In the Press – Forbes – 5 Smart Steps For Struggling Student Borrowers

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By dominating Google GOOGL -0.45% search results and advertising promises of student loan forgiveness across social media, student debt relief companies are preying on struggling student borrowers. But rather than turning to one of these questionable debt relief firms you find on the web, take these five steps:

Know what you owe. View all your federal loans on the National Student Loan Data System, at nslds.ed.gov. You won’t find info on private loans there, so if you have any, make a list of the balance and interest rate of each.

Refinance. If you have a high-paying job and are able to make your monthly payments, you may be able to reduce your total costs byrefinancing through startups like SoFi, CommonBond and Earnest. Citizens Bank and Darien Rowayton Bank have started offering refis, too.

Check out federal options. Having trouble making the monthly payment on federal loans? Get details of plans that cap your monthly payment to a percentage of your income at studentaid.ed.gov, and apply for one at studentloans.gov. Use government calculators to see how much you can lower monthly payments and what the total costs of your loans will be over time. Remember, stretching out payments may raise the total interest you pay.

Jawbone private lenders. If you’re having trouble making payments on private student loans, call the servicer and ask for relief; banks like Wells Fargo WFC +0.00% and Discover offer loan modifications or interest rate reductions for struggling borrowers. Lenders may also temporarily postpone your payments.

Get legit advice. Still confused? Get more info at CFPB.gov and the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, which offers both information and some legal referrals at studentloanborrowerassistance.org. File complaints about both debt relief and servicing firms with the CFPB. Some state attorneys general also have robust help sites and take complaints. Above all, don’t let anyone pressure you into choosing a repayment plan you’re unsure about or paying a fee to apply to one.

–By Maggie McGrath and John F. Wasik

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