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On April 19, the Department of Education announced additional changes to the federal student loan program designed to reduce or eliminate federal student loan debt for many borrowers. In particular:
- To address long-term forbearance steering, Federal Student Aid (FSA) will conduct “a one-time account adjustment that will count forbearances of more than 12 months consecutive and more than 36 months cumulative toward forgiveness” under the income-driven repayment (IDR) and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) programs.
- Borrowers “steered” into shorter-term forbearances may file a complaint with the FSA Ombudsman to seek an account review.
- FSA will also partner with the CFPB to conduct regular audits of servicers’ forbearance use, and will seek to improve oversight of loan servicing activities.
- Loan servicers’ ability to enroll borrowers in forbearance by text or email will be restricted.
- FSA will conduct a one-time revision of IDR-qualifying payments for all Direct Student Loans and federally-managed Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL) loans, and will count any month in which a borrower made a payment toward IDR, regardless of the payment plan. Borrowers who meet the required number of payments for IDR forgiveness based on the one-time revision will receive automatic loan cancellation. Moreover, months spent in deferment prior to 2013 will count towards IRD forgiveness (with the exception of in-school deferment) to address certain data reliability issues.
In addition, FSA plans to reform its IDR tracking process. New guidance will be issued to student loan servicers to ensure accurate and uniform payment counting practices. FSA will also track payment counts on its own systems and will display IDR payment counts on StudentAid.gov beginning in 2023 so borrowers can monitor their progress. The Department also plans to issue rulemaking that will revise the terms of IDR and “further simplify payment counting by allowing more loan statuses to count toward IDR forgiveness, including certain types of deferments and forbearances.”
State student loan ombudspersons push for automatic student loan discharges for disabled civilian borrowers
On March 3, student loan ombudspersons from seven states and the District of Columbia sent a joint letter to U.S. Department of Education (Department) Secretary Betsy DeVos and Social Security Administration (SSA) Commissioner Andrew Saul advocating for the automatic discharge of student loans for eligible borrowers under the Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) loan discharge program. Describing the current TPD program’s application process as “onerous,” the letter cites to the Department’s implementation of a presidential directive in 2019 that granted automatic student loan discharges to disabled veterans (covered by InfoBytes here), as an example of how to provide relief to borrowers “without further burdening them with a cumbersome application process.”
As asserted by the ombudspersons, the Higher Education Act of 1965 makes clear that a qualifying borrower’s loans shall be discharged if the borrower is (i) “permanently and totally disabled,” or (ii) “is ‘unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death, has lasted for a continuous period of not less than 60 months, or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 60 months.” The ombudspersons claim that the current TPD program’s application process is difficult for disabled borrowers to complete, and the difficulties posed by the annual documentation submission requirement during the post-discharge three-year monitoring period poses a risk of “having the discharged loans reinstated.” The student loan ombudspersons urged the Department and the SSA to work together to allow the Secretary to accept information shared by the SSA that the borrower is permanently disabled for the purpose of granting the discharge of student loan debt, and to minimize or eliminate the need for borrowers to proactively participate in the post-discharge monitoring process.
CA Attorney General secures $67 million in debt relief for former students of defunct for-profit school
On June 13, the Superior Court of the State of California ordered a California-based student loan provider to halt all debt collection efforts and forgive the balances on over 30,000 private student loans, which were used for programs at a now defunct for-profit college. According to the announcement by the California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, the debt relief totals $67 million for the former students. The complaint, filed on the same day as the order, alleges the company engaged in unlawful debt collection practices, including sending borrowers notices threatening legal action, to collect on the student loans at issue. In addition to the debt forgiveness, the order requires the company to (i) refund all payments made on the student loans by California-residents after August 1, 2017; (ii) refund payments made prior to August 1, 2017 by borrowers who received allegedly unlawful debt collection notices; and (iii) delete negative credit reporting associated with the student loans for all of the for-profit students around the country.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in a class action filed by former students, the Department of Education was recently barred by a preliminary injunction from continuing collection efforts on student loans used for the same defunct for-profit college.
On June 13, the CFPB ordered a South Carolina-based installment lender and its subsidiaries to pay $5 million in civil money penalties for allegedly making improper in-person and telephonic collection attempts in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and inaccurately furnishing information to credit reporting agencies in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). According to the consent order, between 2011 and 2016, the company and its subsidiaries (i) initiated collection attempts at consumers’ homes and places of employment; (ii) routinely called consumers at work to collect debts, sometimes after being told they were not allowed to receive calls; and (iii) contacted third parties and disclosed or were at risk of disclosing the existence of the consumer’s debt. The CFPB also alleges that the company and its subsidiaries failed to implement reasonable credit reporting procedures and failed to correct inaccurate information furnished to credit reporting agencies. In addition to the $5 million civil money penalty, the company and its subsidiaries must (i) cease improper collection practices; (ii) correct the credit reporting errors; and (iii) develop a comprehensive compliance plan.
Department of Education, Veterans Affairs team up to simplify student loan discharge process for disabled veterans
On April 16, the U.S. Department of Education announced a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to identify disabled student loan borrowers who qualify for debt forgiveness. Eligible veterans with federal student loans or aid through the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant Program that are identified as a match on the National Student Loan Data System and the VA database will be notified of their potential eligibility in the mail and will receive a Total and Permanent Disability Discharge application.
HUD IG Blames Ginnie Mae for Inadequate Supervision; HUD IG Concludes HUD Did Not Follow Requirements When Forgiving Debts
On September 21, the HUD Inspector General (IG) released an audit report of Ginnie Mae’s oversight of nonbanks in the mortgage servicing industry. The report found that Ginnie Mae did not adequately respond to the growth in its nonbank issuer base; a base, the report notes, that tends to have more complex financial and operating structures than banking institutions. The IG found, among other things, that Ginnie Mae may not be prepared to identify problems with nonbank issuers prior to default, requiring additional funds from the U.S. Treasury to pay back investors in the event of a large default.
On the same day, the IG also announced a report which found that HUD did not always follow applicable requirements when forgiving debts and terminating debt collections. The report determined that HUD’s review process for evaluating debt forgiveness or collection termination was not thorough enough to ensure that statutory, regulatory, and policy requirements associated with this process were met—such as ensuring DOJ approval was obtained when required.
Colorado UCCC Administrator Opinion Provides Guidance on Debt Cancellation and Suspension Agreement Fees
On August 7, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, through the Administrator of the Uniform Consumer Credit Code (UCCC), issued an Administrator Opinion to provide clarification on fees related to debt cancellation and suspension agreements. The UCCC has adopted and authorized rules permitting additional charges to be assessed in addition to a finance charge, such as fees for Single Premium Non-Credit Insurance, Involuntary Unemployment Insurance Premiums, and Guaranteed Automobile Protection. However, because the UCCC has not yet adopted by rule permissible fees for debt cancellation and suspension agreements, those fees must be included in the calculation of the finance charge, even if they are “permitted by federal or state law or regulation—including debt cancellation and suspension agreements offered by Colorado-[c]hartered [b]anks, Colorado-[c]harted [i]ndustrial [b]anks, and Colorado-[c]hartered [c]redit [u]nions.” This Administrator Opinion rescinds the November 9, 2004 Advisory Opinion titled “Debt Cancellation and Suspension Agreements Offered by Colorado-Chartered Banks, Colorado-Chartered Industrial Banks, and Colorado Chartered Credit Unions.” Organizations have 120 days to comply with the newly issued guidance.
On May 26, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law SB 1052, which contains provisions related to retail installment contracts and debt cancellation agreements in the state. Notably, the revised and renumbered Section 354.007 of the Finance Code, “Refund for Debt Cancellation Agreements,” concerns the responsibilities of the holder or the administrator of the agreement. This section has been amended to add that if a debt cancellation occurs as a result of an early termination of the contract, the holder shall, within 60 days of the termination, “refund or credit an appropriate amount of the debt cancellation agreement fee” or refund or credit the appropriate amount of the fee through written instructions to the appropriate person. Revisions also dictate that the holder will ensure that the refund or credit of the debt cancellation agreement fee “made by another person” is also made no later than 60 days after the agreement terminates. Furthermore, the holder is now responsible for maintaining records pertaining to the refund or credit of the debt cancellation agreement fee, and likewise, must grant electronic access to the records per the terms of the provision. The law takes effect September 1, 2017.
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- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Latest on AML regulations and impact of economic sanctions” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar