I graduated from college with ~$35,000 in student loans.
I was lucky because they were subsidized Stafford loans. My servicer was the oddly named ACS Education Services… ACS stood for Affiliated Computer Services. I got interest rate breaks for direct debit and electronic statements, both of which are common even today, and didn't have too many problems with them.
They were not being serviced by Fedloan – which has developed quite a reputation.
Unfortunately, if you want to take advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), FedLoan is the only game in town. The PSLF, in sort, is when you enter full-time public service employment for a qualified employer and make 120 qualifying monthly payments (10 years). After that time, your direct Federal loans are forgiven (loans made under the Direct Loan Porgram). It was created under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007.
When I emailed readers about their experiences with student loans, one name and the word “nightmare” kept coming up. Fedloan.
Who is FedLoan Servicing?
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is FedLoan Servicing's parent company. Another name you might also see is Amerian Education Services, which is also owned by PHEAA and they manage private loans as well as those under the Federal Family Education Loan Program. These two companies service the most federal student loans in the United States.
FedLoan wasn't always the only game in town for federal student loans. The Department of Education decided in early 2017 that they would move from nine different servicers to just one. Yep, you gussed it – FedLoan. The DOE estimated that it would save $130 million over five years, though it's inclear how much borrowers will see in savings given the increase in volume of student loans, payments, and administrative burden.
Common FedLoan Servicing Problems
When I asked readers, they all had similar stories – “If you're just making the regular payments and never miss any, never want to pay more, and don't want to talk to someone… FedLoan is great!” If you want to do more than that, like making an extra payment to principal, good luck.”
In other words, if you have to actually deal with any student loan servicing issues… you will be dealing with servicing issues.
So, here are some of the common FedLoan servicing problems and how to avoid them:
Forced Switch for Public Service Loan Forgiveness
If you apply for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, you are forced over to FedLoan Servicing from whatever servicer you were previously using. One of our readers was a little surprised by this because they didn't realize that only FedLoan handled the PSLF (this is a more recent development, as you expect, Fedloan news isn't on anyone's list of high priority items!).
The trouble with this is that with no other student loan servicer for PSLF, you're stuck with FedLoan. If you want to enter the PSLF, FedLoan is the only game in town.
Direct Debit Takes Two Billing Cycles
If you set up a direct debit, expect it to take two billing cycles before it goes into effect. For those two billing cycles, you need to manually make payments and stay on top of the payments to Fedloan to avoid any type of credit issues.
This is a common complaint and one that makes a little bit of sense, direct debit isn't instantaneous but FedLoan doesn't seem to make it easier to confirm these issues. Also, whenever the amount changes (such as for IDR), you need to redo the entire process again.
One reader told me – “When your taxable income changes (as mine did after we had a child) I had to start over again with direct debit. Even though I had just done it a year earlier. Add on that my wife also is in the same programs, also direct debit, and twice a year I am potentially sending in new forms just to pay them and get the .25% reduction of interest rate.”
Recertifying Income Takes A Long Time
Another reader is on the Income-Driven Repayment Plan and each year he needs to recertify his income. “What I like about FedLoan is that they have a dedicated paperwork upload system where I can upload my paperwork online so no need to fax or physically mail any documents. They process the information I send to them usually within a couple days and send an email about the status of my uploaded paperwork. Emails for all my questions have usually been answered or at least responded to within a few days. The paperwork for the PSLF takes a little longer, maybe a couple months but once it is processed, they send a hardcopy letter and an email stating all the information about my current status within the PSLF program.”
While the process has improved, Fedloan has an abysmal response time. One reader told me they sent the forms in April and only heard back in late August. It's been like that for years.
It's gotten so bad, the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued FedLoan Servicing (technically, they sued the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency)!
- “PHEAA's [Fedloan's parent company] servicing failures have harmed Massachusetts student borrowers, depriving them of months that should have counted toward their loan forgiveness, causing them to lose financial grants and further saddling them with debt”
So keep that in mind!
Clarify Extra Payments
If you make extra payments but do not specify which loans your payments are meant for, they will spread it across all of your loans. If you make a payment on one loan and do not specify, it will be applied to the next payment. If you paid more than your regular payment, the next regular payment will not be debited.
If you are on an Income-Driven Plan, you can't make payments ahead of your IDR anniversary or recertification date. Any payment overage at that date is applied to the loan itself, not a future bill. These are key distinctions to remember because you may want your payment applied to your student loan different.
Contact Customer Service
Don't use email – the best way to get an answer is to hop on the phone:
- US Toll-free number: 1-800-699-2908
- International number: 717-720-1985
They're open Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 9 PM Eastern.
If you want to email, you will need to log in to use their secure email system. I recommend calling and talking to someone on the phone though.
Do Not Trust Their Advice
I think it's safe to say that the customer service representatives you talk to at any company, Fedloan or otherwise, are rarely going to be the folks you want to take financial advice from. It's not their job to know the intricacies of student loans, student loan options, and all the vagaries of debt and forgiveness. I'd expect them to be experts in their own systems, being able to apply payments properly and navigating the menus of their own computer systems.
A few of the stories I've heard involved folks being put on plans they shouldn't have been on. It's hard to give financial guidance and even harder when you don't have a complete picture. Do not trust the FedLoan customer service reps if they give you advice or steer you in a certain direction – they're not necessarily qualified to give that advice. They're not being purposely deceptive and they're not trying to trick you, they can't possibly know the full picture.
Did you have an experience with Fedloan that you wanted to share? Are they like this laundry list of nightmares and student loan problems? I'd love to hear it and others would too!