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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB releases education ombudsman’s annual report

Federal Issues Student Lending CFPB Debt Collection Department of Education Covid-19

Federal Issues

On October 28, the CFPB Private Education Loan Ombudsman published its annual report on consumer complaints submitted between September 1, 2019 and August 31, 2020. The report is based on approximately 7,000 complaints received by the Bureau relating to federal and private student loans. Of these complaints, roughly 1,700 were related to debt collection, while approximately 500 mentioned Covid-19. The Bureau’s press release notes that the continued decrease in both federal and private student loan complaints may be attributed to factors such as “borrower education and outreach by federal and state agencies and regulators; borrower education and outreach by consumer advocates; and continued maturation of some industry participants’ compliance management systems, complaint monitoring systems, and their internal consumer advocate and ombudsman offices.” Topics discussed within the report include (i) an analysis of socio-economic and racial gaps in the student loan market; (ii) supervisory examinations and prioritized assessments of federal student loan servicers; (iii) enforcement actions taken against student loan debt relief companies and a student loan trust; (iv) borrower education and outreach; and (v) the impact of Covid-19 on student loan borrowers, including CARES Act relief for federally held federal student loans. The report also discusses a Memorandum of Understanding reached with the Department of Education at the beginning of the year, which clarifies the roles and responsibilities for each agency and permits the sharing of student loan complaint data and other information and recommendations (covered by InfoBytes here).

The report provides several recommendations, including that policymakers—when addressing near-term and long-term repayment issues—“may wish to consider simplifying the various loan repayment plans and the various forgiveness, discharge, and cancellation programs,” as well as examine ways to (i) enhance data sharing between federal agencies; (ii) enroll debtors who file for bankruptcy in income driven repayment plans; (iii) revisit the undue hardship bankruptcy test; (iv) assess socio-economic and racial gaps in student loan debt load and degree attainment; and (v) pursue student loan debt relief scams.

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