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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

New York AG settles with student debt relief companies

State Issues State Attorney General Courts Student Lending Debt Relief Usury Telemarketing Sales Rule TILA Settlement

State Issues

On February 18, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York approved a settlement between the State of New York and a student loan debt relief operation including five debt relief companies and one individual (defendants) in order to resolve allegations that the defendants violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Federal Credit Repair Organizations Act, TILA, state usury laws, and various other state laws. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the New York attorney general brought the lawsuit in 2018 alleging that the defendants “engag[ed] in deceptive, fraudulent and illegal conduct…through their marketing, offering for sale, selling and financing” of debt relief services to student loan borrowers. The AG claimed that, among other things, the defendants allegedly (i) charged consumers who purchased the debt relief services illegal upfront fees; (ii) misrepresented that they were part of or working with the federal government; (iii) falsely claimed that fees paid by borrowers would be applied to borrowers’ student loan balances; and (iv) induced borrowers to enter into usurious financing contracts to pay for the debt relief services.

Under the terms of the agreement, the defendants—without admitting or denying the allegations—agreed to a judgment of $2.2 million, which will be suspended if the defendants promptly pay $50,000 to the State of New York and comply with all other provisions of the agreement. The defendants are also permanently banned from advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, or selling any type of debt relief product or service—or from assisting others in doing the same. Additionally, the defendants must request that any credit reporting agency to which the defendants reported consumer information in connection with the student loan debt relief services remove the information from those consumers’ credit files. The defendants also agreed not to sell, transfer, or benefit from the personal information collected from borrowers. According to the settlement, six additional defendants were not included in the agreement and the AG’s case against them continues.