Flickr / RCB.

Not surprisingly, the attention being paid to the mounting pile of student debt in this country is attracting the attention of possible fraudsters. Companies are springing up that offer to assist desperate borrowers whittle away their debt – for a hefty price – but really do nothing to help.

Finally, two of these "debt relief services" are being taken to task by the state of Illinois. Two companies, First American Tax Defense LLC and Broadsword Student Advantage LLC, are being sued by Attorney General Lisa Madigan for exacting fees of up to $1200 from consumers hoping to reduce or eliminate their student loan debt. In return for outrageous upfront fees and monthly payments, these companies merely steered customers to information that they could have obtained on their own – for free.

Inaccurate information, outright subterfuge
Outfits offering questionable debt-relief services for a fee are nothing new, and the Federal Trade Commission, which seeks to stamp out such deceptive practices, is kept very busy fighting these types of issues.

The student debt relief industry sprung up more recently, born of the escalating debt Americans have been racking up since the financial crisis created a scarcity of good-paying jobs. The subject began attracting attention last June, when the National Consumer Law Center released a report about these companies. The NCLC found several examples of bad behavior on the part of these businesses, including claiming to be affiliates of the federal government, as well as providing inaccurate and false information about student debt issues. 

In July of 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued an advisory, noting that the services these companies describe are not their own, but are free resources available from the government. The notice included the fact that such entities are not able to negotiate away anyone's federal student loan debt – obviously, a claim that at least some of the debt relief companies have made.

Don't be a victim
Knowledge is power, and being aware that these companies exist makes it easier for troubled borrowers to avoid them. In addition, educating yourself about student loan issues and debt management is the best way to take control of your own financial future.

If you have student loan debt and are unsure of where you stand, visit the National Student Loan Data System to find out the details of your own student loan profile.

Illinois' lawsuit notes that employees in the public sector were often the focus of student debt relief companies. Probably, that is because jobs such as teaching, nursing and even librarians are often eligible for college debt relief through the federal government. Applicants must agree to work in particular areas for specific spans of time, but the loan forgiveness factor is huge – and worth the effort.

Refinancing or loan consolidation may be an option for those who have multiple loans, and would prefer to pay just one payment each month.

People with student loans are legion these days, and some have come up with creative ways to pay down their debt very quickly. I've aggregated some of the best tips in this article, drawn from real-life experiences of ordinary people who freed themselves of onerous debt in record time. Now, that's what I call real student debt relief.

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