There are a lot of things Alan Collinge wishes he had known before he took out a private student loan to attend the University of Southern California. After missing a single payment, Colligne's original $38,000 loan was pelted with fees and charges. Within 14 months, his debt ballooned to $80,000.
Collinge's 3,000-plus member website, StudentLoanJustice.org, acts as a host for stories like his, many from people who have defaulted on their student loans and are struggling to pay them back.
Through his website and book The Student Loan Scam, Collinge hopes to pressure Congress to restore standard consumer protection on student loans. "There is no bankruptcy protection, no statutes of limitations, and there is a very predatory collection system waiting to pounce when you default," he says.
After all he's seen, Collinge's advice is to stay away from student loans altogether. "My first piece of advice is don't borrow. Period," he says. "I think it's a difficult goal to reach, but I think it's a very wise goal to set for oneself."
If student loans are a must—like they were for the 67 percent of students who graduated with debt last year—Collinge says to be shrewd. "Invest a real, significant amount of time to do any sort of cost-benefit analysis they feel is necessary with their parents, counselors or whoever else," he says." The time that they spend now could save them literally a lifetime of financial woe."