Three Steps to Catch Up on Student Loan Delinquency

Specialized legal help can cut through the confusion

By Judy Malmon, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on November 28, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Adam S. Minsky

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Student debt is second only to mortgages in total debt owed nationally. With income lagging behind rising living costs, it’s unsurprising 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 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.”

1. Figure Out What Type of Loans You Have

The first step is to figure out what type of loans you have. There are two categories of student loan debt:

  1. Public: money lent on behalf of the government; and
  2. Private: money lent by private lending institutions.

Student loan servicers historically have not been doing a great job of providing information to borrowers. 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.

Adam S. Minsky

2. Determine How Your Collectors Will Pursue Late Payments

Next, determine your rights and options and the process by which a collector may pursue payment if you fall behind on your student loan repayment plan.

Federal Loan Collection

“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.

Private Loan Collection

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 private lenders or collectors must go through the court system.

Private student loan debt can often be challenged based on mistakes or the inability of the collection agency to prove their case. For example, in September 2017, a large student loan collector agreed to pay over $21 million in penalties and refunds for filing false and misleading documents in collection practices.

In addition to resolving any delinquency on the student loan 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.”

3. Get All the Information You Can Before Monthly Payments Begin

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 regulations under the U.S. Department of Education.

“Student loan servicers historically have not been doing a great job of providing information to borrowers,” 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 student loan forgiveness programs or loan rehabilitation, and what your federal student loan payments will look like.

Find an Experienced Attorney

If you need help with a student loan issue or need legal advice about refinancing or debt relief options, 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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