If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.
So here’s the story. I have a small, private student loan with Navient (formerly Sallie Mae) that I’ve been paying for quite some time. I’ve been on automatic debit for years. I’ve written previously about being careful with auto-debit programs and this story illustrates why.
I recently changed banks, and wanted to change my banking information with Navient’s auto-debit program. So I logged into my online Navient account, and completed all of the necessary online forms to change bank account information. Navient issued me a confirmation email saying that if I submitted my request before my next billing statement had been generated, no manual payment would be necessary for the next bill, as the auto-debit would go into effect for that next payment. If I submitted my request after the next billing statement was generated, I would have to make a manual payment for that billing cycle, and the auto-debit would go into effect the following billing cycle. Okay, got it.
I had submitted my auto debit application in November, on a date before my December billing statement had been generated. So, based on Navient’s email, I was expecting that the December payment would be automatically paid via the auto-debit. But, since I’m me, I of course checked my account on the payment due date, just in case there was a problem. Turns out, there was: no payment had been made. Was this nothing to worry about, as it sometimes takes a day or two for a payment to post? Should I risk making a manual payment myself to be on-time, knowing that if the auto-debit goes through I will have made a double payment for this month?
I called Navient, and spoke to a rude and unhelpful customer service representative who told me that actually, because of their billing cycles, my auto-debit would not go into effect until February. February, I asked? February? That’s not what Navient’s confirmation email said, and it’s not what Navient’s website says. I was told that I would not have to make ANY manual payments based on the date that I submitted my application. Now I’m finding out that I have to make TWO manual payments. Why? And why am I only finding out now, by calling them? Why wasn’t I notified?
I escalated to management. After being on hold for 20 minutes, the call dropped (I think it was my phone, but I’m blaming them). I called back the next day, and didn’t even bother with the front-line customer service staff. I immediately escalated to management. I got some sort of explanation: turns out that while I did submit my auto-debit application before the next billing statement was generated, it was not received or processed by Navient until after the billing statement had been generated. So, I had to make a manual payment for December. The manager assured me that the auto-debit would be in effect by January, and the first customer service representative was wrong when she told me it would take until February. Well, don’t we all feel better now?
Let’s take a moment and just review all of this:
- Navient initially told me no manual payment would be necessary for December, based on the date that I submitted my auto-debit application in November.
- The auto-debit did not in fact go into effect in December. Navient did not inform me. I had to check my online account, call them, and find out.
- Navient then misrepresented to me, again, when the auto-debit would go into effect, by telling me it would be February.
- Navient then told me that auto-debit will go into effect in January.
Think about it. This is me. I’m the student loan expert. I know how this stuff works. And even I can get screwed by this ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated and unfriendly servicing system. Had I not been paying close attention, there would have been serious consequences here including late fees, penalties, negative credit reporting, and even default. It is so, so easy to get screwed over when it comes to student loan servicing.
I made the manual payment for December, and avoided late fees and negative credit reporting. And you can bet I’ll be watching my account closely in January to see if that auto-debit actually does go into effect, or if I have to make another manual payment for that month. In the meantime, I will be filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. All I can do is share this experience, and hope that in doing so, others can avoid being put in a similar situation.