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When you make student loan payments on an income-driven plan, you might be in for a payment shock

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When you make student loan payments on an income-driven plan, you might be in for a (payment) shock.

Earlier this year, we asked you to share your #StudentDebtStress story. More than 30,000 of you answered, telling us about payment processing problems, servicing transfer snags, customer service confusion, and obstacles for borrowers in alternative repayment plans. You can check out the comments that were posted.

For borrowers who are experiencing financial distress and looking for a way to pay back their federal student loans, income-driven repayment plans can be the key to helping you make ends meet. But for some borrowers seeking to tie their federal loan payment to their income, we know the road can be rocky. You’ve told us about problems related to enrolling in income-driven repayment plans that ended up costing you hundreds of dollars in unexpected payments. These problems include delays in processing your paperwork and incorrect information from customer service personnel.

We’ve also heard about detours and dead ends that prevent you from keeping your payments affordable under these plans, even when you’ve filled out the required paperwork. One borrower told us:

I submitted the required documentation for the 2015 [income-based] repayment plan 8 weeks before the expiration of my previous IBR application, and within the time period [my servicer] indicated. Due to [my servicer’s]delays, my IBR application was not processed timely. While waiting for them to process my application, [my] monthly payment jumped from approximately $200 a month to $1400 a month, causing me to go into overdraft on my checking account. [My student loan servicer] failed to process my application timely even though my application was complete and no documentation was missing and failed to communicate the huge increase in payment.

Filling in the gaps

As the Bureau and other federal agencies consider ways to improve the student loan repayment process, stories like these focus our attention and raise new questions about how common these problems may be. That’s why we’re sending a letter to student loan companies asking for more information about how they make sure student loan borrowers have the information they need stay on track.

The most common income-driven repayment plans are Income-Based Repayment (IBR) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE). Each year, borrowers in income-driven repayment plans are required to submit information, generally an income tax return, proving that they still qualify for an affordable monthly payment (known as “recertification” in student loan-speak).

We’d like to learn more about how well the process of recertifying works for most people. Because student lenders and student loan servicers are not required to release this information publicly, we don’t know how many borrowers fail to recertify on time. When borrowers don’t recertify on time, their payments will snap back to the amount they would have owed under a standard 10-year repayment plan—a jump of hundreds of dollars per month, in many cases. This can be a shock to those already struggling to make these payments.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education released the first public information about recertification rates, noting that more than half of all borrowers in its sample (57 percent) missed their deadline to recertify and had their payments snap back.

What you need to know

We’ve put together some helpful advice and information for borrowers enrolled in income-driven repayment plans.

Why it’s important for your recertification to be processed on time each year

If you’re having trouble affording your federal student loan payments, getting enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan may be an important first step to staying on the road to repayment. These plans help you get a payment you can afford. If your recertification is not processed on time, it can:

  • Cause the amount you owe each month to snap back to a payment you may not be able to afford. When your recertification isn’t processed on time, even if you tell your servicer you still want to keep your payments affordable, you will probably have a gap where you are required to pay an amount that doesn’t reflect your financial circumstances. You may not realize that things aren’t going according to plan until your bank has processed an automatic payment at the higher amount or you’ve been hit with surprise overdraft fees.
  • Cost you thousands more over the life of your loan. When you enroll in an income-driven repayment plan, you may pay less each month than the interest that accrues on your loan. This means that your loan balance can grow over time. But these plans do offer an important protection for people who recertify on time each year and continue to qualify for a lower payment— any unpaid interest does not get added to your outstanding principal balance (so you don’t have to pay additional interest on the interest) unless you choose to leave the plan. But, if you miss your deadline to recertify, you lose this benefit. For some borrowers, this can cost thousands of dollars over the life of a loan.

  • Delay the date you’re eligible for loan forgiveness (and may cause you to make unnecessary extra monthly payments). The two largest income driven plans, Income-Based Repayment (IBR) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE), feature loan forgiveness after 25 or 20 years of payments, respectively. This means that if you have high debt or low income over a long period of time, you may still have an end in sight, even if you are only making low payments. If your recertification isn’t processed on time and you need to use forbearance while your recertification is being processed, you can’t count those months toward loan forgiveness.
  • Reduce the amount of interest that the government will pay on your behalf. For borrowers with subsidized federal loans, income-driven repayment plans feature another important benefit. For three consecutive years (36 months) from the time you first sign-up, the government will waive any interest charges your monthly payment does not cover, as long as you demonstrate partial financial hardship. Because the clock on this benefit starts running immediately and won’t pause even if you don’t recertify, you are giving up a benefit every month after your payments snap back.

Next Steps

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to keep working with leaders at the Department of Education and the Department of the Treasury to figure out how to address problems like these for student loan borrowers. Check back here for more information about what we’ve learned through our public inquiry and what comes next.

If you have questions about repaying your student loans, including questions about income-driven repayment plans, check out Repay Student Debt to find out how you can tackle your student loan debt.

If you have a problem with your student loan, you can submit a complaint online or call us at (855) 411-2372.

Seth Frotman is a Deputy Assistant Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Acting CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman. To learn more about the CFPB’s work for students and young Americans, visit consumerfinance.gov/students.

It’s not too late to share your #studentdebtstress story

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http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201505_cfpb-student-debt-stress-header

In May, we asked you to tell us your #StudentDebtStress story by July 13th. It’s not too late to share your story.

Over 40 million Americans are working to repay more than $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt.

Some borrowers have already shared with us their experiences with their student loan servicer (the company that sends a bill each month). We’ve released the first batch of your stories and we encourage you to take a look at what we’re hearing from the public at regulations.gov.

Here is some of what student loan borrowers have told us they are experiencing (click on the links below to see what a few of them have shared, in their own words):

  • Barriers to accessing benefits. You’ve shared problems related to enrolling in income-driven payment plans that ended up costing you hundreds of dollars in unexpected payments. These problems include processing delays and incorrect information from customer service personnel. We’ve also heard about barriers that prevent you from keeping your payments low under these plans, even when you’ve filled out the required paperwork.
  • Lost paperwork, customer service confusion. You’ve reported processing problems that have caused you to fall behind, including breakdowns when you try to repay a specific loan on your account or your loans are transferred between servicers.

Share your story and tell us how to make sure student loan servicing works for borrowers. Simply click this link to send us an email, which will be included in the public record. Please don’t include sensitive information like account numbers and social security numbers.

We’re accepting comments through July 13th.

We’re also calling on other stakeholders, including financial institutions, colleges, consumer advocates and policy experts to share their feedback. A full list of questions we’re asking the public is available in our Request for Information.

If you have questions about repaying your student loans, check out our Repay Student Debt feature of Paying for College to find out how you can tackle your student loan debt.

If you have a problem with your student loan, you can submit a complaint online or call us at (855) 411-2372.

Having trouble with a link in this blog post? You can also submit an official comment online.

Sound off on student loan servicing

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A few weeks ago, we announced that we’re gathering information about student loan servicers — the companies responsible for collecting and processing student loan payments. Although student loans are usually thought of as a younger American issue, in reality there are an increasing number of older Americans paying back student loan debt. Many older consumers struggle with student loan debt, sometimes forcing them to delay retirement or threatening their financial security when in retirement.

Older consumers may hold student loan debt because they are still paying off loans that were:

  • accrued when they were much younger
  • acquired during the course of a mid- or late-career switch, or
  • taken out for the education of their children or grandchildren.

According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, here are some concerning trends about older consumers and student loan debt:

  • Between 2005 and 2013, outstanding federal student loan debt owed by older borrowers grew from less than $3 billion to more than $18 billion, more than a six-fold increase.
  • Delinquency rates for older borrowers doubled between 2005 and 2012, rising from 6 to 12.5 percent.
  • Older borrowers defaulted on federal loans at much higher rates than other borrowers. More than a quarter of federal loans owed by borrowers ages 65-74 are in default. For borrowers 75 years or older, more than half of outstanding federal loans are in default.
  • The number of older consumers whose social security benefits were offset for the collection of federal student loan debt increased nearly 400 percent from 2002 through 2013. For consumers 65 or older the increase was roughly 500 percent.

Many older consumers who have submitted complaints to the Bureau about student loans report being billed for loans they never borrowed, receiving harassing and abusive debt collection calls, being wrongly charged fees because of the servicer’s accounting errors, and having their credit rating impacted by incorrect reporting of student loan information.

We now want to hear from you. If you’ve had problems with student loan debt or run into repayment roadblocks, share your story. Here are just a few things you can tell us about:

  • Disclosure, accessibility, and availability of options to release a co-signer from their legal obligation to repay a co-signed student loan
  • Disclosure, accessibility, and availability of options to discharge or reduce student loan debt in the event of the death or disability of a borrower or co-signer
  • Processing, allocation, and application of loan payments
  • The imposition and disclosure of late fees
  • The complaint resolution process (including how allegations of fraud are resolved)
  • Furnishing of credit information to credit reporting agencies

To share your story for the public record, go to regulations.gov or click this link to send us an email. Please don’t include sensitive information like account numbers and social security numbers. Submit your input and ideas by July 13, 2015. Having trouble with a link in this blog post? You can also submit an official comment online.

If you experience any problem with a student loan, you can submit a complaint online or call us at (855) 411-2372. We’ll forward your complaint to the company and work to get a response from them.

Tell us about your student debt stress

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http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201505_cfpb-student-debt-stress-header

If you are paying back student loans, you are not alone. Over 40 million Americans are repaying more than $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. Significant debt can have a domino effect on the major choices you make in your life: whether to take a particular job, whether to move, whether to buy a home, even whether to get married. For many of you, student debt stress makes these big milestones seem out of reach.

We’ve heard that some student loan servicers (the company that sends you a bill each month) may be adding to that stress. We’re seeking information from the public about the student loan servicing practices that may make it harder to get ahead of your debt.

We want to hear from you about your experience with your student loan servicer. If you’ve run into roadblocks, tell us about it – for example, we want to know if you’ve had payment processing problems, servicing transfer snags, communication confusion, or any other challenges when repaying your student debt.

Simply click this link to send us an email, which will be included in the public record. Please don’t include sensitive information like account numbers and social security numbers. We’re accepting comments through July 13.

In the infographic below, you can learn more about roadblocks some borrowers have encountered when dealing with their student loan servicers.

http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201505_cfpb-student-debt-stress-header

We’re also calling on other stakeholders, including financial institutions, colleges, consumer advocates and policy experts to share their feedback. A full list of questions we’re asking the public are available in our Request for Information.

In the next few weeks, we encourage you to check back for more information about our work to strengthen student loan servicing and to hear the experiences of others with student debt. Be sure to tell others about the chance to include their stories in the public record. Spread the word to friends and family with student debt stress using  #StudentDebtStress on social media, but remember you must click this link to email an official comment.

If you have questions about repaying your student loans, check out our Repay Student Debt feature of Paying for College to find out how you can tackle your student loan debt.

If you have a problem with your student loan, you can submit a complaint online or call us at (855) 411-2372.

Having trouble with a link in this blog post? You can also submit an official comment online.

Reminder: What happens to your student loans if your school is shut down

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When you’re told that your college will be shutting down, there can be a lot of uncertainty about what comes next. In light of recent closures of certain for-profit colleges, we wanted to share some helpful advice to help you navigate the situation.

This information and answers to other common questions about student loans are also available through Ask CFPB.

If you have federal student loans

If you have federal student loans and are currently enrolled or recently left a college or university that has shut its doors, you may be able to discharge (cancel) your loans by applying for a closed school discharge, which requires you to fill out a form.

This option is only a possibility if your school closes. If you are attending a school that is sold, you may not be eligible to ask for discharge under this process, even if your school no longer offers your program of study.

If you do have your federal loans discharged and you end up transferring credits to a similar program, you may have to pay back the loans that were discharged.

If you have private student loans

Generally, if you have private student loans, you may still be responsible for repaying them. However, some states may have programs that assist students with private student loans in the event of a school closure. In addition, some private student lenders may offer options to assist certain borrowers in this situation.

If you think you won’t be able to afford to repay your private student loan, you should contact your student loan servicer immediately to learn more about your options. And if you run into trouble, you can also submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372.

If you’re offered an option for a “teach-out” to complete your program

If your school has announced that it is closing, you may be offered a “teach out,” an arrangement through which you may be able to complete your program and receive your degree or certificate.

If you accept a “teach-out” to complete your program at your school or another school, you will be responsible for repaying all of your student loans. If you decline a “teach-out” offer and the school closes, you may not have to pay back your federal student loans.

Rohit Chopra is the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman. To learn more about the CFPB’s work for students and young Americans, visit consumerfinance.gov/students.