Veterans: Take advantage of student loan forgiveness, but don’t let it damage your credit

For some veterans, their time in uniform caused a severe service-connected disability. This dramatically impacts their life after transition out of the military.

For 100-percent service-disabled veterans who have student debt, the Department of Education offers a valuable benefit to help them avoid financial distress – the chance to have their loans discharged (forgiven). Under federal law, veterans can seek federal student loan forgiveness if they receive a 100 percent disability rating by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Private student lenders are not required to offer this benefit, but some do on a case-by-case basis, so be sure to ask.

We encourage all consumers to check their credit report regularly, but we want to especially encourage veterans who use this benefit to be sure that their student loan servicer (the company that collects payments) is providing correct information about their loan discharge to credit bureaus (the companies that compile and sell credit reports).

We continue to hear from veterans and servicemembers about the unique servicing obstacles they face as they seek to pay off student loan debt. We are concerned that, in some circumstances, when veterans are able to discharge their student loans due to their disability, they may experience damage to their credit report if their student loan servicer provides incorrect information to the credit bureaus. These mistakes, if uncorrected, can result in a negative entry on their credit report that makes it harder and more expensive for these disabled veterans to get credit, buy a car or take out a mortgage.

For example, one service-disabled veteran submitted a complaint to us describing how his credit score fell by 150 points as a result of this type of error. His score went from a nearly perfect “super prime” credit score to a much lower score simply because he received loan forgiveness.

I can’t get anyone to listen to me! I am a 100 percent disabled Veteran who has had his credit score ruined by a broken credit scoring system. I had my student loans…discharged…in August 2013…I went from 800 to 650 in less than 2 months. I am fighting to survive because a company from my own country is killing me.

Consumers are harmed when companies furnish inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies. An error in a credit report could make a big difference in whether someone receives a loan, qualifies for a low interest rate, or even gets offered a job. These credit-reporting problems, if uncorrected, can hurt veterans in this situation for decades.

For example, here’s what could happen if a veteran tried to buy a home after a credit reporting error caused similar damage to her credit profile and score and this damage went uncorrected. If she used a VA home loan to buy a $216,000 home, she could pay more than $45,000 in additional interest charges over the life of her mortgage (depending on the length and terms of the mortgage), since this error would cause her to qualify for a much more expensive loan.

Here are two important reminders for service-disabled veterans who have discharged their federal student loans:

1. Check your credit report.

If you received loan forgiveness due to your service-connected disability, your credit report should not state that you still owe the debt. Other borrowers who receive a disability discharge are monitored for three years by the Department of Education. But if you received a discharge based on VA documentation, you don’t have to worry about this step and your credit report should show that you no longer owe the loan, not that it was “assigned to government” for monitoring. And remember, you can check your credit report for free.

If you have discharged older federal loans made by banks, pay even closer attention.

Most federal loans taken out before 2010 – loans generally made by banks and other private entities but guaranteed by the federal government – require your lender to update the information on your credit report after your loan has been discharged. Even though no new loans are issued under this program, there are still millions of borrowers repaying this type of loan. Veterans who have discharged these loans should be sure to check their credit report regularly, since the rules regarding disability discharge changed in 2013.

2. If something doesn’t seem right, contact the credit reporting company and dispute the error.

Understanding how discharged loans show up on your credit report can be complicated. If you file a dispute and it still doesn’t get corrected, submit a complaint with us and we’ll work to get you a response from the company. You can call us at (855) 411-2372 or submit a complaint online.

Last year, we put companies on notice that they must investigate disputed information in a credit report, and that we will take appropriate action, as needed. We will also continue to closely monitor complaints from veterans and other disabled student loan borrowers to make sure student loan servicers are furnishing correct information to the credit bureaus about disability discharges. All financial services providers that serve veterans should redouble their efforts to ensure that veterans are not penalized for receiving the benefits they earned and deserve for their sacrifices.

Holly Petraeus is Assistant Director of the Office of Servicemember Affairs and Rohit Chopra is the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman.

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