HELENA – It’s back to school season and for many across the country, that means heading off to a university and probably a mountain of student loan debt.
Current estimates suggest there’s about $1.5 trillion in student loan debt out there. The Montana Office of Consumer Protection says there are some steps you can now to protect your wallet later and maybe even avoid getting scammed.
"You need to be a smart shopper like you would with anything else. That means becoming familiar with the rates and what the going rates may be among different loan products and trying to get yourself the best rate," said Montana Assistant Attorney General Chuck Munson. "Knowing the difference between public loans between the Department of Education and private loans between another entity that may loan you money."
The experts say pay close attention to the lengths of payments you’re required to make and how much you’re paying in interest over the length of the loan — just because an interest rate may be low right now doesn’t mean you should max out what you can borrow. Folks should also beware of the for profit trade schools that promise a job right after graduation.
"They’ll try and get people into their programs they tend to be high dollar colleges," Munson said.
Experts also advise being frugal, developing a budget and then sticking to it.
Finally, The US Department of Education also warns folks to be careful with services offering loan forgiveness for an upfront fee since those companies aren’t doing anything you can’t do yourself for free.
Anyone who thinks they’ve fallen victim to a scam can contact the Montana Office of Consumer Protection or local law enforcement.