Calling Your Student Loan Servicer? It Pays to Prepare

Do your homework, gather key documents and be patient to get a helpful answer from your federal student loan servicer.
Eliza Haverstock
By Eliza Haverstock 
Published
Edited by Karen Gaudette Brewer

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If you need free, personalized guidance about your federal student loans, want to switch repayment plans, or are dealing with misleading or incorrect bills, there’s one place to call: your student loan servicer.

But these days, ringing up your servicer isn’t guaranteed to resolve your issue. In the face of an unprecedented return to student loan repayment last fall, servicers had to staff up quickly with limited resources. And borrowers have reported hours-long hold times, misleading advice, incorrect or late billing statements and other shortcomings from their servicers. As a result, the White House has withheld more than $9 million in servicer pay as of January for “failing to meet contractual obligations.”

“This is not the point where you can rely on the servicers 100% to give you the most accurate up-to-date information you will need if you're a borrower,” says Alpha Taylor, a National Consumer Law Center staff attorney focused on student loans.

Though issues like billing errors and long hold times are largely out of your hands, you can still take action to have an efficient, helpful call with your student loan servicer. Here’s how to prepare for a servicer call that gets results.

Identify your servicer

The federal government contracts with a handful of private companies, called servicers, to manage student loan repayment. You’re assigned a servicer when you first take out your student loans. Servicers send monthly bills, collect your payments and help you keep your loans in good standing by providing support and guidance.

To determine which servicer is yours, log in to your account on StudentAid.gov. You can also get in touch with any of the loan servicer contact centers by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-4-FED-AID.

Know what servicers can (and can’t) help you with

Your servicer should be able to answer almost any question or concern you may have about your student loans, Scott Buchanan, executive director of the Student Loan Servicing Alliance, said by email. Common call topics include:

  • Switching repayment plans.

  • Forbearance or deferment. 

  • Setting up autopay. 

  • Lowering payments with income-driven repayment, like the new SAVE plan

  • Where to send payments. 

  • Incorrect or late billing statements. 

  • Locating student loan-related tax forms. 

However, servicers can’t help with everything. They don’t own your loans, or decide the terms — they only manage the repayment process.

“We can help you access benefits and programs, but we can't change them,” Buchanan said. “For example, we cannot change your interest rate, change the number of payments needed to access forgiveness programs or negotiate the loan balance amount. Those are all the terms and conditions that Congress and the government set.”

Do research and prepare your questions

Before calling your servicer, it’s important to do your homework. You don’t need to be a student loan expert, but you should have a basic idea of the repayment plans, relief options and forgiveness programs that may be available to you.

Trusted resources include StudentAid.gov, the Education Department’s loan simulator and the NCLC’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance project.

Doing this research will help you ask informed questions and allow you to cross-check your servicer during the call.

“I want the borrower to understand that no one knows their student loans story better than them,” says Taylor. “If you have a feeling that something is off, if you think that you're applying for SAVE and a monthly payment you thought you were going to get is not the one that appears on your bill, chances are you're probably right.”

Gather key documents

For an efficient servicer call, you should gather relevant documents and account numbers and have them on hand before picking up the phone. Depending on your goals, this may include:

  • Your student loan servicer account number.

  • Your Social Security number.

  • Your loan history, available in your StudentAid.gov account.

  • Recent mail and email communications from your servicer. 

  • Last year’s tax return, including income and family size.

  • A copy of your student loan billing statement.

  • Your bank account information.

  • A recent bank statement.

Block out a chunk of time for the call

Be prepared to wait a bit to speak with your servicer. During the last two weeks of October 2023 — when federal student payments were resuming after a three-year pause — borrowers waited an average of 73 minutes to speak with a servicer agent, according to a January report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Hold times have leveled off since October, Buchanan said, but you can still minimize your wait by calling on a Thursday or Friday morning, or during the early morning or late afternoon on other days of the week.

Locate your student loan servicer’s customer service phone number on the servicer's website.

Once you’re on the phone with a servicer, the conversation can be swift. Servicers can handle most basic, clarifying questions in a couple of minutes, while more complex calls take upwards of 15 minutes, Buchanan said.

“It really depends on what help you need and how much research you've already done,” he explained.

Be firm but polite

You’ve done your research, gathered your documents and patiently waited on hold — but what if you still aren’t getting the help you need? It’s easy to get frustrated with your servicer, but losing your cool won’t help you get a resolution.

“Point the servicer in the right direction, but do it firmly, calmly and politely so that they can get the issue resolved,” Taylor suggests.

Said Buchanan: “Our staff are hard-working people just like you, so having a positive and open discussion will help you both work together to get to the best answer much faster.”

Take notes

Write down what the servicer tells you during the call, and include details like your customer service representative’s name or employee ID number. After the call, follow up with your servicer by email or online chat to confirm what happened over the phone, advises Taylor.

“Just say, ‘Hey, just confirming our conversation: This is what I said, this is what the representative told me,’ so you have something in writing just in case there is a discrepancy,” Taylor says.

Consider a DIY approach — but only in some cases

Not up for a call? Most student loan servicers offer the option to contact them via email or online chat. But if you need personalized guidance right now, a phone call is still the best route, says Taylor.

“It's hard to predict servicers’ response time when you send an email,” Taylor says. “Other servicers may get back to you sooner, but what we've seen is that some servicers have a massive delay when it comes to responding to written communications.”

In some cases, it might not be necessary to contact your servicer at all. If you’re confident in the step you want to take, you can most likely do it yourself online. For example, you can apply for income-driven repayment plans and check your loan status on StudentAid.gov, and you can request forbearance, set up automatic payments and access account history through your online servicer account.

If all else fails, complain

If you can’t get the help you need over the phone with a servicer customer service representative, ask to speak with a supervisor. If that doesn’t work, consider filing a student loan complaint as a last resort. The notes you took during your servicer call will come in handy if you need to write a complaint.

A complaint can help alert financial regulators to widespread issues in the student loan repayment system, like incorrect billing statements, misleading servicer advice or a wrongfully denied loan discharge application.

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