Sometimes it feels like if you are not extremely wealthy, you don’t influence the rules in America.
Student loan borrowers find themselves in a vortex of complicated policies, limited resources, lender greed, and politicians that don’t care.
While things may seem bleak at times, it is worth noting that borrowers have many different resources available. There are numerous examples of successful borrower efforts to change the rules.
Additionally, there are over 40 million student loan borrowers in the United States. As a collective group, student loan borrowers have the potential to wield significant influence. Even if there isn’t a massive group effort, there are many small things that individuals can do to make a considerable difference.
Contacting Elected Officials
An old-fashioned letter is one of the best ways to influence elected officials.
A specific letter about a unique issue can lead to action in a couple of different ways. First, the Congressional office may reach out to the Department of Education or the loan servicer on your behalf. Second, your representative may draft legislation to address the issue that you raised.
This article has a good example of how one letter can have a huge impact.
If you want your letter to make a difference, try the following:
- Focus on a smaller, more specific issue. It isn’t a secret that borrowers want their loans forgiven. Asking for cancellaiton of all debt will probably get a form letter in response at best. If you identify a specific policy that unfairly impacts borrowers such as yourself, you are more likely to make a difference.
- Write locally. You are far more likely to get help if you are a voter. Blanketing the same letter to 100 Senators is likely to get ignored by at least 98 of them.
- Keep it short and to the point. Unpaid interns usally handle the letter reading duty. If you get longwinded, you get ignored.
Using Social Media for Good
I’m not a fan of social media. I’m troubled by the number of people who make critical decisions based on unverified information they read on sites like Facebook or Twitter.
However, there is no denying that social media influences the opinions of people.
Sharing your experiences with student loans may change minds within your social network. People with rigid positions on student loan borrowers may change their perspective if they hear your story. For example, many people are unaware of the deceptive tactics used by some schools and lenders. New information may lead to a new perspective.
Ultimately, if enough borrowers share their stories, more Americans will get behind student loan reform.
Publicly Shaming Your Lender
If you have been mistreated, shining a spotlight on the lender behind the unfair treatment can help.
Over the years, I’ve seen many borrowers successfully shame their lenders into doing the right thing. Here are a few examples:
- The parents of a deceased Duke law student got a break from Sallie Mae when their daughter started tweeting about how Sallie Mae was treating their family. The full terms were never made public, but it appears as if the parties reached some sort of agreement on the remaining debt.
- After six years of trying to get Key Bank to do the right thing, a change.org petition received over 80,000 signatures and got one father released from his deceased son’s student loans. Key Bank atoned by saying that they would now review each of these circumstances on a case by case basis, rather than outright denials.
- A minister who lost his 27-year-old daughter and was left with her three children and six figures of student loan debt, experienced some success. He was featured in a CNN Money story that went viral, and though the debt was not entirely forgiven, balances were reduced and interest rates were lowered.
I chose these three examples because they each demonstrate a different approach to public shaming that can work. The first example relied upon Twitter, the second utilized a petition, and the third used traditional media.
However, there is one unifying theme: Shine a spotlight. If public scrutiny makes the lender look bad, they are more likely to change their policy.
Filing a Complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
This is probably my favorite strategy.
For starters, it may directly help your specific issue. The vast majority of the time, lenders and loan servicers respond to the individual borrower complaint. This means another set of eyes on your issue. The person responding is usually someone with more authority than a standard customer service representative.
Secondly, as complaints mount, it may trigger CFPB action. For example, the CFPB brought a massive lawsuit against Navient for failing as a loan servicer. Without borrower complaints, the CFPB would not have had sufficient information to act.
Take a Stand: Filing a complaint with the CFPB doesn’t take long, but it can make a big difference. Learn how to file a complaint and get tips for success.
Final Thought: Vote for Borrower-Friendly Politicians
Politicians who don’t get votes don’t stay in office. They spend a fortune on consultants to analyze data and develop campaign strategies.
If voters consistently back the politicians who are vocal about helping borrowers, more politicians will suddenly care about student loans.