option in the long run.  I’m not against refinancing, I just want borrowers to know exactly what they are signing up for before they do it.

Do you have issues with your for-profit school?

You may want to speak to the Harvard Project on Predatory Student Lending, or your local legal aid society.

If you’ve submitted a borrower defense application and are waiting to hear back, you can share your experiences here as part of a lawsuit arguing that the Department of Education needs to begin processing applications.

Do you want to learn more details on the economics and disparities in student loans? 

Student loans are the consumer finance issue of our times.  Whether you have student loans or not, you are likely affected by mounting debt loads, which topped 1.5 trillion this year.  Moreover, student loans mirror the disparities of race and gender that we see across the economy.  You can read more about the economics of student loans here, here, here, here and here.

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