Sallie Mae Sends Student Loan Bills Into Abyss, Still Expects Me To Pay Them

Unless you’re the U.S. Postal Service, paperless billing can be a real blessing. It saves trees and clutter, saves companies money, and is generally quite useful. James tells Consumerist that he discovered a case where paperless billing is not so great: when a company enrolls you in it without telling you, doesn’t verify that they have your e-mail address from the present decade, and sends collections after you.

So I’m in a difficult situation regarding my student loans going to collections and I’m not sure what to do.

When I graduated three years ago I sent Sallie Mae a check for a little over $5,000 as an initial payment. (Huge surprise gift from my aunt/godmother who had been saving it for me since I was born — awesome, right?) With the check I included a letter requesting Sallie Mae confirm receipt, as well as let me know how they would apply the money towards my outstanding balance (I had included instructions to pay off my highest interest loans first).

Well, Sallie Mae decided to never get back to me, and after a few weeks and a few frantic phone calls in which eternally pleasant phone reps denied ever receiving the check, they cashed it.

Phew. So, crisis averted (or so I think).

Fast forward three years, to last week. I get a call from collections stating my loans are almost ninety days past due. (I have totally forgotten about them up to this point, and have been quite content in my ignorance.)

But I am confused. I have never received a bill. I have never received a letter. I have never received a phone call (before this one). Nothing. But, unbeknownst to me, I have been receiving e-mails. Lots and lots of e-mails.

Apparently, when I first applied for my student loans in high school (HIGH SCHOOL), I gave Sallie Mae my AOL e-mail address. And, though I never signed up for paperless billing (which one of the aforementioned phone reps perkily confirmed), Sallie Mae automatically signs you up for paperless billing if they have an e-mail address for you. As a convenience. Without ever calling, or checking the validity of the e-mail address. Even though it’s almost eight years old.

And I get to feel like I’m starring in an episode of the Twilight Zone for the next few days as every single person I talk to at Sallie Mae sees no issue with them never sending me a physical bill yet forwarding my account to collections.

So now my credit’s hurting, they want me to pay them a boatload in late fees, my interest rates may possibly go up, and they’re telling me I have one option — pay them.

Do I have any recourse? I’m not trying to get out of paying my balance, but I’m not crazy about paying late fees I don’t think I owe, or getting my credit screwed. Can they do this?

Thanks for the help.

First: I can say from extensive experience: never forget about your student loans. Let this post serve as a warning to other readers: Sallie Mae might be sending your bills into the abyss that was your teenage e-mail account. Make sure they’re not.

Second: Call the Customer Advocate Unit. Readers tell us that they’re a charming oasis of competence and empowerment within Sallie Mae, and they exist to solve problems just like this one. Call them.

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