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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • Student loan servicer and trust could pay more than $5M in enforcement action with CFPB

    Federal Issues

    On May 6, the CFPB filed a complaint against a Pennsylvania-based student loan servicer and 15 student loan trusts for alleged failure to properly respond to various borrower requests in violation of the CFPA. The complaint alleged thousands of borrower requests went unanswered from 2015 to 2021. Many of these requests allegedly sought forms of payment relief including: (i) co-signer release; (ii) extension of forbearance or deferment; (iii) loan settlement or forgiveness; (iv) Servicemember Civil Relief Act benefits; and (v) other forms of payment or interest rate reduction.

    The CFPB also released two proposed stipulated final judgment orders for the trusts and the servicer to resolve the claims. If agreed upon by the court, the trusts and servicer will have to pay civil money penalties of $400,000 and $1.75 million, respectively, in addition to providing close to $3 million in compensation to impacted consumers. Additionally, the orders required non-monetary relief, such as the approval of outstanding borrower applications, the rectification of credit reports, the suspension of debt collection efforts, and the implementation of a functional process.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Student Lending Enforcement

  • Biden announces student debt cancellation for borrowers who attended “predatory” institutions

    Federal Issues

    On May 1, the Biden Administration announced the approval of $6.1 billion in student debt cancellation for 317,000 borrowers who attended a system of art schools, which the Administration accused of engaging in deceptive practices and leaving students with significant debt and poor job prospects.

    The U.S. Department of Education found the system of art schools and its parent company guilty of significant misrepresentations about the educational value and career prospects following graduation on websites, in print material, and through misleading information from school personnel to prospective students. The school advertised an employment rate of 82 percent within six months of graduation within the field of study; however, a review of the school's records by the Department of Education alleged that graduates were inaccurately counted as employed in their study fields, inflating the figures by as much as 25 percent. Additionally, the school advertised inflated average salaries based on the same incorrect data, with testimonies indicating that school officials fabricated graduates’ earnings. All campuses of the school system closed under separate ownership in September 2023.

    Federal Issues Biden Student Lending Consumer Protection Consumer Finance

  • Trusts are covered persons subject to the CFPA, 3rd Circuit upholds CFPB FDCPA case


    On March 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit filed an opinion remanding a case between the CFPB and defendant statutory trusts to the District Court. After issuing a civil investigative demand in 2014, the CFPB initiated an enforcement action in September 2017 against a collection of 15 Delaware statutory trusts that furnished over 800,000 private loans and their debt collector for, among other things, allegedly filing lawsuits against consumers for private student loan debt that they could not prove was owed or was outside the applicable statute of limitations (covered by InfoBytes here). Then, early last year, the parties settled and asked the court to enter a consent judgment, which was denied (covered by InfoBytes here).

    The 3rd Circuit addressed two questions: (i) whether the trusts are covered persons subject to the CFPA; and (ii) whether the CFPB was required to ratify the underlying action that questioned a constitutional deficiency within the Bureau. On the statutory issue, the court found that the trusts fell within the purview of the CFPA because trusts “engage” in offering or providing a consumer financial product or service, specifically student loan servicing and debt collection, as explicitly stated in the trust agreements each trust entered. Regarding the constitutional question, the defendants argued that the Bureau needed to ratify the underlying suit because it was initiated while the agency head was improperly insulated, and since the Bureau ratified it after the statute of limitations had run, the suit was untimely. The court disagreed and found that the defendants’ analysis of the here-and-now injury “doesn’t go far enough,” therefore the CFPB did not need to ratify this action before the statute of limitations had run because the impermissible insulation provision does not, on its own, cause harm.  

    Courts Federal Issues CFPB Third Circuit FDCPA Student Lending Debt Collection Enforcement Consumer Finance CFPA

  • CFPB releases consumer advisory for student borrowers notifying them of April deadline to cancel

    Federal Issues

    On March 11, the CFPB published a consumer advisory notifying student loan borrowers that they may have an opportunity to cancel or receive credits toward the cancellation of their student loans but some borrowers will need to consolidate their loans by April 30 in order to obtain the benefit. The Department of Education has implemented a “one-time adjustment” to help borrowers receive credit toward federal student loan cancellation. This adjustment is designed to enable the counting of more payments, including all payments made on federally managed loans since July 1, 1994, as well as certain periods of deferment, economic hardship, and forbearance. Generally, federal student loans are eligible for Income Driven Repayment (IDR) plans, which offer loan cancellation after 10, 20, or 25 years of qualifying payments, or after 10 years for those pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), provided other eligibility criteria are met. The Bureau also noted that consolidation is free, warning against scammers who would charge for that service.


    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Student Lending Department of Education Income-Driven Repayment

  • Biden Administration, DOE withhold payments to student loan servicers

    Federal Issues

    On January 5, the Biden Administration and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced they are withholding payments to three student loan servicers as part of their efforts to strengthen protections for student loan borrowers and ensure accountability among servicers. The three servicers were found to have collectively failed in sending timely billing statements to a total of 758,000 borrowers during their first month of repayment. Consequently, the DOE is withholding $2 million from one servicer, $161,000 from the second, and $13,000 from the third servicer based on the number of affected borrowers.

    U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona emphasized that the DOE “will continue to engage in aggressive oversight of student loan servicers and put the interests of borrowers first.” During this period, borrowers will not be required to make payments, and any accrued interest will be adjusted to zero. Additionally, the months spent in administrative forbearance will count toward forgiveness programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness or income-driven repayment forgiveness. The DOE aims to ensure that borrowers are not negatively affected by these errors.

    Furthermore, to protect borrowers from penalties due to late or missed payments during the repayment transition, the DOE recently sent a letter to credit reporting agencies and credit scoring companies to remind them that borrowers’ current payment behavior may not accurately reflect their ability or willingness to make payments.

    Federal Issues Department of Education Biden Student Loan Servicer Student Lending

  • DOJ and DOE share success after first year of student loan bankruptcy discharge process

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On November 16, the DOJ and DOE announced a successful first year of their new student loan bankruptcy discharge process during 2022. The discharge process extinguishes a borrower’s obligation to pay back either some or all of a student loan in bankruptcy based on undue hardship. The DOJ cites two previous standards used by bankruptcy courts to determine if a borrower’s repayment would cause an undue hardship: the Brunner and Totality Tests. The DOJ’s guidance simplified the current standards to enhance “consistency and equity in the handling of these cases” and applies in both Burner and Totality Test jurisdictions. The guide permits a court to grant a discharge if three conditions are satisfied: (i) “the debtor presently lacks an ability to pay the loan”; (ii) “the debtor’s inability to pay the loan is likely to persist in the future”; and (iii) “the debtor has acted in good faith in attempting to repay the loan.”

    The DOJ reported the success of their new guidance with several findings: (i) there were 632 cases filed in the first 10 months of the new process, a significant increase from recent years; (ii) this process was used by 97 percent of all borrowers; (iii) 99 percent of borrowers received either full or partial discharges; and (iv) two bankruptcy courts adopted this process. The DOJ is optimistic that some or all these trends will continue.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues DOJ Department of Education Student Lending Bankruptcy Supervision Consumer Finance

  • DOE moves to empower student loan oversight for better borrower support

    Federal Issues

    On November 9, the DOE announced it is outlining a framework for how it will increase borrower support and ensure student loan servicers are accountable for errors. Richard Cordray, Federal Student Aid (FSA) Chief Operating Officer, noted, “The landscape of loan servicing has substantially changed since the Department began collaboration with multiple servicers in 2009. FSA is dedicated to evolving servicing contracts to meet borrower requirements. As we approach the Direct Loan program’s unprecedented return to repayment, our upcoming transition to new contracts in 2024 will bring updated servicer obligations and increased avenues to ensure borrowers receive adequate support.”

    The DOE has implemented various strategies to bolster oversight and monitoring of servicers:

    • Direct Servicer Monitoring: FSA staff actively evaluate the quality of customer service provided by loan servicers, which involves scoring interactions between servicers’ representatives and borrowers, reviewing calls and chats, and conducting secret shopper calls to assess the accuracy of servicers’ responses to borrower inquiries.
    • Partnership with Federal and State Regulators: The DOE collaborates with agencies like the CFPB and state attorneys general responsible for enforcing consumer financial laws. Updates in the interpretation of federal preemption provide clear guidance for the ability of states to enforce state consumer protection laws and allow for coordination between the DOE and state partners.
    • Utilizing Borrower Complaints: The DOE leverages complaints filed through the FSA’s Office of the Ombudsman, which collaborates with the oversight team to discern if complaints signal wider servicer issues. The DOE also monitors social media and news stories to identify broader patterns of complaints, which allow the DOE to discern isolated instances from systemic errors affecting multiple borrowers. These listening tools serve as mechanisms for borrowers to report issues impacting their repayment directly.

    The DOE and the Biden administration wield several measures to ensure servicers meet their obligations and maintain standards. The announcement highlighted that the DOE could withhold payments from servicers failing to serve borrowers adequately, as exemplified by the recent $7.2 million withheld from a Missouri servicer for delayed billing statements to 2.5 million borrowers. The DOE also has the authority to suspend or re-allocate borrowers to other servicers, which impacts the financial compensation of underperforming servicers. In addition, Contractor Performance Reports assess servicer performance and influence future contract awards, while Corrective Action Plans demand remedies for servicing errors to ensure borrower satisfaction and prevent reoccurrence. The DOE also safeguards borrowers from servicer errors by instructing servicers to grant affected borrowers a temporary administrative forbearance during error resolution. Additionally, the DOE directs servicers to count these periods as qualifying for loan forgiveness and adjusts accrued interest to zero when errors might impede borrowers’ progress toward forgiveness.

    Finally, the DOE mentioned it is gearing up to transition to the USDS, a new loan servicing system, by spring 2024. This shift aims to enhance accountability, transparency, and performance evaluation for over 37 million federally managed student loan borrowers with a focus on rewarding good performance and ensuring servicers meet higher standards. By incentivizing servicers to maintain borrowers’ repayment status and improving tracking mechanisms, the DOE will prioritize borrower success and aim for a smoother repayment experience.

    Federal Issues Student Lending Department of Education Student Loan Servicer

  • CFPB releases education ombudsman’s annual report

    Federal Issues

    On October 20, the CFPB Education Loan Ombudsman published its annual report on consumer complaints submitted between September 1, 2022, and August 31, 2023. The report is based on approximately 9,284 student loan complaints received by CFPB regarding federal and private student loans.  Roughly 75 percent of complaints were related to federal student loans while the remaining 25 percent concerned private student loans. Overall, the report found underlying issues in student loan servicing that threaten borrowers’ ability to make payments, achieve loan cancellation, or receive other protections to which they are entitled under federal law.  The report indicated that challenges and risks facing federal student loan borrowers include customer service problems, errors related to basic loan administration, and problems accessing loan cancellation programs.  Similarly, private borrowers face issues accessing loan cancellation options, misleading origination tactics, and coercive debt collection practices related to private student loans.

    The Ombudsman’s report advised policymakers, law enforcement, and industry participants to consider several recommendations: (i) ensuring that federal student loan borrowers can access all protections intended for them under the law; (ii) ensuring that loan holders and servicers of private student loans do not collect debt where it may no longer be legally owed or previously discharged; and (iii) using consumer complaints to develop policies and procedures when they reveal systemic problems.

    Federal Issues CFPB Student Lending Student Loan Servicer Consumer Finance Debt Collection Covid-19

  • CFPB denies petition to set aside investigative demand in student loan discharge probe


    On September 19, the CFPB published a recent decision and order denying the petition of one of the nation’s largest private student loan servicers to set aside the CFPB’s civil investigative demand (CID) in connection with its investigation into potential violations of the CFPA’s prohibition of unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices for attempting to collect on loans that had been previously discharged in bankruptcy. The order instructs the servicer to “comply in full” with the requests for documents and information set forth in the Bureau’s June 2023 CID.

    The servicer objected to the CFPB’s investigation, arguing, among other things, that the Bureau lacks authority to enforce the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.  The servicer also argued that the Bankruptcy Code displaces the CFPA if the reason a debt is not owed is due to a bankruptcy discharge.

    The Bureau rejected the servicer’s arguments, stating “[t]he Bureau seeks to determine whether a student loan servicer violated the prohibition on unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices not just by making individual attempts to collect discharged debts from individual debtors, but also, more globally, by having no policies and procedures in place to determine whether loans in the servicer’s portfolio are dischargeable in bankruptcy via standard bankruptcy orders, a practice that could put entire populations of borrowers at risk of harmful and unlawful collection efforts.”  It went on to say “[t]he bureau does not seek to investigate potential violations of the Bankruptcy Code, but rather potential violations of the CFPA.”  The CFPB also noted that courts have “repeatedly held that the Bureau can bring CFPA claims based on companies’ attempts to collect debts that consumers do not owe due to the impact of some other statute.”

    Courts Student Lending Consumer Finance CFPA Student Loan Servicer

  • Risks in college tuition payment plans revealed in CFPB report

    Federal Issues

    On September 14, the CFPB released a report highlighting risks associated with college tuition payment plans. Analyzing nearly 450 college websites, the report found that many plans lack clear disclosures and have confusing repayment terms, potentially causing students to miss payments and accumulate debt. Additionally, the CFPB noted that some institutions use transcript withholding as a debt collection tool, a practice deemed illegal and detrimental to students' career prospects.

    Key findings include:

    • Inconsistent and confusing disclosures in tuition payment plans.
    • Substantial fees, including enrollment fees, returned payment fees, and late fees, leading to high costs for students.
    • Intrusive debt collection practices, such as withholding transcripts, negatively impacting students' futures.
    • High costs for missed payments and potential conversion of no-interest plans into interest-bearing loans.
    • Contracts that may force students to waive legal rights and protections.
    • Lack of standardized disclosure requirements, leading to inconsistency in how plans are presented on school websites.

    The CFPB plans to continue monitoring tuition payment plans and school-based lending practices to protect consumers from potential violations of federal consumer financial laws.

    Federal Issues CFPB Student Lending Consumer Finance


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