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DALLAS (CBS11) – When dozens of people went to Dallas-based Student Loan Relief for help with debt, they were let down.
Sherrie Fuller was one of them. She received a masters degree in accounting while raising six kids.
“For me, my children, you can do this no matter the obstacles you face,” said Fuller.
She owed more than $100,000 in loans after graduating from the University of Phoenix.
“They were in transition from one lender to another,” said Fuller.
Fuller said she contacted Student Loan Relief for help and at first the company worked to get her payments to a lower amount.
According to the website, Student Loan Relief: “offers an affordable way to make your Federal Student Loan debt easier to manage. …work with you to identify the best combination of Federal, State, and/or Local programs for which you qualify….We currently work with more than 300 different programs, created from 233 Congressional bills, that can reduce your principal balance, lower your interest…”
The problems came later when the company drafted her account but didn’t pay the lender.
“I’m making duplicate payments, I was a nervous wreck,” said Fuller.
Sherrie said she dropped the company after it happened — twice.
“Not only am I making the payment, I’m paying you to do this. They were collecting a fee. They are doing their legwork, I can understand paying for their service but I wasn’t getting anything but a headache,” said Fuller.
Another woman who turned to the company and CEO Jason Spencer for help was Michelle Ridgley.
She owed more than $60,000 in student loans for her two degrees, including a master’s degree in public policy.
Ridgley was working for a non-profit at the time.
“He (the representative) said, ‘Hey how would you feel about $46 a month? I could do $46 a month, who couldn’t do $46 dollars a month,” said Ridgley.
Ridgley thought that $46 was going to pay down her loans.
“My loans. I mean honestly, even though some people might be like $46 a month but yes. You’re working with someone, the paperwork looks legitimate, you have a colleague that’s utilizing the service,” said Ridgley.
Ridgley said she learned the money was actually the monthly fee going to Student Loan Relief.
She said her loans were actually in forbearance collecting interest — now she owes $90,000.
“I’m so stupid for taking that chance,” said Ridgley.
Ridgley, Fuller and 30 others citing similar issues have filed complaints with the Dallas Better Business Bureau about the company.
The have an F rating and 26 unanswered complaints.
“The complainants are telling us, people are paying the fee but their student loans aren’t paid,” said Phylissa Landix of the Dallas BBB.
Student Loan Relief CEO Jason Spencer agreed to talk to CBS11’s Cristin Severance from his Dallas office.
“Sherrie Fuller was by far the most work this company has ever done,” said Spencer.
He said his company has helped Fuller and 4,000 other clients find programs to lower their loan payments.
“I’m not just sitting here putting people into consolidations,” said Spencer.
When asked why there were many unanswered complaints with the BBB, Spencer admitted, “I’m ashamed to say it. I’m a wimp. I get on there and it beats me down.”
Spencer struggled to compose himself throughout the interview.
“You try so hard and to see people on there lying. Maybe that’s a good enough answer,” said Spencer as he wept.
When asked if he was upset about the BBB complaints Spencer replied, “This is what it does to me. And so I don’t want to feel like this.”
Spencer then said was only able to get through reading one complaint.
CBS11 wanted to know if the CEO thought his former clients were lying.
Spencer answered that he hasn’t “read them all.”
The government has taken action on similar debt relief companies in the country.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau put out a warning about companies charging an upfront fee to lower student loan payments and shut down two companies in Florida in 2014.
Spencer said bad companies have popped up preying on borrowers but he’s not one of them.
“They are scumbags, they are phone-based scumbags. If I was bad, I’d be shut down a long time ago,” said Spencer.
However, some of things Spencer told CBS11 didn’t add up.
Spencer claimed he’s a nonprofit organization during the interview but he’s not registered as one with the IRS.
Student Loan Relief was listed as a “for-profit” corporation according to filings on the Texas Secretary of State’s website.
When Consumer Justice investigator Cristin Severance asked Spencer about why his Dallas office was empty, he claimed to have let go his 58 employees.
Spencer said he now relies on one employee and artificial intelligence to do the work but his website promises a “real person with real knowledge of your specific needs”.
Spencer did not return follow-up emails from CBS11 after his interview to clarify the non-profit issue or the number of employees he has working on reducing loans.
“I make mistakes, I make more mistakes than anyone I’ve ever met,” said Spencer.
He said while the company helped Fuller, they also made a mistake with her account.
“The new system drafted her twice and I sent her a check yesterday after looking into it for this interview,” said Spencer.
Spencer said in Ridgley’s case, some of her payments never even went through.
“We still did the work and didn’t get paid,” said Spencer.
Spencer insisted he hasn’t done anything to scam people and lost everything trying to do the opposite.
“Lost my wife over it, lost all my friends, lost touch with all my family,” said Spencer.
Ridgley admitted a few payments didn’t go through but contends she was not told about the fee and her loan amount still went up.
Fuller said in the end, the collections agency was more helpful and easier to get in contact with than Student Loan Relief.
“You can do all this by yourself and not cost a dime and make sure it’s getting done,” said Fuller.
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