You have student loan debt, and you want help paying off these loans. Even if you are not struggling to make monthly payments, having substantial debt looming for years in your future can be intimidating and make you feel less financially stable. You want to move forward into your future without worrying about debt payments.
Then, you get a phone call. The caller offers to help you pay off your loans faster. They call it a Student Loan Assistance Program, or SLAP. You’ve heard of something similar but usually offered through employers. If you can get a job with a company that provides student loan repayment assistance, much like a retirement plan, you can pay less and relieve some worry. But the caller is not associated with your current employer or any former employers.
In other cases, maybe you get a letter with an official-looking check in the mail, made out for a sizeable amount of money. For example, the check may be made out for $18,000 and sent to you through the SLAP program, which determined you were eligible based on your federal information. However, you cannot cash the check without contacting the company first, using the provided number beginning with 888.
So, what is this company, and are their offers legitimate?
New Student Loan Assistance Program Scams Are Multiplying
With 44 million Americans in student loan debt and repayment plans ranging from 10 to 30 years, it is easy for scam artists to find vulnerable individuals and tempt them into making a poor financial decision. With an official-looking letter and the offer of tens of thousands of dollars, the average graduate can easily fall prey to this scam.
If you have received a letter from Student Loan Assistance Programs or SLAP companies, you have been contacted by scam artists. There is no such program through any federal or private lending agency, and they are trying to steal money or information from you. They are often after information like your federal loan ID, your billing address, and even your social security number.
Many student loan scams also demand money upfront for services. This is illegal, and it is important to know that even private companies that provide federal loans indirectly will never make this request.
Thousands of Americans have fallen victim to these scams. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans have collectively given as much as $95 million to sham operations.
You are more likely to fall into default on your loans through a SLAP scam. The company promises to pay your loans down or pay them off completely, leading you to stop making payments. You will instead fall into default, which can have dire financial consequences.
How to Recognize the SLAP Scam
The SLAP scam has a particular setup you can recognize. There are no robocalls or spam calls involved, in part because the federal government has been clear that scammers call about money, while the government sends letters.
It is easy for scam artists to fake government seals and addresses, so there are important differences you need to know about to spot a SLAP scam.
- You will get a “check,” which you cannot cash, for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.
- The check will look official, with a Washington, D.C. address and a seal, but below the address, there will be a line in all-caps saying “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”
- The letter will look like an official government letter with the check attached, and it will congratulate you on qualifying for the new Student Loan Assistance Program (SLAP).
- You will be given a SLAP account number along with a listing of how much you owe in student debt, which may be an estimate or a wildly inaccurate representation of how much you owe.
- There may be a place on the top of the check or just over the check saying, “Document has a colored background. Security features listed on back,” and a small graphic that looks like a padlock.
- A space on the back will encourage you to “Endorse Here,” along with other indications that this is a real check you can cash.
- Part of the check will state “Void After 30 Days,” so you will feel rushed to cash the check.
- The smallest print may say, “This is not a live check.”
- The account number on the front of the check may be something like “123456.”
- Above the listed amount of money may be the phrase “Savings Amount.”
- The letter will encourage you to call an 888 number for further information on the program and the proposed amount of money.
Some investigators have called the number listed and found that the “check” is actually a “voucher,” indicating the amount of money you can save by participating in the program. SLAP is not actually offering you that amount of money but claiming to save you this amount on your overall student loans. This is a clear indication of a scam. They are trying to lure you in with misleading information so they can steal money or personal information from you.
If you are concerned about missing out on potential plans to help you pay your student loans, you should ask your school, lender, or the Department of Education directly for help. They will work with you after inquiring, but they will never contact you directly to encourage you to apply to these programs.
Real Methods to Reduce or Eliminate Your Student Debt
If you have student loan debt that you want to eliminate faster, you have several options to manage your federal student loans. It is essential to know that if you have a private student loan, you must stick to the terms in the contract. If you have questions about those terms, you must contact the lending agency to clarify the details.
Private lenders may penalize you for paying the loan off early, paying more on the monthly payment than they have scheduled, missing even one payment, or being late on payments. Federal loans, in contrast, come from the Department of Education. They offer several options to reduce or eliminate your loans, defer payment due to various factors, and even pay off your loans early if you can.
Federal loan repayment options include:
- Standard repayment plans over 10 years, with a six-month grace period and the ability to reschedule payments (for example, to the 1st of the month instead of the 15th).
- Graduated repayment plans, so you repay over 10 years but start with lower payments that gradually become larger.
- Extended repayment plans allowing you to spread payments out over 25 years.
- Income-based payments including pay-as-you-earn, income-contingent plans of 20% of your income, and others.
- Loan consolidation to get a longer repayment period and only make one monthly payment to one lender rather than several scattered payments.
- Volunteering with AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps for some loan forgiveness.
- Working in a field that offers social benefits and also allows some loan forgiveness.
- Loan cancellation due to the inability to make payments like total and complete disability.
- Loan discharge if you meet specific bankruptcy criteria.
You can work with a financial counselor through your school or lending agency to manage payments and understand the process of repaying your student loans. This can help you avoid loan scams, as a counselor can help you recognize when scammers are trying to steal your personal information.