Note that the situation for student loans has changed due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and relief efforts from the government, student loan lenders and others. Check out our Student Loan Hero Coronavirus Information Center for additional news and details.
* * *
Being buried in student loan debt isn’t fun. But there are times when your student loan debt is more than just a burden — it’s a nightmare. If your debt situation has reached a critical level, you may want to consider seeking a student loan lawyer.
Working with a student loan attorney can be a serious next step. The following guide will help break down how they can help and illustrate when it’s worth seeking out a lawyer for student loans, by answering the following questions:
What is a student loan lawyer?
First, you may be wondering what a student loan attorney even is.
“A student loan lawyer is a lawyer with advanced knowledge of student loans — not [someone] who says, ‘You can’t do anything about student loans,’” said Joshua Cohen, who runs a student loan legal practice of his own, along with his site TheStudentLoanLawyer.com.
A student loan lawyer can help you navigate the complicated world of student loans and shed light on some tricky situations.
“They understand the ins and outs of both federal and private student loans, all the differences, [as well as] the way to maneuver through the federal system, getting folks out of default and onto affordable repayment plans, and how to use the law with or without a lawsuit to make the system work for the borrower,” said Cohen.
What’s the difference between student loan lawyers and student loan debt relief agencies?
In recent years, many companies have sprouted up claiming that they can help you with your student loans. In return for a fee, they promise to consolidate your loans or reduce your payments.
These student loan debt relief companies are often expensive. Even worse, many of the services they offer — such as reducing your monthly payment by signing up for an income-driven repayment plan — are things you can do for yourself for free.
Student loan lawyers are quite different from student loan debt relief agencies. While student loan attorneys will charge you a fee for their service, they provide essential assistance rather than doing what you could easily do yourself. They also act as your advocate, negotiating with your loan servicer or even filing a lawsuit, if warranted.
How can a student loan attorney help you?
Before hiring a student loan lawyer, it’s important to know how they can help you. Not everyone needs legal counsel, but given the right situation, it could be a good investment.
According to college debt expert, attorney Adam Minsky, a student loan lawyer can help you in the following ways:
- They can provide you with legal advice and guidance regarding your rights and options.
- They can represent your interests in communications or negotiations with a student loan holder, student loan servicer, debt collection agency or administrative body.
- A lawyer can help you resolve delinquencies or defaults or apply for loan discharge.
- They can protect you from unfair or abusive conduct by debt collectors and other agencies.
- They can handle credit disputes.
- A lawyer can represent you in court if needed.
As you can see, these situations are more than just “I hate my loan servicer and don’t know what to do about it.”
Student loan lawyers can help you with the nuances of private student loans, too.
“A lawyer should always be consulted when dealing with private loans, as those are subject to state law,” Cohen said. “What works in one state may not work in another. Only a licensed attorney in that particular state will know what can and can’t work.”
Should you hire a student loan lawyer?
Now that you have a better idea of how a student loan lawyer can help, should you hire one? Is it the right time?
“Every person is different, and every situation is different. Whether someone should contact a student loan lawyer really depends on your specific circumstances,” said Minsky.
“There are really very few matters that inherently requires you to hire an attorney — even filing for bankruptcy or defending against a collections lawsuit can be done ‘pro se,’ meaning without legal representation,” Minsky said.
While you may not need a student loan lawyer, hiring one can be immensely useful if you require some assistance dealing with your specific situation. Student loan lawyers can share their expertise and offer solutions — solutions that you might be able to figure out on your own, but only after extensive research and a ton of time.
Although Minsky believes not everyone needs to hire a student loan lawyer, he said that “having an attorney representing you can be enormously helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not sure of your legal options, you’ve been sued or you’re dealing with a complex legal issue.”
How can you find an affordable student loan attorney?
If you’re struggling with your student loans, you may wonder how you can even afford a student loan lawyer.
“Most times, a lawyer is cheaper than the alternative, such as a wage garnishment,” said Cohen. “Many attorneys, including myself, can find ways to finance a borrower.”
It’s important to do a cost-benefit analysis: How much are you paying in fees, interest and other costs in your current situation? What will you pay for a student loan lawyer who can help you get out of that situation?
“I also find most attorneys are cheaper than the consolidation companies, while offering far better service and options,” Cohen said.
If you decide that hiring an attorney is right for you, finding one that specializes in student loans may be challenging. With the following resources, however, you’ll have a much easier time finding an effective and, hopefully, pro bono student loan lawyer:
|National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA)||
The NACA is a bar association of 1,500-plus consumer rights attorneys. A special section of its website is reserved for consumers having trouble with the servicing or collection of federal and private student loans.
Using its attorney directory, you can select student loans (or bankruptcy) from the drop-down menu, plus the state where you live. Each clickable search result will offer the lawyer’s areas of expertise in greater detail.
|National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)||
Counting bankruptcy attorneys as members, the NACBA works at the legislative level to represent consumers in debt. But it also offers more basic resources for its audience. Using the website’s directory of member lawyers, you can search by name or firm.
|American Bar Association (ABA)||
The ABA is a professional organization with nearly 400,000 members, has three kinds of resources by state:
You’ll have to do some navigating on these websites to find programs and lawyers that specialize in student loans.
Don’t worry if you’re coming up empty on your state’s ABA-approved offerings. You could also contact your state’s consumer protection office. USA.gov has a helpful directory.
|Legal Services Corporation (LSC)||
If you’re a student loan borrower with low income and the ABA’s pro bono offerings were lacking in your state, check out the LSC. The nonprofit funds 132 legal aid programs to help individuals at or near poverty level struggling with five types of issues, including consumers with student loans.
|Lawyer review websites||
Whether or not you can find a lawyer using the resources above, it makes sense to vet potential representation by seeing how they rate among former clients. Lean on resources like Avvo or LegalZoom, or see how far you can get simply by Googling the lawyer’s name.
If, however, you don’t feel you’re ready to resort to an attorney just yet, consider doing some research on your own.
“People can get free information on student loans from various sources,” says Minsky. “For example, the National Consumer Law Center has some great student loan information on their website.” (And of course, Student Loan Hero has lots of helpful info and tools as well.)
Student loan lawyers can help if you find yourself in a difficult situation that you can’t get out of on your own. If you’re deep in the trenches and dealing with default or bankruptcy, you might want to consider looking for legal help.
But before hiring a student loan attorney, talk to your loan servicer about your options and repayment alternatives. If you can’t come to a resolution, you may need a student loan lawyer with expertise to support you on your repayment journey.
This blog does not provide legal advice. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.
Interested in refinancing student loans?
Here are the top 6 lenders of 2020!