NERDWALLET INVESTIGATION

Don’t Trust These Companies With Your Student Debt

Borrowers, beware of student loan scams. This Watch List names companies that charge for fraudulent or questionable debt relief services.

Use Our New Tool to Protect Yourself

To help consumers avoid costly mistakes, our reporters and researchers have mined public records of hundreds of companies profiting from student loans. NerdWallet Student Loan Watch List is the nation’s first of companies whose conduct, legal sanctions or ownership give borrowers reason to be wary. For more on our approach, see Who Gets Listed.

Beware of these companies

Want to see what others are saying about student loan companies or want to tell other borrowers or NerdWallet public interest reporters about your experience? Go to comments here. 

Fraudulent “debt relief” companies are preying on the most vulnerable of the 44 million people with student loans, as federal officials dispute who’s to blame and what to do, a NerdWallet investigation has found.

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As federal agencies lag in enforcement of fraudulent student loan relief companies, businesses banned by some states continue operating elsewhere.

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Bob Greenberg, a call center manager for a multimillion-dollar student debt relief operation in Florida, struggles with his conscience as the company’s tactics unfold.

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Three borrowers who deal with debt relief companies say being scammed hurt more than being short of money.

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Certified student loan counselors like Taunya Kennedy are islands of trustworthy advice in a sea of of deception filled with companies that claim to provide assistance — for a steep price.

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Here are six steps to take to end contact with such companies and get the student loan help you need.

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Watch


NerdWallet partnered with Fusion TV to learn about one woman’s experience with a student “debt relief” company. Selina Leonard shares her story in this clip of Fusion’s “Debt Trap” documentary.

Listen


Hear Leonard share more of her story on NerdWallet’s MoneyFix podcast.


They try to take advantage of desperation.

Janna Champagne, student loan borrower

By the numbers


Frauds Multiply As Student Loan Debt Surpasses Auto and Credit Card Borrowing

Fraudulent debt relief companies capitalize on growing student loan debt in the U.S. The scammers’ targets: struggling borrowers among more than 44 million people shouldering nearly $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans.


One In Six Student Loan Holders Falls Seriously Behind and Becomes Target

Debt relief companies have an expanding pool of desperate borrowers to choose from.  More than 7 million borrowers had fallen seriously behind on payments in 2015. Another 20 million remained current but were failing to reduce their balances.

These steps can ease debt woes

You don’t have to pay for student loan help. Learn how to avoid scams and manage your student loans on your own for free through the U.S. Department of Education.


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How to spot a student loan scam

Learn the red flags to look for.

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How to get federal student loan forgiveness

Four programs could cancel or lower balances.

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Survey: Student loan debt relief companies cash in on confusion

Borrowers who pay for student loan help spend $613 on average.

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A guide to student loan consolidation

Federal consolidation won’t lower your rate, but it may be necessary.

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Find the best repayment plan for you

You can choose from eight plans to pay your federal student loans.

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Something about this, it just tears at my heart.

U.S. Rep Elijah Cummings, D-Md

Protect Yourself in 60 Seconds

You can avoid nearly all scams with three simple, quick steps.


Step 1

Look at the offer from the company. It if contains any of these five elements, beware. Seek alternatives as outlined in stories higher on this page.

Warning signs:

  • You have to pay upfront or monthly fees to get help
  • The company promises immediate loan forgiveness  
  • A salesperson pressures you to sign up
  • You’re asked to share sensitive personal information
  • The company advertises on social media or shows up in search engine ads


Step 2

Look for the name of the company on our Watch List below. (Warning: Many newer companies do not appear because authorities have not yet taken action against them.)


Step 3

Read comments at the bottom of this page from borrowers describing their experience with companies.


Watch List


Sign up to receive Watch List updates and new stories from NerdWallet’s Public Interest Reporting team.


Reporters: Richard Read, Teddy Nykiel and Alex Richards
Editors: Drex Heikes and Alex Richards
Copy editors: Erica Harrington, Carolyn Kimball, Jim McNett and Kenley Young
Researchers: Djamila Salem Fitzgerald, Jeremy Borden, Amanda Waldroupe, Beth Slovic and Nona Yates