Sallie Mae student loan captures student in call-center rabbit hole

Money College writer Fruzsina Eordogh chronicles her ongoing struggles with the student loan giant Sallie Mae.

The three-month deferment I paid $150 for from Sallie Mae
has run out and so I began the dreaded robot call center run-around that is Sallie Mae's customer service. I hung up a couple of times because I got lost, and I became frustrated when every time I called, the automated woman on the answering service would tell me my total amount due, and that I was late, and somehow because I was out of deferment I owed two months' worth of payments.

Pressing "0" repeatedly does not help until you get to a certain menu (and I can't even tell you which one that is) and the option to speak to an agent is conveniently the last one given. I heard it the third time around, and I pressed "0" with such happiness you'd think my loans were being forgiven.

Hurray! Will I be able to talk to a real live person? Yes ... I got a nice and polite lady with a thick accent but she could only provide me with information that I could have easily gotten off the Sallie Mae website. My paying for three-month deferments is my only option, besides going to graduate school. I don't wish to go to graduate school right now because I do not want to be further in debt. I asked to speak to a supervisor, and I got Ricky, who was even more unintelligible. In all honesty, I could only understand every fourth or fifth word. I asked him if he was located in India or the Philippines, and he answered the Philippines. I promptly asked about my options, and about lowering my interest rate, and from there I was put on hold and transferred to the collections department, thankfully located in the United States.

The agent I talked to at the collections department was Cody, who seemed about my age and had an annoyed air to his voice (I don't blame him, considering the nature of his job). Cody and I went through a financial evaluation, where he asked me about my source of income, my bills, my rent, etc, where it was determined I make a monthly net income of negative $200.

With this knowledge, Cody explained that he could lower my payments to $520 today, but that I would be enrolled in an interest-only payment plan for two years. I explained to him that I could not give him $520 today, but asked if I could pay another $150 today and apply for another three-month deferment.

My request was never understood, instead, I was asked if I could pay $150 today toward this interest-only program, and then pay the remainder ($380) next Friday. Considering that Cody now knows I have a net income of negative $200, how could I possibly give him $380 by next Friday? This is where it became odd and maybe it was my cell phone, but the line was saturated with static, and I could not hear anything Cody was saying, and then we got disconnected, or Cody hung up, tired of me saying "Hello? Can you hear me?"

This time I called a different Sallie Mae number (because there are three.... make sure you call the one that ends in "7000") and I was put on hold, with the promise that an agent would call me back in 10 minutes. This never happened. I called the call center again, wasted time in the automated menu, reconnected to the same lady I had in the beginning, and asked if I could reconnect to Cody. I was put on hold again, and as I looked at the clock and saw it was approaching 5 p.m. and that I had been doing this for almost two hours, I hung up, frustrated and annoyed, and concocting intricate plans of moving to Canada, Australia or England just to get away from Sallie Mae.

To contrast student loan companies, I have one private loan from Mohela, an education cash loan, and called them up immediately after my Sallie Mae experience. I spoke to Martin G., who works at the call center in Missouri, and he explained everything about my loan to me twice. TWICE!

Martin spoke clearly, was kind, answered my questions and even laughed at my jokes. I can defer my loans with Mohela for four-month periods, and I don't need to pay for this privilege. There is also an option to lower my payments by 40% if I cannot make my monthly payments. After my conversation with Martin, I felt like ... Mohela cares about me? Could it be? Could a lending institution really care about its lendees?

My experience was so pleasant that I decided to stop deferring my Mohela loan, intent on giving the $150 I had allotted to Sallie Mae to Mohela instead. Mohela doesn't waste my time. Mohela doesn't ask me to make payments I cannot make, and offers me real financial help regarding my private student loans. And most importantly, Mohela has its call centers in the United States, employing real American citizens.
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