Robert Hobbs, deputy director of the National Consumer Law Center, says consumers could end up paying for calls from debt collectors, something that doesn't happen with a landline.

"The cost is not huge," Hobbs says. "But it's hard for people to be happy about paying to be aggravated."

Hobbs adds that the most likely targets will be young adults behind on student loan payments because they can't find a job.

"These people don't need to be reminded that they can't take care of their student loans," he says.

The idea that the federal government might call defaulted borrowers' cellphones to remind them they must repay the taxpayers doesn't seem unduly harsh to me.

The government offers so many flexible repayment options — and loan forgiveness programs — that many financial aid experts say there is no reason to default on student loans.

The Department of Education reports that as of a year ago, borrowers owed $57.9 billion on defaulted student and parent loans, including interest. That's enough for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for 38 Hurricane Irenes. Right now, the federal agency doesn't have enough money through the end of the month to pay for the one we just had.

Of course, contacting delinquent consumers won't solve the deficit problem, but every dollar the government can collect could go toward worthwhile programs and services now being cut.

There is a risk that some collection agencies will overreach, and cellphone users need to know they have the same rights to stop those calls as they do now with a landline. And if that's not enough to protect cellphone users, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should beef up consumer protections.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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