There’s been a lot of depressing news lately for student loan borrowers. President Trump has targeted crucial student loan programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and income-driven repayment plans in his recent budget proposal. Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Education, recently rolled back some important protections for student loan borrowers. And just this week, DeVos announced that she intends to halt and roll back new rules designed to protect victims of predatory for-profit schools. Meanwhile, student loan servicing continues to be a mess, as does the student loan debt collection system.
With all the bad things going on, it can be easy to become paralyzed and to think that there’s nothing you can do. But you’d be wrong about that.
There’s plenty that you can do to fight for student loan protections. And the more people who join these efforts, the more effective those efforts will be. Here are some actions that you can take right now.
Contact Your Federal Elected Officials
Many changes to the student loan system that impact borrowers – both good and bad – must be enacted through legislation. For example, President Trump’s proposal to defund Public Service Loan Forgiveness is just that – a proposal; it’s Congress that must write and pass an actual budget. It is well-documented that elected officials respond to constituent phone calls and letters, especially when there’s a lot of them. Don’t be shy, make it a habit of reaching out to your representatives and talking to them about issues that concern you, including student debt. Here are some useful links:
- Find your federal Congressperson and save his or her contact information.
- Find both of your federal Senators (you have two) and save their contact information.
Commit to calling or writing your federal elected officials this week and telling them that you want student loan programs such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness and regulations protecting victims of for-profit schools preserved.
Contact Your State Elected Officials
You should also consider Contacting your state elected officials to influence legislation at the state level, which can be just as important as federal laws. For instance, the Student Loan Bill of Rights is still pending here in Massachusetts, while a similar bill just passed in Illinois. New York recently enacted a landmark bill providing free college tuition to thousands of New York families. State laws matter, and they directly impact state residents.
- Find your state elected officials and save their contact information.
Commit to calling or writing your state elected officials this week about a student loan issue.
Tell Your Story
There are 44 million student loan borrowers in America who collectively owe $1.4 trillion. These people are not deadbeats who refuse to pay back what they owe. They are overwhelmingly good people, working people, taxpayers, and folks who want to do the right thing. There are just roadblocks and traps at nearly every step of the student loan repayment process, from poor student loan servicers to complex programmatic eligibility criteria to predatory loan terms to inflexible payment systems.
Your stories need to be told so that people understand what is happening. Debt – especially here in America – can be a source of shame or guilt. But stories about debt can be empowering as well, and they can lead to real changes and reform. Consider talking about your student loan issues to friends and family. Write about your experiences (even if it’s anonymously) and share your thoughts on social media and other web platforms. Reach out to the press or write a letter to the editor, and see if you can get your story in the news – even if it’s just a local paper.
Your experiences matter.
If you encounter problems with student loan servicing or debt collection, don’t just ignore the problem and hope it goes away. File a complaint with federal and state authorities such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and your state Attorney General’s Office.
Even if these agencies aren’t able to give you a full or immediate resolution, the complaint itself is evidence of the problem, and that information will be documented, stored, and analyzed. If millions of people file similar complaints, then it cannot be disputed that there are major issues in the student loan system. This is one of the reasons the CFPB was able to file a lawsuit against Navient for poor student loan servicing; thousands of student loan borrowers filed complaints to the CFPB about Navient’s practices.
Click here to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Donate to a Good Cause
You’re not alone in this struggle. There are many organizations taking major steps to protect student loan borrowers from further erosions of consumer protections. Most of these organizations are nonprofits that rely on donations from people like you and me to sustain their efforts. Consider donating to one of them, even if it’s just a few dollars. Here are some organizations that are making a difference:
- The National Consumer Law Center advocates for student loan borrowers through public policy campaigning, litigation, direct representation, and professional training. They are at the forefront of advocating for borrowers harmed by for-profit schools and a predatory servicing and debt collection system.
- Public Citizen supports student loan borrowers and consumer interests through investigations, lobbying, and litigation. They have led some of the toughest recent fights against major student loan servicers, such as FedLoan Servicing.
- ProPublica is a nonprofit, independent news organization that conducts investigative journalism on a variety of issues that impact student loan borrowers and other consumers. They were behind a recent investigation that exposed a predatory state lending authority in New Jersey.
- Student Debt Crisis provides direct support to student loan borrowers through trainings and webinars, and also promotes public advocacy to elected officials.