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Find Help With Student Debt without Digging a Deeper Hole

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Please do your research before despairing, screaming, and especially before signing anything or saying anything to collection agencies. (Yikes). In the latter situation, the rule is, Say Nothing (but take detailed notes), until you talk to a professional. What you say to a debt collector CAN be held against you. Look for trustworthy sources of student debt information and even then, double and triple check on the accuracy of the advice given.

Remember what Winston Churchill said about trusting and verifying.

1) Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC): “The Student Borrower Protection Center is a nonprofit organization solely focused on alleviating the burden of student debt for millions of Americans. The SBPC engages in advocacy, policymaking, and litigation strategy to rein in industry abuses, protect borrowers’ rights, and advance economic opportunity for the next generation of students.”

2) The National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project (SLBA) is a “resource for borrowers, their families, and advocates representing student loan borrowers.”

3) Check with your lenders, of course. Take detailed notes!

4) Check with your state consumer protection agencies, of course, but read the tea leaves, so to speak. Keep in mind that most (but not all) student debt is governed by federal law, not state law, which is not to say that your state’s elected officials aren’t interested in your situation. Your financial health affect your community and your state. (Note: The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Department of Education are under new leadership and their interests may not align with yours. The same goes for Congress, but it almost never hurts to call your state’s members of Congress, both your U.S. Senators AND your Representative.) Take detailed notes!

5) Talk to people, of course, and don’t just “google” or “social media” your questions, not that those aren’t perfectly fine places to research the lay of the land, so to speak. Take detailed notes! (Notice the pattern here?)

6) Sometimes you do need professionals, e.g. lawyers, accountants, etc. But do your homework first: compile your list of questions, organize your paperwork, and keep detailed notes and timelines. Lawyers and accountants usually charge by the hour so don’t pay them for the stuff you can do perfectly well yourself, i.e. organizing your paperwork, etc.

7) Visit your local public law library, if you’re lucky enough to have one, or your State Law Library’s website to see if they have statewide legal databases, e.g. the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), Nolo, etc. For example, the State of Oregon Law Library (SOLL) has NOLO, the Multnomah Law Library has NCLC (on-site use only) among other print and online legal research resources, and selected Oregon county law libraries have other databases (usually on-site use only).

8) Share your stories with others in similar situations, but the only “advice” you will give or take is that each person’s situation is unique and one can’t avoid doing one’s own research. (Unless of course you have family attorneys on retainer, in which case student loan debt is probably not a problem for you.)

9) Don’t forget to reward yourself periodically as an incentive for continuing the fight.