The average college student graduates today carrying roughly $30,000 in student-loan debt, while another elite 20 percent of graduates leave their university owing a crippling $100,000. That’s a lot of payments required of someone moving into an entry-level career position.
Unfortunately, the only way out is through. This often means making minimum monthly payments for decades. It’s not surprising that many of today’s graduates would do just about anything to cut their debts in half, including sharing sensitive information over the phone or via the internet to unscrupulous thieves running student loan forgiveness scams.
Don’t fall for it.
That old adage about something sounding too good to be true could have been written with student loan scammers in mind. They know your heart’s desire, and they tell you what you long to hear—all for the purpose of stealing your hard-earned money. Here’s what you need to know about the savviest student loan forgiveness scams currently operating.
Only the Federal Government Can Forgive Student Loan Debt
Only by participating in a government-offered program can you earn federal student loan forgiveness, and the government will not reach out to lure you in. If you’re receiving phone calls or emails from someone who claims affiliation with the government and they’re enticing you to sign up for a program like this, they’re lying. Currently, there are two programs available for forgiving student loan debt:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): This federally sponsored program may forgive the remaining balance of your student loans after you’ve made 120 consecutive payments (yes, that’s 10-years’ worth) and if you work full-time for a participating employer. Participating employers include federal, state, local, or tribal governments, or qualifying non-profits. You can read more about the PSLF at gov.
- Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program: If you’re employed as a teacher for five consecutive years in a low-income school or educational agency and you meet the additional requirements, you may be eligible for up to $17,500 of loan forgiveness. Additional requirements are available at the official government website.
Under unusual circumstances, it may be possible to have the remaining balance of your student loans discharged. These are listed on the government website, as well. The important take-away regarding these programs is that the government would rather you repay your loans in full. Therefore, nobody will reach out to you to encourage you to apply for forgiveness. If you’ve been contacted in this way, you’re dealing with someone who’s perpetrating student loan forgiveness program scams.
There Are No Shortcuts for Repaying Your Student Loans
You can’t cancel tens of thousands in student loan debt by paying one lump sum of $1,000 or even $5,000. The person who is on the other end of phone encouraging you to do so is just trying to steal your money. This scam was successfully rampant in 2019, and many naive graduates fell for it. Sadly, this not only cost them the upfront fee, it also threw their loans into default and decimated their credit scores. This is how it played out:
- Graduates were contacted by phone by cheery representatives offering to forgive their student loan debt if they paid a single, substantial upfront fee.
- The scammer collected federal student loan IDs, addresses, and other sensitive information, along with the fee.
- The scammer changed the mailing address on the participant’s student loan account so that late notices and default warnings were never delivered.
- The participants were unaware that their loans were in trouble until it was too late to fix the damage.
The unsuspecting participants in these student loan forgiveness scam calls suffered severe financial damage. Meanwhile, the scammers who contacted them had absconded with their costly upfront “fees.” According to the Federal Trade Commission, this scam successfully milked student loan borrowers of a staggering $95 million.
There really aren’t any shortcuts available for repaying student loan debt, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is perpetrating student loan forgiveness scams.
Don’t Pay for Services That Are Otherwise Free
Other popular student loan forgiveness program scams involve charging you hefty fees for services that are free for you to do on your own. These include applying for deferment, forbearance, forgiveness, or discharge of your student loans. You can do these yourself, free-of-charge, on the official Department of Education website. Unfortunately, many borrowers don’t know this, and end up paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to enable a scammer to do it on their behalf. Worse, they’re forced to share tons of sensitive information with the perpetrator, including log-ins and passwords.
How to Avoid Student Loan Forgiveness Program Scams
Student loan scammers become savvier by the day, it seems. This makes it increasingly difficult to protect yourself from being affected. But you can help lower your risk by following simple safety precautions. These may seem like common sense, but when you’re on the phone with someone who’s been specially trained to win your confidence, it’s easier than you think to over-share sensitive information. Here’s what we recommend to lower your risk of becoming an unwitting victim of student loan forgiveness scam calls.
- Educate yourself on what you can and can’t do regarding your student loans. Familiarize yourself with the official website of the Department of Education and study the options available for loan forgiveness. This will help you recognize false claims when they’re presented.
- Never share your student loan ID, passwords, log-ins, pin numbers, social security numbers, or even your name and mailing address with strangers over the phone. If you feel pressured by the person on the other end of the line, disconnect the call. (It’s okay to be rude to someone who’s trying to steal your money.)
- Know who will and won’t contact you by phone. Agencies who will contact you by mail before calling include the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education. And neither agency would ever ask for your sensitive information anyway, because they already have it.
- Resign yourself to the reality that you have to repay the money you borrowed. You can contact the Department of Education to request payment modifications in the event you can’t make your monthly payments. They’re often willing to work with you during tough times.
- Report suspicious calls to your local authorities. It may surprise you to learn that you’re not the only one in the area who’s being targeted.
The best way to avoid being scammed is to realize that your student loan isn’t going to just magically disappear. Repayment help is available, however, through the Department of Education. If you’re having trouble meeting your student loan obligations, this is where you should turn for assistance.