Wells Fargo Forces You To Pay Off Loans Costliest Way Possible

According to reader Caleb, Wells Fargo seems to have recently crippled their loan repayment system in a way that makes it impossible for borrowers to pay off loans the way they want to. That is, unless you prefer to let your highest-interest loans ride for as long as possible while you pay off your lower-interest loans…

With all the talk of a credit crisis, you would think that a bank would welcome a customer trying to pay down his high-interest student loans. Not So. Like many people in my position, I went deeply into debt in order to attend law school. Since graduating in December, I’ve been actively attempting to pay-down my debt. Student loans come in different shapes and sizes, and your average indebted student has many different types of loans. The most common is a Federal Stafford Loan; these typically have lower interest rates and longer deferment periods than their counterparts, but they only go so far. Another type of loan is the “graduate plus” loan; these often have much higher interest rates. And when your tuition is $20,000 per year, you typically need a graduate plus loan in addition to your Stafford Loan.

I took my student loans through Wells Fargo, which, in retrospect, was a bad move. My loans have entered repayment, and when you have extra money left over after paying your minimum loan payment at the end of the month, and you want to pay down your debt, the savvy debtor will spend that money on his high-interest Graduate Plus Loan (8.25%), rather than his low interest Federal Stafford Loan (4%). Simple right?

Well, all these different loans are under a single account number so when you pay extra, there is no way to tell where you want that money to go. As a result, I called Wells Fargo in January, and I let them know that any extra payments above my minimum payments were to be directed towards my highest interest loans. “No problem,” said the CSR, “in fact, it is Wells Fargo policy to direct any extra funds we receive towards the loans that are hurting you the most.” This system worked great for months; I would take any surplus funds I had left over at the end of each month and make an online payment which was automatically directed against my Graduate plus Loans.

But then, one day, it stopped. Wells Fargo began directing my extra payments either evenly over all my loans (high interest and low interest) or, in some cases, entirely to my lowest interest loans. Every month for the last three months this has happened, and every month I would call and inform them of the problem. Every time they would apologize profusely for the error, insist it was an isolated incident, reverse the payment and wish me a nice day. Every month, that is, except this one. This month I called up and was told that Wells Fargo simply couldn’t direct my funds the way I requested. “If you want your extra payments to go to your highest interest loans, you will have to pay by check, and you will have to send a letter with your payment telling us how you want it apportioned… every month.” I pressed on, explaining that this system had been in place for months and that I had been assured this was company policy. They had no response. I asked to speak with a manager and got the same answer. I asked if I could set up a separate account, one account for my high interest loans and one account for my low interest loans. “No,” they said, “Wells Fargo policy: one debtor one account.”

Then I tried to get clever. I asked Wells Fargo to set up two different due dates for my loan payments. One due date (the 20th) for my low interest loans, one due date (the 19th) for my high interest loans. That way, when I went online to make a payment, there would be two different payment options. That way, I figured, I could pay extra for my payment due on the 19th, and achieve my goal. But Wells Fargo was one step ahead. Unlike in the past, when I could choose whatever amount I wanted when making my payments, Wells Fargo would only let me pay the minimum balance for my high interest loans. But, of course, I could pay as much as I liked on my low interest loans.

SCREENSHOTS OF CALEB’S ACCOUNT:

I next called the Department of Education Federal Student Aid Ombudsman; this entity is supposed to be the watchdog for these kind of shenanigans. They were totally impotent. “There’s nothing we can do,” they told me, “but if it makes you feel any better, we’ve been getting a lot of these types of complaints.”

No ma’am, actually that doesn’t make me feel any better.

Now, maybe its just me, and maybe I’m just being paranoid, but it looks like Wells Fargo has engineered its system to make it as hard has possible for former students to pay down their high interest loans. They’re determined to squeeze every last cent from these high interest rate loans.

-Caleb F

That really, really doesn’t sound right. Instead of the Department of Education, you might want to try talking to your bank’s regulator. In this case, that’s the Comptroller of the Currency. You can call them at 1-800-613-6743 or email Customer.Assistance@occ.treas.gov. Other ways of contacting them are here.

Has this been happening to anyone else?

We’ve sent an inquiry to Wells Fargo media relations and eagerly await their reply. UPDATE: We’ve put Caleb in contact with Wells Fargo so they can investigate his issue.

Comments

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  1. ReidFleming says:

    In the short term, I’d go with the check/letter option. Save the letter and print out a new copy with the current date each time. It apparently will work and, as an added bonus, will cost WF time and money every month. Sucky way to have to deal with this, though.

  2. TechnoDestructo says:

    And to think I was planning to get loans with Wells Fargo (one thing they DON’T tend to do is sell loans…so even if they suck, you know you won’t get anyone who sucks worse…and there are a lot that do).

    Makes me glad the GI bill just got kicked way the hell up.

  3. Murph1908 says:

    To me, this really seems like they have altered the agreement regarding how repayment of the loan. I’d go at it that way.

    Do you have any of the original paperwork? Look for clauses in the print for statements regarding how payments are handled. There are 3 possibilities I foresee:

    1. No mention. You could probably argue that since they did not state that there was a guideline to how payments are to be handled, they should be handled as you describe.

    2. It mentions they dictate how payments are handled. You are SOL.

    3. It states in your favor in some way. You got ‘em by the short and curlys.

    IANAL

  4. loganmo says:

    Does your PLUS loan have it’s own account #? If so, you can resolve this by using Department of Education’s direct loan servicing and taking out a PLUS consolidation loan. This won’t reduce the interest rate, but it will each loan will have a different lender, making it possible for you to work around this.

  5. Murph1908 says:

    Oh, and I wish they had the ‘one debtor, one account’ rule for me. When I went into lean times after college, and had some late payments, I had 4 lines on my credit report from WF reflecting 4 different loans, even though I received just one bill per month.

  6. pgh9fan says:

    You know what I’d do? I’d contact a credit union and try to refinance the loans at one lower rate. Or even use another bank–heck, perhaps even Wells Fargo would refinance using today’s lower rates.

  7. teh says:

    Would it be possible to “consolidate” your loans? You can either do both (in which case your consolidated loan will be the weighted average of the two interest rates) or just consolidate the low interest loan. If possible, I would consolidate directly with the department of education ([www.loanconsolidation.ed.gov]) since their goal isn’t to make a profit from you, but to just recover the money.

  8. tedyc03 says:

    Not surprising but certainly disappointing. Most credit cards apply payments to lower rates before higher ones…but you’d think that banks who receive subsidies for these loans would be more lenient.

    You could consider consolation through the Federal program. That might reduce your rate *and* give you one rate on all balances.

  9. womynist says:

    My student loans are similar. The larger of my 2 loans has a smaller payment; the smaller loan has a larger payment. They are through Sallie Mae. I tried from their website to see if I could increase my payments, but the only option to modify your payment says “reduce your monthly payment”. Also I remeber reading somewhere in their fine print that if I choose to pay more than my scheduled payment, the remaing $ is held and applied to my next month’s payment. They want us to stay in debt forever just for getting an education. SO not fair!

    • Tiber says:

      @womynist: Send them an email, and tell them to apply the extra to the principle of the high interest loan. Note that you have to do this every month. You might be able to make a macro to do it though.

      Every month, I have them direct the extra to one of my loans with high-interest and low balance. It sucks that you have to do this every month (and it just leads to more work for customer service), but unlike increasing your minimum payment, this still leaves you the flexibility to pay as you like.

  10. wickedpixel says:

    You should look into loan consolidation. Through another bank, of course.

  11. Ihaveasmartpuppy says:

    We have a similar thing happening with our mortgage through Wachovia. We want to pay $100 more per month and put that money toward the principal. If I do an electronic payment through my bank or Wachovia that $100 goes toward interest. Only mailing a check puts it towards the principal. It’s really the absolute dumbest thing. This the only check I have to write and mail every single freaking month.

  12. lawnmowerdeth says:

    I sent a complaint here about a year ago after Wells Fargo redid their system.
    Previously you could schedule a future payment from any checking account. The new system only allows scheduling of payments if you have a Wells Fargo account, any other accounts are submitted the day you do it online, just as seen above. Of course when I wrote them, their reasoning was “we’ve researched what is best for our borrowers”

    At least all my student loans are Stafford, so I didn’t have this interest rate problem to worry about.

  13. triplehelix1919 says:

    I used to work for Wells Fargo and I can tell you that their internal network is seriously messed up. I would not trust my money with them. Different departments within the company do not communicate with each other and you might get several answers for the same question from different people. Stay away from Wells Fargo.

  14. wickedpixel says:

    @womynist: I have Sallie Mae for 2 loans as well and was able to do just what you’re trying to do. There’s no way to do it through the web, but you can increase your minimum payment by calling them directly.

  15. CountryJustice says:

    Wait, they gave you an option to achieve the results you want, so what’s the problem? Is it that it’s a little less convenient than before? Sorry if I’m having trouble sympathizing.

    Personally, if I were in your shoes and making extraneous monthly payments in addition to regular monthly payments, I’d want that extra bit of paper trail that comes with a cashed check. I’m nothing if not paranoid about keeping backup and copies.

  16. pgh9fan says:

    You could start to make it worth their while to accept it as you want. Might cost you a few cents in the short run though. Let’s assume you want to pay $150 extra on the large loan. Send them a letter with 15 checks for $10 each and 15 notes saying you want all the money to go to principal on your higher interest rate loan.

  17. Keter says:

    How much do you want to bet that if he goes the route of sending a check with a letter, that will “delay processing” and he’ll end up with late fees and a mark on his credit rating?

  18. howie_in_az says:

    @Ihaveasmartpuppy: I have the same problem with their auto loan division. I routinely pay $400 over the minimum and have to phone them every month and tell them to apply it towards the principle. They always insist it is, and I have to go through the same conversation every call: “what’s my next payment? Why is my next payment $400 less than it was this month? Please apply my extra $400 towards the principle. Yes, I realize you think it is, but we’ve just determined that it’s not.” If it’s an especially incompetent CSR I have to ask them to look at the principle from the previous month and this month, then ask them to do some simple (HAH!) math to figure out that my extra $400 has not, in fact, been applied towards the principle.

    I’ve been told to attach a paperclip to the check, to write on the check ‘APPLY TOWARDS PRINCIPLE’, to send in multiple payments with notes on the memo fields, etc.
    Unfortunately their ‘system’ cannot handle applying the extra monies towards the principle when the payment comes in electronically, which is what my bank (ironically, Wells Fargo) sends out via their Bill Pay service. I’m not spending $20 on paper checks when Wachovia is the only company to not handle things correctly. I can’t wait to get the loan paid off; next month we’ll be doubling our overpayment… and, of course, phoning them to make sure it’s applied properly.

  19. INTPLibrarian says:

    @tedyc03: Just FYI, my Citibank MasterCard applies my payments to my high interest portion before my lower interest portion. Didn’t have to request it, either.

  20. drjayphd says:

    @wickedpixel und tedyc03: Then again, consolidation comes with its own issues… I consolidated through Xpress Loan Servicing, and set up auto-pay to ever-so-slightly overpay the loan. Can I direct them to put the extra two bucks per month towards the principal? Apparently not, as they just keep putting it towards the next month’s payment. -_-

  21. dig4fire says:

    This is not only a Wells Fargo problem. Other student loan providers (such as Access Group) do the same thing. There is no way to do it with Access Group electronically – to direct additional funds with those student loans, I have to send them a form (PDF, not fillable electronically) with a check EVERY month.

  22. dig4fire says:

    @teh: Be careful consolidating higher interest loans with lower interest loans… you may pay more interest overall in return for the convenience of fewer payees.

  23. RandomMutterings says:

    It’s interesting that some companies apply overpayment toward “next month’s payment.” They are happy to take an interest free loan from you on money that isn’t even owed!

  24. ShabazOSU says:

    Yeah, I have 3 different student loans out & I really wish I never got the one from Wells Fargo. I didn’t get into grad school the first year after I graduated from undergrad, nor did I find a job right away. Two of my loans were able to extend my deferment periods & then stopped once I did get into grad school, but not Wells Fargo. Once those 6 months from graduation were up, I had to start making payments, and even to this day, in my 2nd year of grad school, I still have to pay for that damn loan each month regardless of the fact that I am/will be in school for the next two years. (Yes, I’m well aware I should’ve read the ‘fine’ print, but I was young, stupid, , etc… & had no idea what any of these things meant @ the time).

  25. teh says:

    @drjayphd: Which is why I’m a big fan of loan consolidation with the dept. of education directly. Plus, if you call them, you usually get someone with a nice southern accent.

  26. SharanyaMed?n says:

    I totally understand why you’re frustrated, but if in fact the check is the
    only way to do it, you might see if your bank has an automatic bill pay
    service; I have Citibank, and have set up certain recurring checks to go out
    on the same day every month, at no cost to me. And you can set it up to add
    the necessary note. Annoying to have to comply with a rule that’s clearly
    set up to get more money from borrowers (see http://www.studentloanjustice.org for
    more, it will blow your mind), but at least you won’t have to do all the
    extra paperwork.

  27. jenl1625 says:

    I’ve got 5 different loans (split between subsidized and unsub) consolidated with AES. They’ve recently redone their payment system to put more information on the screen you use to specify how much you want to pay toward each loan.

  28. British Benzene says:

    I’ll add another vote for loan consolidation. Keep in mind that if you’re married, consolidate the loans separately in each spouse’s name (rather than one loan with both names) as loans can be forgiven if someone dies, but not on joint loans. Morbid way to plan, but better than the alternative.

    Oh and IANAL.

  29. Corbin123 says:

    Just fyi, if you have student loans directly through the federal government, you can apply an overpayment to your highest interest loan. Just make the payment as you normally would via the DLS website, and then either contact them through e-mail or phone to have it applied to the loan you want. If you don’t, they will apply it evenly over all your loans. Sometimes it takes a while, if you wait the period (7-10 days) and it hasn’t been changed just e-mail them again.

  30. oneandone says:

    @jenl1625: same here – AES’s system so far has been very straightforward and let me pay back what I want towards different loans. I’ve been in repayment for a little over a year, and only one small problem – they changed my due date without telling me, from the 20th of the month to the 10th. I freaked out when I found out about it & called since I don’t want the credit ding for a late payment. They said they wait until it’s 30 days late until they make a note of it. Other than that, I’ve been very happy with their website & service overall – as happy as one can be with all the debt.

    I also have student loans through Citibank; they have a little box to check to ‘apply extra payment towards principal.’ It’s been working out well so far.

  31. gorckat says:

    @triplehelix1919: I had about a year of headaches getting my car title free and clear from them.

    Several years ago I financed a used car through them. Soon after, they dumped most or all their car loans to another company. This company almost immediately dumped it back to the dealer. The dealer closed shop and disappeared.

    All those changes happened over a six month period, and I knew something was up when I stopped getting statements. Wells Fargo could see the loan sale to the other company, but the other company had no idea what happened to it after sending me a single statement.

    Lucky for me, no one came calling when I stopped paying (I wasn’t savvy enough a few years back to sock the payments away, or get the title cleared right then). A year later, the car dies and I start trying to donate it. Only the insurance company could see that the dealer had paid it off (why, I have no idea).

    Anyway- it took me a year of calls, letters, trips to MVA, visits to Wells Fargo offices before someone would finally admit they had no idea what happened and give me the letter needed for a free and clear title.

    So yeah- forget Wells Fargo. Might as well send your money to a Nigerian prince.

  32. conn88h says:

    Another AES student loan holder here- I have been very impressed with their online payment center. They make it a breeze to specify payment amounts on the four different loans I hold with them. Wells Fargo’s website is nowhere near as functional or easy to use.

  33. el_smurfo says:

    Any extra payment made to my 5/1 ARM automatically goes to principal. Perhaps if the poster had a Wells checking account where he deposited his payments, then used transfers or bill pay to make the loan payments, it would work properly?

  34. I have an auto loan thru wells fargo, every month if I have extra cash, I put it towards the principal of my loan. I always seperate my monthly loan amount from the extra principal cash, plus I put a notation of “principal payment” on it.

    And, every MONTH, I have to call them and tell them that extra $100 wasn’t towards my regular PAYMENTS, it was PRINCIPAL. They tell me “We receive thousands of payments a day, this sometimes happens.” the first time this happened, I asked “Do I have to call EVERY MONTH to make sure this isn’t applied incorrectly?”

    His response? “You might.”

  35. synergy says:

    I also suggest finding somewhere else to consolidate your loans, preferably with Direct Loans.

    As an aside, I love the image used for this post. :D Very appropriate.

  36. BigBoat says:

    $20,000 a year? Jealous…

  37. ARPRINCE says:

    Can you pay by mail instead of ONLINE?

    @verucalise: An extra payment on an auto loan would count against the principal of the loan. Why would there be a need to separate the payment? I’ve always done that on my mortgage so I don’t see why it would be any different on a auto loan or any loan for that matter.

  38. Dan25 says:

    I used to manage a WF and I can tell you that this sort of stuff happens all the time. If you can, walk into a branch and ask them to file a claim with the Resolution Team. RT people are the guys who can actually go into the system and fix what needs to be fixed, and they are in contact with all the millions of departments within WF. If for some reason that does not work, call WF phone bank (or you can even try asking a branch banker) and ask for the phone number to exectutive offices in STUDENT LOANS. DO NOT ask for retail banking executive offices, because a retail or private banking district manager will not be any help to you since no one in retail banking has authority to service student loans. Ask for student loans specifically.

  39. stinerman says:

    @ARPRINCE:

    Companies will sometimes treat an extra payment or even a payment larger than the minimum as an “advance” on the next month’s payment.

    For example, if my min. payment is $100/mo and I pay $150 this month, they’ll just bill my next min. payment as $50 rather than apply the $50 extra to the principle.

  40. JiminyChristmas says:

    @pgh9fan: Nice try, but I doubt it would work. I know that with at least one of my credit cards they explicitly limit you to 4 payments per month. It wouldn’t surprise me if Wells Fargo were the same.

  41. JediJohn82 says:

    I had a bunch of student loans with Sallie Mae and they grouped a bunch of them together. I of course wanted to apply my extra payments towards the highest interest loan like the OP. I ended up having to send them an email every time I made the extra payment so that they’d apply the extra only to a particular loan.

    They told me once that I could seperate all my loans but it’d un-enroll me from the automated billing and I’d risk losing all my loan benefits (discounted interest rates).

  42. JiminyChristmas says:

    This is a kind word for those who have no good options aside from using private student loans: It didn’t used to be this way, and you people are getting screwed.

    I did my undergrad 1988-1992 and my grad degree 1997-2000. During none of that time did I ever come close to maxing out what was available through GSLs, Stafford Loans, or Direct Loans. The highest interest rate I ever paid was 8%.That’s even with going to a private college for undergrad. Tuition costs have grown so rapidly, and low-cost loans have grown so slowly that it is much, much harder to get out of school without debt than it was when I was in school.

    I read an article recently about the largest public university in my state. The average undergraduate now finishes school with $17,000 in student loans. My father has told me that when he went to college in the ’60s he could cover a year’s tuition with earnings from his summer job. Well, annual tuition and fees for the aforementioned public university are now around $10,000/year. I don’t know any 18 or 19-year-olds clearing $10K between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Actually, I know plenty of people who already have college degrees who would be thrilled to net $10K per quarter.

  43. TechnoDestructo says:

    @JiminyChristmas:

    I’ve just got to wonder where is all the money going that it didn’t used to.

  44. bwcbwc says:

    Just on the off-chance: Have you tried applying the payments in a different order? For example, pay the minimum on the low interest loan first, close the session and then open a new session to pay the higher interest loan? This probably won’t work, but it could be that the payment system is only set up to accept excess payments after all of the minimum payments have been made.

    I’ve seen a couple of suggestions about going after them through the office of the comptroller. You may want to go back to the Ombudsman from the Department of Education to get written documentation of any student loan regulations that they are violating. This would be your best evidence to submit to the office of the Comptroller.

  45. ogman says:

    Bank of America has been doing the same thing for some time now. I didn’t like it, so I closed my account.

  46. Copper says:

    @TechnoDestructo: My school pays for all sorts of things on campus. They pay for all of the student organizations and their activities. They cover sports and recreation. None of the student orgs or clubs have to raise funds, they get whatever they want from the university. So my tuition for 15 hours is over $2800 per semester. That’s not including living expenses and I go to a very small state school.

  47. Kounji says:

    That’s messed up. They’re basically locking you in so they get the fully expected return on the loan. Great for them but shitty for you.

  48. EllaMcWho says:

    Wells Fargo won’t let me make a billpay payment (on-line check) from my Wells Fargo checking account to my Wells Fargo Home Mortgage OR my Wells Fargo HEL. Manual checks only – I’ve started paying them EFT from my Credit Union account instead.

  49. 310Drew says:

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  50. jesuismoi says:

    I had this problem with three different loan companies: Sallie Mae (mmmm, Sallie Mae), Connecticut Student Loan Foundation, and now Granite State Management (who bought out my CSLF loans).

    The ONLY way to control your destiny on this is to buy stamps.

    Each account does have some sort of different identification number on it… otherwise you wouldn’t have two ballances. You have to get that number.

    THAT number goes on all your checks, and all your payments are sent on different checks. At one point I was sending CSLF 8 different (one loan per semester!) checks in one envelope… each with a different number.

    My bank has free bill payment online. Now my bank sends them… you guessed it, 5 (paid off 3!) different checks each month.

    However, it gets worse. There’s nothing that says when they get an extra payment they have to apply it to PRINCIPLE. Every single student loan lender I have applies those to INTEREST. So you might be 6 months “ahead” on your interest, and zero ahead on the principle. I’ve taken to using the memo line on the checks to deal with THAT.

  51. jesuismoi says:

    Follow up to my own comment…

    One of my lenders (CSLF, looking at you) also seemed incapable of splitting a payment. I started sending the multiple checks because I would send them what the little booklet said — one check for all 8, and the idiots / rat bastards would pay off some loans ahead and others would be late.

  52. reverendskinner says:

    I too had student loans through Wells Fargo. I never had many problems with them except for the insane interest rates they refused to lower no matter how many co-signers I could get my hands on (10% for one and 15% for the second loan)

    I’ve since consolidated those, though I have yet to find out if this was a mistake or not. The interest rate is lower (supposedly), but the payments are nearly as high and the payoff time is equally as long.

    Unfortunately, I fell in that magical range that loan officers dream of where my household income was too great to qualify for federal loans and my credit rating was too poor to qualify for good interest rates.

    Funny how education has become an expense so great that few people can hope to pay it off with just the job that they trained for, and we’ve got the nice folks at places like Wells Fargo trying their best to make it all a little harder on us.

  53. Anonymous says:

    Wells Fargo sold my loan to EDFUND 6 months after I filed a deference

    I had a conversation with Lewrence Koffee, a representative of EDFUND. I explained my whole situation and that while I filed my second deference and thought it went through. Then a year later: EDFUND calls me saying they bought my loan from Well Fargo. I ask how they could sell a loan to a complying borrower and charge them a penalty fee. He said Wells Fargo shows no record of a second deferment being filed. I explained to him that when my mom passed I offered them the full amount in one payment, hoping to say goodbye to student loans. Wells Fargo refused my payment 3 times because they claimed they lost my records ( which I have in righting from Wells Fargo) After about six months they called me saying they found my records and wanted me to start making payments. I no longer had the funds to make a full payment so started monthly payments; then the monthly amount due went up I called them and stated I can fulfill my original contract but can not afford the changes you made regarding my monthly payments. Now today I offered EDFUND the full principal amount as a settlement. They refused stating the only negotiating I might be able to argue is the penalty fine. So offering $13,000 on a $20,000 dollar default is beyond fair especially since you got my loan by pure malpractice and false accusations from Wells Fargo. They won’t settle. I explained to him my knowledge of the man that lost his home to a landslide and moved to Sacramento to talk directly to a representative in person, and was escorted out of the building by security. I’m telling him I can barrow the money from my sister to settle 2/3 of the present amount and your refusal demonstrates something’s real fishy here like keeping me in default is so much more profitable, and your employers that make between $200,000 to $500,000 a year is not a nonprofit organization. Next I will call Wells Fargo for a detailed explanation: why my loan was turned over and how in the hell could you claim you lost my records when I attempted to pay it off in full.
    I’m tempted to stand in front of the local Wells Fargo holding a billboard with a tight explanation how unprofessional wells Fargo handles student loans, I will stand there every day till it makes front page news. I spoke with the local police department and they said go for it, just stay on the side walk directly in front of the bank. It’s come to a time to take, aggressive measures. I only wish we could get a 100,000 people to march in front of the white house.