Your Options to Catch Up on Student Loan Delinquency

Specialized legal help can cut through the confusion

By Judy Malmon, J.D. | Last updated on January 12, 2023

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Student loan debt is now second only to mortgages in total debt owed nationally. With income lagging behind rising living costs, it’s not surprising that many people just can’t keep up. Massachusetts student loan attorney Adam Minsky knows this first hand. He ran into trouble with his own loans shortly after graduating, finding no one to answer his questions or help. “I also encountered a number of other people who had similar issues, and I realized there’s a need for this practice,” Minsky says. He has now been representing clients exclusively on student loan issues for seven years. Minsky helps clients who’ve fallen behind on their loan payments and don’t know what to do. “They’re overwhelmed and being harassed by debt collectors,” he says. “Once I step in, all communications have to go through the attorney, so that shields the borrower from the stress and emotional issues that come with being hounded by collectors.”

What to Do If You’ve Fallen Behind

The first step is to figure out what type of loans you have, to determine your rights and options, as well as the process by which a collector may pursue payment if you fall behind on your student loan repayment plan. There are two categories of student loan debt: public (money lent on behalf of the government) and private (money lent by private lending institutions). “For a federal loan,” Minsky explains, “there might be statutory options available to cure a delinquency, or there might be options for more affordable payments.” Minsky arranges for his clients to get out of default and onto a payment plan. Government and federal lenders also have certain tools that allow them to circumvent the court system, including wage garnishment and going after your tax refund. Minsky negotiates alternatives to these actions.

Challenging the Debt Collectors

Private loans, on the other hand, are more similar to other forms of unsecured debt. There is no statutory right to cure a private loan default, and collectors have to go through the court system. Private student loan debt can often be challenged based on mistakes or inability of the collection agency to prove their case. In September 2017, a large student loan collector agreed to pay $19 million in penalties and refunds for filing false and misleading documents in collection lawsuits. In addition to resolving any delinquency on the debt, there may be issues in how the collection itself is handled. “Regardless of the type of loan, debt collection agencies often violate state and federal consumer protection laws, in terms of harassment, misrepresentation, speaking to other people about your debt, calling at work, and other violations,” states Minsky. “Third-party debt collectors are covered by the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act and also state debt collection laws here in Massachusetts.” Minsky cautions that the road ahead for student loan borrowers may be getting bumpy. Student loans are a confusing series of programs with complicated, overlapping laws, and the U.S. Department of Education has required federal student loan servicers to provide accurate, helpful information to borrowers. However, the department changed its policy guidance and lenders are no longer required to inform you about your federal student loans. “Servicers historically have not been doing a great job of providing information to borrowers, and with this policy change, it’s probably going to get worse,” Minsky says. Keep in mind that “the people managing your loans may not always be giving you correct or accurate information. It’s up to you, the borrower, to get that information yourself.” Find out everything you can ahead of time—what type of loans are available, what you’re eligible for, whether any changes will make you eligible for other programs of loan rehabilitation and loan forgiveness, and what are your student loan payments going to look like. If you need help with a student loan issue, contact a consumer attorney with experience in student loans. For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of consumer law and debt collections.

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