Ex-worker says student loan company ‘can’t help’ struggling borrowers

Dozens of student loan borrowers have told Insider about hour-long wait times and poor customer service they say they get when they call their loan officer for help.

A former employee of a major student loan company told Insider there really isn’t much that workers can do about it.

After being fired from Nelnet last month, Anne – who asked to use a pseudonym for privacy – told Insider there is a very generic script that workers are trained to use when a borrower calls with a complaint. . Nelnet is one of the largest student loan servicing companies in the United States, with nearly 8,000 full-time employees serving 16.8 million borrowers who hold loans issued by both the federal government and by private companies. Anne said a big part of her job is to “de-escalate”.

“A lot of people call with a problematic situation and they’re very upset,” Anne said. “Essentially we’re saying, ‘Thank you for your feedback. We appreciate that. We’ll try to do better in the future.’ And that just doesn’t sound very reassuring to customers unless you individually offer a sincere apology for affecting their financial life in such a way.”

Nelnet has not commented on the nature of calls it receives or screenwriters are given to help borrowers.

Insider was first to report last month that Nelnet was laying off 150 employees, according to a leaked email. The email said the job cuts were the result of a lack of work caused by the more than two-year pandemic pause on student loan payments, and “a performance-based approach was used to identify affected associates. All released associates have been notified and we do not anticipate any further staff releases.”

Anne was one of those affected associates, and prior to her dismissal worked at Firstmark Services, a private student loans division of Nelnet.

“You literally can’t help people,” Anne said. “You just have to give them this text script, where if a person is out of payment relief options, their credit is probably so bad they can’t get a good interest rate , and if it reconsolidates, it will be a higher rate and they will end up owing hundreds of thousands of dollars more, and the idea of ​​paying off a loan is practically impossible.

Nelnet spokesperson Ben Kiser told Insider that Nelnet seeks “regular feedback from our customers to help improve our loan service experience.”

“Feedback comes in the form of customer satisfaction surveys, experience testing, and other metrics, such as promoter net scores,” Kiser said. “Overall, Nelnet prioritizes compliance with consumer protection requirements and specific lending program guidelines.”

“There have always been times when we wish we could do more”

When a student borrower calls with a problem, Anne said workers are given a flowchart to follow to find the best payment relief option for the borrower. According to Anne, the first step workers typically take is to determine if there is any COVID-19 help available to the borrower, such as the pandemic payment pause. Anne said workers “exhaust” all available federal relief before putting a borrower on forbearance.

“The goal is always to make sure we get as much information as we need from a customer to get there,” Anne said. “If you’re a good call center agent, that’s what you’re going to focus on.”

But problems sometimes arise with the transactions that borrowers make with Nelnet. If a borrower has multiple student loans, for example, and a payment is not applied correctly to that account, the error may cause some of the loans to show up as delinquent, hurting the borrower’s credit report – and Anne said Nelnet doesn’t look at payments as often as they should, so mistakes aren’t automatically corrected.

“I’ve seen this get overlooked before and customers have to fight to have the credit report revoked,” Anne said.

Nelnet did not comment on how often it checks borrowers’ accounts.

Aimee, a student borrower who requested that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, can attest to this. In an email to Insider, she described her interactions with Firstmark Services as “long and frustrating” due to their inability to resolve issues with her payments that arose when she paid two months of student debt up front. and his agent interpreted this payment as only equivalent to one month.

“I spent hours and hours on the phone with them trying to figure out why my monthly payments weren’t being applied to all of my accounts when I should have been ahead of schedule,” Aimee said. “It took a month, they had to sift through all my accounts manually, reapply my payments and issue a correction to my credit.”

And when she thought the problem was fixed, Aimee said the same thing happened when she tried to get ahead of her payment schedule, and the “nightmare” lasted two years until January 2022, during which she spent at least 30 hours of his time. on the phone and make a complaint.

“The biggest problem was that every time I called, the person was confused and surprised that the problem was happening, put me on hold to speak with their manager, then they got back to me and promised to solve the problem only to repeat the process over and over,” Aimee said.

Nelnet has not commented on how long it usually takes to resolve account errors.

Escalating customer complaints to management can only go so far. Anne said that if a client’s account was badly mismanaged, she could submit an “urgent request”, in which she would have to write “incredibly detailed notes” about the problems the borrower was having. But Anne said in her experience she found it to be a multi-step process which may not match the urgency of the situation.

Nelnet’s Kiser did not comment on the rush application process, but told Insider that “Associates are trained to provide each borrowing client in federal programs with all available repayment and assistance options based on their type. loan, so that borrowers are empowered to choose and enroll in the best federal repayment, forgiveness, or payment deferral (deferments and forbearances) option available to them based on their particular circumstances.”

“The main thing was to defend why the client deserved to rush, and even if the client had their payment misapplied for thousands of dollars and was severely credited, that didn’t make it a higher priority. than anything else,” Anne said. “There have always been times when we wish we could do more for people.”

“Student loans are such a horrible thing”

Insider also spoke to Jo, a current Nelnet employee using a pseudonym for confidentiality, who said the process for helping a student loan borrower is essentially a checklist of prompts.

“The Ministry of Education is just a big beast,” Jo said. “They just have a big list and you have to follow it. They have what they call ‘solution priority’. So when a customer calls asking for help with their payment, you have to check off the list. “

Jo described the typical process for interacting with customers on the federal services side, saying the conversation would involve offering a standard repayment plan or an income-based repayment plan, informing the borrower of all options for relief or consolidating loans. The conversation didn’t extend much beyond that.

President Joe Biden is deciding what student loan relief he will implement, with the most recent reports indicating he is considering a $10,000 rebate for borrowers earning less than $150,000 a year. Lawmakers have expressed some concerns about the ability of student loan companies to effectively implement this relief, and Insider has previously reported on the difficulties borrowers are having to repay and the lack of help they are getting from their providers. .

As a student loan borrower himself, Jo said working in the industry made it clear his debt would likely never be repaid.

“I take out federal loans and I do it knowing that I’ll probably never pay them back,” Jo said. “Student loans are such a horrible thing that often when you find yourself in these situations and have the opportunity to improve it, you won’t know until it’s too late and your credit is destroyed. “

Do you have any tip ? Contact Ayelet Sheffey at [email protected]

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