If you have stopped paying off your federal student loan, you have no doubt received mail and landline phone calls (if you still have such a thing as a landline phone). Now you can add robocalls to your cellphone to the list of ways debt collectors can reach you.
A provision in the congressional budget bill allows companies to robocall Americans’ cellphones to collect any money owed to or guaranteed by the government, including federal student loans, mortgages and taxes.
The proposal seems to contradict the efforts by some federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission, intent on reducing the number of harassing robocalls with which Americans are bombarded, including those from persistent debt collectors. The provision is part of the wider bill that is expected to be signed into law by President Obama.
Consumer advocates are concerned about the impact of this provision on more vulnerable borrowers.
“This will unleash numerous unwanted calls to cellphones,” Margot Saunders, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, told the Washington Post. “If you’re low-income, on a limited cellphone plan and get 10 calls a week, it would be more than invasive, it would be expensive.”
Companies that service federal student loans, including Navient (formerly Sallie Mae) and Nelnet, have been pushing for government approval to robocall borrowers whose loans are in delinquency.
Currently, loan servicers are allowed to robocall only after consumers have consented to receiving such auto-dialed calls, and the collectors have to verify the borrower’s cell phone number. Less than a third of consumers now qualify to get robocalls based on these two rules combined.
Debt collectors say that borrowers who get robocalls are more likely to repay their debts.
Ironically, the bill provision puts the FCC in charge of implementing the robocalls — the same agency that has been strongly fighting robocalls to cell phones.