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When you realize you can’t afford your student loan payments, there are a few things you should do. Mailing an envelope of white powder to your student loan servicer is not one of them.

Michael M. Murray of Columbus, Ohio, knows this because he was recently sentenced to three years in prison for doing just that. In 2008, Murray received a letter demanding he pay his delinquent loans, and in response, he ripped his name and address off the letter and put it in the return envelope with white powder and the name “Osama Bin Laden” on the return address line, according to a news release from the Department of Justice. Murray sent the letter — on which he reportedly scrawled a number of threats and obscenities — to a Department of Education federal student loan servicing center in Greenville, Texas.

Investigators found Murray’s DNA on the envelope, as well has his fingerprints. He was indicted in 2011 on one charge of making threats and hoaxes, convicted in April and sentenced on Aug. 12 to 37 months in prison. The news release did not provide details on the status of Murray’s loans.

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There are smart ways to protect yourselves from bad student loan servicers or debt collectors — you do have rights! But committing a felony isn’t one of the tactics you should choose.

Should you find yourself behind on student loan payments, reach out to your student loan servicer (and despite your frustrations, try to do so in a civil manner). Ideally, you should contact the servicer before you actually miss payments, because the sooner you confront the problem, the more solutions will likely be available to you. You may be eligible for income-based repayment, or you might be able to temporarily pause your payments. If you have good credit, you may want to also explore refinancing options, to see if there’s a lower interest rate available to you.

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In summary: You may think repaying your student loans is horrible and difficult, but there are a few ways you might be able to make it easier on yourself. As Murray could likely attest, threatening the Department of Education is not on that list.

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The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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