Renee Hartley thought she finally had a way to lower her student loan payment. The single mother needed a break.
“I went to school, bachelor and master’s degree. So, the student loans accumulated. The payments became bigger and bigger,” Hartley said.
The bill was more than $500 each month. She started looking for ways to lower payments.
She found “Student Loan Relief” services, a Dallas-based business.
“They seemed really caring and involved,” Hartley said.
The company sent Hartley a letter saying the company is now a “non-profit” and that she’s eligible for a lower rate as a single mother.
Hartley was excited. She recommended two of her friends to sign up.
“I didn’t have any real suspicion to think that anything was wrong,” said Hartley.
Then, she saw her credit report.
She was in default from months of missed payments to her original student loan company.
“Where is my monthly fee going?” asked Hartley.
She said she tried emailing, faxing and calling Student Loan Relief, but the calls went unanswered.
Turns out, Student Loan Relief was under investigation by the state.
“We saw a lot of front end promises about the ability for them to help consumers wipe out their student loan debt. It just frankly wasn’t true,” said Paul Singer, chief of the consumer protection division for the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
For a living, Hartley is a test-maker for Texas public school systems.
Teachers, government workers and non-profit workers are especially vulnerable to these types of companies.
“They make a good target for these entities because of the programs that really do exist,” said Singer.
Programs such as the PSLF (Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program) offer loan forgiveness for certain public workers. It’s free to enroll.
“I think the most important thing to know is they can’t do anything for you that you can’t do for yourself,” said Reid Tepher, an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission.
The Federal Trade Commission worked with the Texas Attorney General’s Office to sue Student Loan Relief.
“This is something that is a nationwide problem,” said Tepher.