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Department of Education forgives roughly $150 million in student loans eligible for automatic closed school discharge
On December 13, the Department of Education announced it will automatically discharge approximately $150 million in student loans for roughly 15,000 eligible borrowers as part of implementing the Department’s Final Regulations (81 FR 75926) (also known as the “Borrower Defense Regulations” or “regulations”), which took effect in October following a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the Department’s move to delay the regulations—finalized in 2016 and originally set to take effect July 1, 2017—was procedurally invalid (see InfoBytes coverage on the ruling here.) The Borrower Defense Regulations are designed to protect student borrowers against misleading and predatory practices by postsecondary institutions and clarify a process for loan forgiveness in cases of institutional misconduct. Of the $150 million, approximately $80 million of the amount is attributable to loans taken out by students who attended now bankrupt, for-profit Corinthian schools. (See InfoBytes coverage on matters related to Corinthian schools here.) The announcement also provides information for loan holders, guaranty agencies in the Federal Family Education Loan program, and schools concerning new closed school discharge requirements.
CFPB, 13 State Attorneys General Take Action Against Private Equity Firm for Allegedly Aiding For-Profit College Company’s Predatory Lending Scheme
On August 17, the CFPB announced a proposed settlement against a private equity firm and its related entities for allegedly aiding a now bankrupt for-profit college company in an illegal predatory lending scheme. In 2015, the CFPB obtained a $531 million default judgment against the company based on allegations that it made false and misleading representations to students to encourage them to take out private student loans. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) However, the company was unable to pay the judgment because it had dissolved and its assets were distributed in its bankruptcy case that year. Because of the company’s inability to pay, the CFPB indicated that it would continue to seek additional relief for students affected by the company’s practices. In a complaint filed by the CFPB on August 17 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, the Bureau relied on its UDAAP authority to allege that the private equity firm engaged in abusive acts and practices when it funded the college company’s private student loans and supported the college company’s alleged predatory lending program. Specifically, the CFPB alleged that the private equity firm enabled the company to “present a façade of compliance” with federal laws requiring that at least 10 percent of the for-profit school’s revenue come from sources other than federal student aid in order to receive Title IV funds. The Bureau further alleged that both the company and the private equity firm knew that the high-priced loans made under the alleged predatory lending scheme had a “high likelihood of default.” According to the complaint, the private equity firm continues to collect on the loans made under the alleged predatory lending program. In regard to these loans, the proposed order requires the private equity firm to, among other things: (i) forgive all outstanding loan balances in connection with certain borrowers who attended one of the company’s colleges that subsequently closed; (ii) forgive all outstanding balances for defaulted loans; and (iii) with respect to all other outstanding loans, reduce the principal amount owed by 55 percent, and forgive accrued and unpaid interest and fees more than 30 days past due.
Relatedly, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, announced on August 17 that his office, in partnership with the CFPB and 12 other state attorneys general, had reached a $183.3 million nationwide settlement with the private equity firm in partnership with the CFPB. According to a press release issued by AG Schneiderman’s office, under the terms of the settlement, an estimated 41,000 borrowers nationwide who either defaulted on their loans or attended the company’s colleges when it closed in 2014 are entitled to full loan discharges—an amount estimated to be between “$6,000 and $7,000.”
On April 21, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman released guidance for eligible individuals who attended certain programs operated by a group of for-profit post-secondary education California-based colleges. The colleges—which ceased operations in 2015—allegedly made misrepresentations about the employment success of graduates of certain programs and used “false promises of career success to lure students, leaving many with enormous debt and few job prospects.” As a result, students who enrolled in those programs during specified time periods are eligible for the discharge of their federal student loans. It is estimated that up to 3,000 students in New York are eligible for federal loan cancellations based on the findings of an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). New York joins 43 other states and the District of Columbia in an outreach effort to assist students in submitting loan cancellation applications. If a student’s application is approved by the DOE, the loan(s) will be cancelled and payments previously made will be refunded.
On June 2, California AG Kamala Harris sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education requesting that it revoke the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools’ (ACICS) status as a recognized accreditor of for-profit schools. In the letter, AG Harris cited to state and federal enforcement actions taken against Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (Corinthian) – a non-profit school accredited by ACICS – for engaging in allegedly predatory and deceptive marketing practices. According to AG Harris, “ACICS failed to uphold their commitment ‘to the importance of a quality education experience for all students’ when they continued to accredit Corinthian campuses in the face of regulatory and enforcement actions.” AG Harris joins 13 other state Attorneys General in opposition to ACICS’s application for renewal as an accreditor. In a letter submitted to the Department of Education in April of this year, those 13 other state Attorneys General discussed similar alleged failings by ACICS in their respective states.
AG Harris’s recent letter comes after a February 25, 2016 statement requesting that the Department of Education revise its proposed regulations relating to debt relief for students affected by for-profit schools’ allegedly deceitful practices, and also follows the AG’s $1.1 billion judgment against Corinthian.
On October 28, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois filed a default judgment and order against a for-profit college company to resolve litigation with the CFPB. In a September 2014 lawsuit, the CFPB alleged that the company engaged in unfair and deceptive practices by making false and misleading representations to students to encourage them to take out private student loans. The CFPB also alleged that the company violated the FDCPA by taking aggressive and unfair action to collect on the loan payments when they became past due. The court order requires the company to pay approximately $531 million in redress to student borrowers, which the company is unable to pay because it has dissolved and its assets have been distributed in its bankruptcy case. The CFPB indicated that it will continue to seek additional relief for students affected by the company’s practices despite the company’s inability to pay the judgment.
On February 3, the CFPB and the U.S. Department of Education announced that they had reached an agreement with ECMC Group, to provide debt relief and additional consumer protections to borrowers who took out private loans from Corinthian Colleges, Inc. ECMC is the new owner of a number of Corinthian schools. In September 2014, the CFPB sued Corinthian for allegedly luring students into high-cost private loans, using illegal debt collection tactics to make students pay back private loans while still in school, and advertising inaccurate job prospects and career services. The agreement releases ECMC from liability for Corinthian’s actions in exchange for ECMC (i) providing more than $480 million in debt relief for borrowers who took out high-cost private student loans with Corinthian; (ii) not offering private student loans for a period of seven years; (iii) ceasing lawsuit threats and improper debt collection practices; (iv) instructing credit reporting agencies to remove negative credit reporting information from borrowers’ credit reports; and (v) implementing additional consumer protections, including flexible withdrawal policies and clear information on job prospects. The CFPB’s lawsuit against Corinthian remains ongoing.
On September 16, the CFPB filed a civil action against a for-profit college for allegedly engaging in an “illegal predatory lending scheme.” Specifically, the CFPB alleges that the school engaged in unfair and deceptive practices by: (i) inducing enrollment through false and misleading representations about job placement and career opportunities; (ii) inflating tuition to require students to obtain private loans in addition to Title IV aid; (iii) persuading students to incur significant debt through private loans that had substantially high interest rates (as compared to federal loans) and required repayment while students attended school; (iv) misleading students to believe that the school did not have an interest in the private loans offered; and (v) knowing its students were likely to default on the private loans made. In addition, the CFPB alleges that the school violated the FDCPA by taking aggressive and unfair action, including pulling students out of class, blocking computer access, preventing class registration, and withholding participation in graduation, to collect payments on the private loans as soon as they became past due. The CFPB is seeking to permanently enjoin the school from engaging in the alleged activity, restitution and damages to consumers, disgorgement, rescission of all private loans originated since July 21, 2011, civil money penalties, and costs and other monetary relief.
The CFPB’s lawsuit was filed after a similar action was filed against the school by the Massachusetts Attorney General (AG) alleging that the school engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices by: (i) aggressively enrolling students by misrepresenting, among other things, employment and career opportunities, the nature and quality of the education provided, credit transferability, the utility of its career services, and its financial aid; (ii) recruiting students that would not benefit from the programs and/or were legally unable to obtain employment in the field studied; (iii) offering private loans that were guaranteed and/or funded by the school and steering students to such loans; and (iv) engaging in harassing debt collection practices. The Massachusetts AG is seeking to permanently enjoin the school from engaging in the alleged conduct, restitution to students, civil penalties, and attorneys’ fees and other monetary relief.
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