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.
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.