Student loan debt relief companies are notorious for promising to help debtors with their debt but failing to deliver. Through the years, Business Consumer Alliance has seen many companies disappear, leaving debtors in worse shape than when they began the debt relief program. Recently, California-based SLAC, Inc., an outfit alleged to have swindled customers using their Better Business Bureau accreditation and ratings, was permanently banned from providing debt relief services. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought a $23.9 million judgment against SLAC, alleging they falsely promised to lower or eliminate consumers’ student loans in return for an illegal, up-front fee and failed to disclose that they paid customers for positive BBB reviews.
SLAC charged consumers an up-front fee of $699 and a monthly fee of $39 to help lower or eliminate their student loans. They also offered $20 gift cards or checks to consumers to write positive BBB reviews for their company, but failed to tell consumers to disclose they had been offered an incentive to leave a positive review. The BBB was aware that the company was offering incentives to post positive reviews on their website as evidenced in responses the company provided to complaints, stating they offered the incentive for positive BBB reviews.
Despite the BBB’s requirement for consumers to certify they have not been offered any incentive or payment originating from the business to write the review, they allowed the reviews to remain on the SLAC report. Consumers who view the BBB report on SLAC before making a purchasing decision see numerous positive reviews that never should have been posted on the BBB website because they are incentivized by SLAC. In fact, even with multiple complaints and reviews alleging illegal and dishonest practices, until the recent FTC Settlement, SLAC maintained an A+ BBB rating and 5-star review status.
BCA’s Advice about Debt Relief Companies
SLAC is rated F with Business Consumer Alliance and has maintained the poor rating since we first reviewed the company in 2015. Our experience with many debt relief companies has been that a great number use misleading tactics, deceptive advertising, and outright false information to consumers seeking relief, all in an effort to take their money. These companies often are in violation of state and federal laws that pertain to debt relief companies.
Some common problems with student debt relief services are:
- Misrepresenting government programs as their own
- Charging large fees or failing to disclose exactly what is covered by the fees
- Advertising a broad scope of services when they only offer loan consolidation services
- Discouraging individuals from handling their own cases
- Falsely claiming government affiliation
- Providing inaccurate or misleading information
- Violations of state and/or federal consumer protection laws
- Requiring long-term, expensive contracts
Where to Get Help
Remember, you do not have to pay someone to help with your student loan. Debt relief companies do not have the ability to negotiate with your creditors to obtain any special deal under federal student loan programs. The payment levels under federal, income driven repayment plans are set by federal law.
If you are having trouble with your student loan debt, you can apply for loan consolidation through Studentloans.gov. The application is free and there are no extra fees. You’ll find on that site information on loan consolidation requirements for loan forgiveness, repayment estimators to help you pick the right repayment plan to fit your income, loan servicer contact information, and other important information to help you manage your loan repayment.
The Department of Education website also has information on repayment plans, deferment and forbearance, forgiveness, cancellation, discharge, default and other assistance for repaying loans. You may also wish to speak with your loan servicer for options and plans that may be available to you to repay your debt.
If you are looking to hire a debt relief company, get reviews and reports from trusted sources. BCA monitors reviews and provides transparent reports that consumers can use to make an informed buying decision. Anytime you are looking to do business with a company, check BCA first.