Over 44 million Americans collectively owe a staggering $1.4trillion in student loan debt. With such a huge amount of student debt, there must be borrowers who are fed up with the service they receive from their student loan lenders.

The Student Loan Report dove into the numbers to figure out what student loan borrowers' most common complaints were. The focus of this study revolved around objections directed to private student loan and private student loan refinance lenders.

Over the past decade, the use of private student loans has risen dramatically. Each year, over one million cash-strapped students will use private student loans, which account for $7.76 billion of the national debt total. Since an all-time low for outstanding private student loan debt in 2010-2011, the amount is now up by 49 percent. Long story short, more people are turning to the private market to fill the gaps in education funding.

As the nation's total outstanding student loan debt continues to rise, private refinancing lenders have also become immensely popular and profitable.  Private student loan refinancing lenders like SoFi, LendKey, and CommonBond are relatively young, yet have seen tremendous growth during these debt-ridden times. This comes as no surprise, however, as borrowers can save tens of thousands of dollars on both federal and private student loans by refinancing to a lower interest rate.

Unfortunately for private student loan and private student loan refinancing companies, their business opportunity is not without complaint. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been collecting consumer complaints since 2011, and private student loans fall under their oversight. In 2016, the CFPB compiled almost 1,000 complaints against private student loan lenders. Here is a breakdown of these complaints by company as well as complaint type.

​Most Common Complaints About Private Student Loans

Private Student Loan Companies With the Most Complaints


There are a couple of interesting observations that can be made after looking at the CFPB consumer complaints against private student loan and private student loan refinancing companies.

First, it should not be surprising that some of the biggest and most well-known lenders are at the top of the complaint list. Big names such as Wells Fargo, Sallie Mae, Discover, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Citibank all made the top five. These companies work with a considerable number of customers. Statistically speaking, these lenders are going to have more complaints because they are dealing with more customers than smaller competitors. Being at the top of the list may not be an indictment of their customer service operation, but rather a testimony to their sheer size.

Wells Fargo & Company was at the top of the list when it came to the number of complaints each private lender received. Whereas one can attribute size to explain why the larger private lenders are near the top of the list, Wells Fargo may be a special case. Culminating in a $185 million settlement regarding a customer account scandal, Wells Fargo was battered with legal headaches and bad publicity throughout 2016. In one situation, the CFPB reported that the bank’s practices caused student loan borrowers to be slapped with multiple late fees, and Wells Fargo ultimately agreed to pay $4 million in fines. So in this instance, Wells Fargo may actually be at the top of the list for poor customer service and shady practices. At any rate, it isn’t surprising to see them leading the list for total gross complaints.

The complaints from the CFPB seem to follow a common theme. They all revolve around issues concerning bad, or a lack of, information, lack of flexible payment options, disagreements with fees, inability to defer or decrease payments, and problems with payment processing. All of these collectively lead to a similar end: more money out of the borrower’s pocket. To top it all off, the third most common complaint involves customer service despite the fact that customer service should the answer to these complaints.


All data was taken from the CFPB Consumer Complaint Database on February 10, 2017. The data pulled was recorded between the dates of January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016. After filtering the data, a total of 981 “Non-Federal Student Loan” complaints with private student loan lenders and private student loan refinancing lenders were found. This data was broken down by company and by complaint type. The end result of the data processing is found in the two published data tables.