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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Swimming with the student loan sharks

Published: October 3, 2014
Section: Opinions

I’m from a very unhappy medium in the middle class. As an electrician, my mom made just enough money to disqualify me for a Pell Grant, but nowhere near enough to fill the gap between scholarships and tuition at Brandeis University. The “solution” was $50,000 in loans.

The first monthly payment on my Perkins Loan hit just after I moved to New York, and was equal to roughly all my money. The kicker was that I received the bill several days after it was due. I had just moved, and their confusion as to my whereabouts was perfectly reasonable. It was still terrifying, but nothing seemed amiss. The obvious solution would be to get in touch with Campus Partners, the company in charge of the loan, to explain my situation and get everything squared away. That should be easy enough, if only Campus Partners answered their phones.

Or after taking half an hour to answer their phones, they didn’t hang up. Or if their phone operators weren’t specifically instructed to obscure and omit relevant information, even when specifically and repeatedly asked. Or if they made it possible to get in touch with someone with any authority. Or if they had an email address, or any other way to get in touch with them online.

After several days of calling Campus Partners despite their determined resistance, I learned that I could submit a forbearance request in paper. No electronic documents were allowed, even though an electronic document would be far quicker and easier for everyone. Apparently, Campus Partners was only willing to process urgent legal documents in the least efficient form possible, which seemed to match their “delay and ignore” M.O. just fine.

Putting together this forbearance application took time. It required documentation of income, which is hard to pull together when you’ve just moved twice in a single month and commute four hours per day. It also required a printer, which I didn’t have at the time.

It took a few weeks to put this form together, but just as I was about to send it—while at the post office, just before I sealed the envelope—Brandeis Student Financial Services called me and told me I could submit it electronically, straight to them. When I mentioned Campus Partners’ behavior with me, they were concerned, and said they’d look into it.

Brandeis also told me it might be a good idea to consolidate my loans, which I intrigued me. Campus Partners had left out the fact that I could mash my Perkins Loan together with my Stafford Loan, whose monthly payments were based on my income, so I wouldn’t have to pay extra money each month. In short, I’d be home free, at least in the short term.

After sending out the forbearance application and the loan consolidation request, I felt a weight lift off my chest, followed immediately by a sense of suspicion. If Brandeis could accept the form electronically at a moment’s notice, why did Campus Partners then need a hardcopy and several weeks to process it? But it wasn’t my problem to fix; my forms were in, and I thought I was set.

About three weeks later, I got another letter from Campus Partners. Looking at the envelope, I nodded. This would be the confirmation that they had received and processed my documents. Still nodding, still smiling, I tore open the envelope to find a final demand letter. This letter threatened to send my loan to a collections agency if I didn’t pay up now.

After freaking out for 10 minutes, I contacted Campus Partners to check if they’d received the form I sent two weeks ago. They said they hadn’t. I then called my mom, Student Financial Services and my boss, looking for some sort of way out of this. I also contacted an old mentor of mine, who mentioned that student loan servicers have a shady reputation and that this one seemed shadier than most.

That put me on edge. Since they’d started sending me letters in May, Campus Partners’ correspondence had been continually late. Feeling a bit sick, I took a closer look at the letter, and more importantly, at its envelope. The letter was dated July 12, but postmarked July 23. For some reason, Campus Partners delayed urgent correspondence by 11 days, and deliberately sending my loan into collections seemed the only motive for doing so.

In the past three months, I’ve seen Campus Partners make themselves difficult to contact, obscure relevant information, deceive both me and Brandeis University, fail to acknowledge receipt of forms and send forms late to prevent me from responding.

I was lucky. When I spoke to Brandeis again, I learned they’d already pushed through their forms, and I was in the clear. But what if I weren’t? What if someone else, dealing with this company, hadn’t kept hammering at their phones for weeks on end? What if their forms got stuck in the mail? What if Brandeis hadn’t picked the exact right moment to call? I don’t want to think of that.

And frankly, I shouldn’t have to. If our education and our livelihoods depend on the good faith and credit of student loan servicers, it is Brandeis’ responsibility to ensure that we can rely on them. It is unconscionable that this university deals with a company that deceives and robs those students it should aid and protect. Brandeis needs to vet its student loan servicers carefully and actively monitor their behavior to prevent this sort of abuse.

Campus Partners is a loan shark. You shouldn’t have to deal with them, and Brandeis University shouldn’t make you.