Beware of student debt relief scams

How to talk to your kid about paying for college
How to talk to your kid about paying for college

Don't hand over any money to a service that offers a faster way to pay off your student loans. There's a good chance it's a scam.

More than 30 companies have been sued by the government over the past month for scamming student loan borrowers.

Americans have lost at least $95 million to these kinds of scams, the Federal Trade Commission said Friday. About a dozen more companies were named in lawsuits the agency filed earlier this year, in conjunction with several state attorneys general.

Student debt relief scams aren't new. They usually charge borrowers upfront fees with the false promise of helping to reduce loan payments, lower interest rates, or wipe out remaining debt altogether.

One company charged as much as $1,000 in upfront fees, according to court documents.

It can be easy to be duped. Many of the companies claim to be affiliated with the government or legitimate student loan servicing companies and contact borrowers directly or post ads on social media. They operate under names like Student Aid Center, American Student Loan Consolidators, and Student Debt Relief Group.

Sometimes, borrowers will receive pre-approved offers to refinance student loans from legitimate companies, too. But they won't charge application or loan origination fees.

"Consumers should never pay an upfront fee for help," the FTC said in a release.

The agency recommends that borrowers visit the federal student loan website to see what's offered, or contact their lender directly if they have private loans.

If you believe you've been a victim of a scam, you can file a complaint with the FTC online here or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.

Related: She thought her student loans were forgiven. They weren't

The government does offer several different repayment plans to those with federal student loans, including some actual debt forgiveness programs. But there's no fee to sign up for any of them.

Here are some of the legitimate repayment plans for federal student loans.

Income-driven repayment plans:

These plans cap your monthly payments based on how much money you make, and will forgive remaining debt after 20 or 25 years.

Deferment and forbearance:

If you're unemployed, you can apply to put your payments on hold. But the interest will continue to add up.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness:

If you work for the government or a non-profit, any remaining debt you have after making 120 payments will be canceled. But you must have the right kind of federal loan and be enrolled in an income-based repayment plan.

Teacher forgiveness:

If you teach at a school that serves low-income families for five years, you can get up to $17,500 canceled.

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