Buried alive in student loans? Obama wants to create a complaint system

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Drowning in student debt? The Obama administration says it wants to help with a student "bill of rights." Here's what they've proposed:

Multiple loans, one location

Right now, students frequently have multiple loans handled by multiple companies using a complicated constellation of websites. The White House has asked companies to put all of that information in one place, which should give students a clearer idea of who is servicing their loans and how they can go about altering repayment plans. Loan servicing companies will also have to tell borrowers if they transfer the loan to another loan servicing company, and the White House has asked companies that service federal loans to apply any extra loan payments to a student's highest-interest loan automatically.


A better complaint system

Obama has asked the Education Department to create a better way of processing and responding to student loan complaints from borrowers. While that's not an easy task and we don't know exactly what the system will look like, the department must have the system in place by summer of 2016. Each year after that, the department will publish a report on the complaints it received and how they were handled, which will allow the department to get a sense of what the most common issues are and who is at fault.


Cracking down on shoddy practices

Finding out who is at fault will be important, because Obama has also directed his team to consider the idea of proposing new consumer protection measures, including flexible repayment options and even changes to bankruptcy law (right now, student loans are one of the only types of debt not dischargeable in bankruptcy), when a borrower ends up with a shoddy servicer.

Better communication when loans are overdue

Ideally, the White House would like everyone to pay off their loans on time. But it isn't going to happen. So in the coming year and a half, the administration will develop and test which types of communication work best when it comes to reaching out to borrowers who have become delinquent on federal loan payments.


More income-based repayment

The president said that income-based repayment options are "under-utilized" during a speech to unveil the bill of rights on Tuesday at Georgia Tech. He has asked his administration to look into the feasibility of allowing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to release income information for multiple years to automatically figure out what monthly loan payments should be based on a borrower's income.


A "coalition"

Obama declined to delve too deeply into specifics during his remarks on Tuesday, but he urged students to form "a coalition" to tackle the issue of college affordability. There are a lot of good ideas, he said, but they are fractured and forward momentum has "stalled."


"As frustrating as it may be," he said, "it is worth it. Higher education has never been more important."

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

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