I am 23, fresh out of graduate school, happily starting my career and enjoying the non-ramen food groups that come with a steady paycheck. Then—bam— it’s June and my six month grace period is over for student loans. I knew it was coming and had prepared (or so I thought). I paid off my interest so it wouldn’t be consolidated into my principal, set up an electronic debit account (EDA) to lower my interest rate and waited for the bill.
On June 7, nine days before my grace period ended, I received a letter stating that my first payment would be auto-drafted on July 21. Seven days later I received another letter saying my debiting had been temporarily suspended.
I called up Direct Loans to find out why my EDA had been stopped — and proceeded to have one of the worst customer service experiences of my life (oh honey, it’s about to get worse). The girl repeatedly tells me that my grace period doesn’t end until mid-June, so I can’t set up EDA until July. I tell her I understand this, but that I need to know if I have a payment due in July still, as well as how to pay it since they’ve closed down my EDA. As we talk, she gets shorter and shorter with me, cutting me off in the middle of questions. I point out to her that I know it is frustrating to have to answer so many questions, but that this is a lot of money and I’m concerned about missing a payment. At which point she tells me that she’s already “validated my question,” and promptly hangs up on me. Did you know that if you owe money, you’re not allowed to ask them more than twice when it’s due or how you can pay it?
Frustrated, I called back to speak with a manager. After a heart-to-heart about my previous phone call, she told me I would have to make my July payment manually. By the way, the girl who hung up on me told me I didn’t owe any money until August— thanks for that— almost went into forbearance my first month in.
Dutifully, I go online July 1 and begin paying Uncle Sam back. Six days later, on July 7, I get a letter saying that my EDA had been re-instated and would draft on July 21. Frantically, as I had only planned to pay them ONCE this month, I call Direct Loans and am assured by an exasperated “Rita,” that EDA won’t kick in until August. I note the date, time, topic and person I spoke with, and go on with my life, happily unaware that the customer service rep on the other end made no such notation.
On July 27 I check my bank balance for the end of the month and am shocked to see an unexpectedly low, girl-you’re-almost-broke number. What do you know— electronic debiting worked in July after all. I call up Direct Loans (they’re on my speed dial by this point), and am told that they have no record of me calling on the 7th, therefore I have no proof that I didn’t know I would be charged. Not only that, but after submitting an APPLICATION for a refund, I have to wait four to six weeks, and that is IF my request is granted.
The manager very (un)helpfully tells me that I’ve now paid off more of my balance, which will reduce my interest. Yay! My loan is getting paid off, but I can’t make my rent next month! Maybe my company will let me sleep under my desk…
I’ve had poor customer service experiences before— only this time, it’s not an incorrect coffee order I’m dealing with. This is my life, my credit, my livelihood. To be honest, I’m confused— Direct Loans had been helpful until now, and this isn’t their first student loan rodeo. The first time I called, I dealt with a very professional, knowledgeable young man. It seems that the professional customer service team with which I had previously talked has been let go for a cadre of clueless, moody teenagers attempting to keep me from asking too many questions by misusing big words like “validate,” and when that fails, resorting to hang-ups or giving me misinformation.
So, Direct Loans, here’s my question. Customer service is important in every industry— every job. It has the power to serve as a positive or negative touch point for a brand or company. But it’s so much more than that when it comes to people’s finances. Your inability to handle a customer who had “too many” questions, or give out correct information, is on the brink of putting me in a seriously nerve-wracking financial situation. Don’t you realize that while to you it’s just a job— to me it’s my life? Or, perhaps, do you just not care?