When dealing with the realm of pain problems, a major player is the mind, and the enemies, real or perceived that the mind has to deal with. Such experiences create a lot of stress which then plays out in one’s body in the form of pain due to anger or frustration. Having to deal with duplicitous systems, worlds within worlds, can become quite a turbulent battle ground; like the battle I had as a result of willful errors and overcharges made by a student loan lender for repayment.
Several years ago, educational initiatives were created that would not only increase educational opportunities, but also to enable more people to get student loans to get that education. These initiatives were intended to help us to compete in the worldwide arena in a technologically changing world. However, the government failed while creating these initiatives, to create better regulation and oversight, and to put in place protection for consumers from the deceptive practices of lenders.
During that time, I took out three individual student loans so that I could complete my education. These were done by means of Stafford loans, which had a limit of $3500.00 per loan at that time. Students put in their applications and upon approval, the funds are then sent to the school of their choice to pay for classes, and optionally, books. I chose to seek out alternate sources online and buy used books, so that saved much of the funds remaining. These were then paid out to me, which I used for living expenses.
This process was not difficult nor complex. The schools assisted greatly with the entire process, and made it relatively easy for the student to obtain the loans. However, no one really prepared students for what happens later, after the student has completed their education.
For me, the problems started with no notification from the lender, Wells Fargo; who was supposed to start the billing process within 6 months of my completion. At the time, I suspected that payments should have started and wondered why I had not been contacted. Since they failed to contact me, I began trying to find them, but I kept having difficulty in locating the correct company and subdivision.
I had all my loan papers, but could not find the one that named the lender. By the time I finally found them, I had another problem in gaining access to my account. I had to attempt this access based on total recall. I had been so focused on school and my classes that I did not make sure I kept track of the access information. So the first point I want to make to potential or current students is, keep all this information and documentation in one, easy to locate place, so that later when needed it is immediately accessible.
When I finally gained access to my account and checked the messages, I found none. No notices of the start of repayment. So then I decided to check my listed account information, because it just didn’t make sense to me that my repayments were not to start. It was already 3 months beyond the time I suspected the payments should have started, but because of changes in my completion date based on additional classes, I just wasn’t 100% sure when it was to start.
I had already checked the site several times in the previous 3 months and there was no change; no messages or contact online telling me anything in this regard. Either way, a check of the personal account info was in order, just to ensure that everything was correct and they were able to contact me.
Sure enough, upon checking I discovered that changes had been made to my contact information that I had not made nor authorized. They had me listed in some city in the northern part of my state that I had never even heard of, and the phone information was a bunch of x’s, 1’s and 0’s. I immediately corrected all of the information, wondering how it had been changed; because I had not moved from the original address I had when I applied for all 3 loans.
Shortly after this change was made, I was bombarded with bills from Wells Fargo on all 3 loans individually as well as collectively, claiming that I owed them late fees and penalties exceeding $600.00. This amount did not include the monthly payments. This was above and beyond it, and these additional charges would steadily increase until all had been paid; which at that rate, was looking like never. I immediately contacted them online to inform them of the error in their system, which had nothing to do with me, and was beyond my control.
Meanwhile, I had also been bombarded with emails and snail mail from consolidation companies who wanted me to get a loan consolidation with them for my student loans. I chose not to take this option, because then it would mean that it would take a longer period of time for my credit to reflect that I had paid off any of the loans. Since I was trying to reestablish my credit, I felt that I could pay off one of the loans faster with additional payments.
Therefore, I wanted all three loans to stay separate, because my plan was to pay the monthly amount while making additional payments on the principle of one account, and therefore, have a reflection of a paid off loan on my credit. This would increase my credit rating, even if the other loans weren’t paid off yet, and then enable me to apply the principle payments from the first paid off loan to the second, and so forth until it was all paid off.
So that was my plan, but all of a sudden, I was facing months of late fees and penalties. Wells Fargo was kicking out notices several times a month with different balance amounts and different interest, penalties and minimum payment amounts. It got to the point where I could not assess what was the actual amount owed and how much were the fees and penalties.
In addition to this, I didn’t believe that I owed these fees and penalties, because I had not made any changes to my contact information preventing them from contacting me. It was my opinion and belief that this was an error in their systems, but how could I prove it? Well, they say you can’t fight city hall, but my name alone challenges that notion. My name means helper and defender, and this is part of my calling in life. I have no problem with challenging authorities. And so…the fight began.
The resistance movement on this financial assault started with messages I sent online to the lender, Wells Fargo. In these messages, I attempted to explain the error that they had made, but these messages were intercepted by the regular reps, who simply kick out mindless responses much like a computer does, without any specific personal references or consideration.
They messaged me back claiming that my message was incomplete and suggesting that I fax it or call. I knew that calling was pointless for the same automated reasons stated above. I may be speaking with a person, but only a rep, who would not take the time, nor have the interest to really investigate my charges of lender error.
Certainly, they aren’t paid enough to investigate at the level required. So calling was out. Plus, I wanted to ensure that I had a paper trail of my charges against the lender, in the event that the lender decided to play hard ball, and insist that no error had been made; penalizing me relentlessly.
In faxing my charges, I made sure that I faxed it from a machine that could print a receipt which indicated their receipt of the information. In the charge, I informed the lender that there had apparently been a change or adjustment made to my account contact information, which I neither initiated nor authorized; and that this change replaced correct information with incorrect information.
I explained my efforts to contact them, and that upon discovering this incorrect information on their site; I immediately corrected it, giving them the exact same address and phone number that they previously had from the inception of the loans because I had never moved.
I further explained the fact that this correction after the fact then caused an onslaught of payment reminders which apparently were three months past due. As a result of this past due status that was due to their system error, I was sent another onslaught of payment demands, which included increasing late fees and penalties with each new demand per past due month.
I advised them that since the error was due to an unauthorized change in their system, that the responsibility for this was on them, and therefore, I would not be sending any payment with late fees or penalties included. It was up to them to correct their error.
What was their response to my counter attack at level 1?
“According to the Promissory Note that you had signed, it is your responsibility for notifying our office of any address or phone number changes as well as any changes to your account status.”
Then they included a copy “for my review.” How thoughtful.
To say I was mad does not begin to describe the frustration. Clearly, I had explained the problem to the lender, yet clearly they had chosen to ignore my complaint, and hadn’t even investigated to see if there was any merit to my claim.
So I went right to the contract copy they had sent me to launch my counter attack, utilizing it to emphasis the fact that I was indeed responsible to notify them of changes in my contact information. This, I stated, was the exact point of the matter.
Until the date of the correction, I had made no changes because there were no changes to make. The last information they had received from me concerning my contact information, was on the third and final loan. No changes had been made since that time.
I was so happy that I had had the fore thought to copy and paste a copy of the error they had initiated in my contact information that I saw online. So I had a full copy of that information on the error; exactly what the unauthorized changes they made were, and I made sure to include it in the letter. I also copied the exact changes I had made when I corrected their error.
This leads me to my second point of advice. When dealing with a financial institution of any sort, do your utmost to have and maintain copies of any changes made to your account, whether authorized by you or not. Proper documentation is the key to winning, because it enables you to present proof of your charges.
At this point in my assault against their error, I put forth a challenge.
“You sent me the copy of the 1st loan paperwork I signed. The address on that form was the only other address I ever submitted to you aside from my current address, so again…if you wish to claim I am responsible for the error in your system, show me evidence that I gave you the erroneous address information you had in your system, and I will accept responsibility.
As I said before, I intend to pay this loan in full, but I don’t appreciate being accused or held accountable for something that I had no involvement in. If your system is faulty, you need to correct the system instead of holding your customers hostage with it.”
Within two weeks I had two responses one day apart.
“Upon further review of your account and due to a system error, your address was inadvertently changed after your loans were disbursed on________. After your loans were disbursed, our office started to receive return mail and your account was flagged as having an incorrect address. In efforts to locate your address, our office updated your account several times; thus, explaining the erroneous or incorrect address information you never authorized.”
Naturally, it was followed by apologies, and a claim that they would waive one late fee they charged me for about $30.00. The second letter claimed that they had reviewed the information they had supplied to the credit reporting agencies which stated my account had been late for the previous three months, and that they had contacted them to remove this information and update my credit history to reflect the correct status as current and paid as agreed.
They claimed that this was situation was “unique” and “not reflective of the high standards that we strive to achieve.” Yet my billing statements were still reflecting an increase in the monthly amount I was supposed to pay, and included interest charges and penalties for the previous five months, which were all related to their “error.”
It seemed more than apparent that none of this was going to be addressed or changed. So once again, I wrote another letter, this time with a bit more fire. I stated that I didn’t think this was the first time a situation like this had occurred, and that from their handling of it, I didn’t see it as being the last. I wondered how many students had been ripped off by these so-called “errors” in their system, and how much they had been forced to pay in undue late fees and overcharged interest.
I insisted that they reset the date that the payments were to occur to correct this situation, as they had failed, in their alleged attempts to update my account, to even verify my address information with the school the payments had been disbursed through.
Since organizations like this have a slew of reps that randomly handle these accounts, I indicated that it was apparent that too many hands were in the pot, and that they needed to assign one person to handle this account to full correction and crediting of all fees, penalties and interest that were already charged to me out of my payments to date.
Lastly, I informed them that I was losing patience with their organization. I indicated that my senator and congressman were just a click away online, and that the Better Business Bureau and Dept. of Education might have a real interest in this “unique” situation. I stated that I would not hesitate to inform them of it if this was not quickly resolved to my satisfaction. Then, I waited.