In 2021, the average federal student loan debt is $36,510 per borrower. With the average student loan interest rate at around 6%, paying off this debt can seem overwhelming, especially if you also have other types of debt (like a mortgage or credit card debt).
While there are several methods and strategies to help you pay off your debt, like the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods, some borrowers look for an easier route, such as student loan forgiveness.
There are situations when the federal government will cancel all or part of an educational loan, though there are very specific criteria in order to qualify. The number of people who meet this criteria is very low, which is why scammers use student loan forgiveness programs as a way to try to get people’s information and scam them out of money.
Here is some information about student loan forgiveness scams, including how to know if an offer is real or fake, how to avoid scams, and what to do if you’ve been scammed.
What are student loan forgiveness scams?
One of the most common student loan forgiveness scams is when someone is promised forgiveness in exchange for a payment. Once you pay, the scammer takes your money, and you’re still left with debt. They may offer to get you into a loan deferment program for payment, or they may promise to eliminate your debt entirely.
There was no student loan forgiveness included in either of the coronavirus relief packages, so COVID-19 student loan forgiveness scams are on the rise. While payments for nearly all federal student loans are paused through Jan. 31, 2022, anyone offering a COVID-19-related student loan forgiveness program is a scam.
How to know if a student loan forgiveness program is real
There are a few things you can do to find out if a student loan forgiveness program is real:
- Check on the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Research the company and read information and reviews posted.
- Do an internet search on the company. Look to see if there are any news stories mentioning that company being a scam, or if others have experienced a scam from this company. Note that any company can create a website, so don’t rely on their own website for information.
- If the company does any of the following, it’s likely a scam:
- Asks for money up front or requires a monthly fee
- Promises immediate loan forgiveness
- Pressures you into paying, signing up for something, or providing your information
- Asks you to share personal information, such as your Federal Student Aid ID or Social Security number
- Advertises on social media
If you are speaking to someone who says they can forgive your student loans, a few questions you can ask them include:
- Are you affiliated with the Department of Education? (If not, it’s likely a scam)
- Is this a free program? (If not, it’s likely a scam)
- Would I qualify immediately? (If so, it’s likely a scam)
- Can I take some time to do some research? (If they say no, you have to act immediately — it’s likely a scam)
How to avoid student loan forgiveness scams
Scams are everywhere, and they can sometimes seem difficult to avoid. However, by taking these steps and keeping these tips in mind, you can be better prepared to avoid student loan forgiveness scams.
- Always do your research.
- Even if a company has personal information about you, it doesn’t mean they are real. Be cautious when clicking on social media ads, and investigate any company that sends you mail before contacting them.
- If you receive a robocall, hang up immediately or do not call back.
- Never provide any of your personal information, including Social Security number, credit card information or bank account information.
- Never pay for student loan forgiveness.
If you are interested in finding out if you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness, go to studentaid.gov to apply for an income-driven repayment plan or to learn more about government forgiveness programs. Or, if you have private loans, contact your lender to discuss repayment plans, deferment, or forbearance.
What to do if you’ve been scammed
If you’ve been scammed, it’s important to act fast. Here are a few steps to take as soon as possible:
- Change the password for your loan account. If possible, change the email associated with the account as well.
- Report the scam to your local police department. Make copies of these reports and keep them in a file. You can also report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), your state attorney general, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
- Depending on your situation, you may want to hire an attorney.
It’s not impossible to get your money back, but you may not get it all back, and it will take time and effort. That’s why it’s important to be cautious, ask questions, and do your research.
Caitlyn is a freelance writer from the Cincinnati area with clients ranging from digital marketing agencies, insurance/finance companies, and healthcare organizations to travel and technology blogs. She loves reading, traveling, and camping—and hanging with her dogs Coco and Hamilton.