Friday, November 15, 2013

Educational Credit Management Corporation makes good money chasing destitute student-loan debtors: The Obama Administration should take action

Richard Boyle, CEO of ECMC
He made $1.1 million in 2010
Educational Credit Management Corporation is a nonprofit company that collects on defaulted student loans for the federal government. Just because it is nonprofit, however, doesn't mean its employees don't make a lot of money. According to a news story posted on Bloomberg.com, Richard Boyle, ECMC's chief executive officer, made $1.1 million in 2010.

Other ECMC employees are also making good money.  Dave Hawn, ECMC's chief operating officer, made about half a million dollars in 2010. Joshua Mandelman, an ECMC debt collector, made $454,000. And ECMC directors also do pretty well. According to the Bloomberg story, they make as much as $90,000 a year.

How does ECMC make its money? It gets a small fee for helping distressed student-loan borrowers avoid default. But it makes much more money when it collects money from student borrowers who defaulted. By law, ECMC (and other similar companies) "can receive as much as 37 percent of a borrower's entire loan amount, half in collection costs and half in taxpayer-funded commissions" (Bloomberg.com).

What a sleazy business.  People are getting rich chasing down student-loan defaulters, many of whom are unemployed and destitute.

But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of ECMC's business is the position it takes when student-loan debtors file for bankruptcy. In several cases, ECMC has argued that bankrupt student-loan debtors should not have their loans discharged in bankruptcy. Instead, ECMC has argued, these debtors should be placed in income-based repayment plans that can last as long as 25 years.

Roth case: Elderly woman with health problems seeks bankruptcy relief from student loans

For example, in a recent case, Janet Roth, a 64-year old woman, filed for bankruptcy, seeking to discharge $95,000 in student loan debt.  Actually, she only borrowed $33,000, but her debt tripled due to fees and accrued interest.

At the time of the bankruptcy proceedings, Roth was unemployed and living entirely on her monthly Social Security check--only $774.  In addition, she suffered from several serious health conditions, including diabetes, macular degeneration, and depression.

Now most people would think that Ms. Roth was a good candidate for bankruptcy. But in court proceedings, ECMC challenged her request for bankruptcy relief from her student loans. ECMC argued she should have signed up for a 25-year income-based repayment plan, a plan that would have ended when she was almost 90 years old!

Fortunately, the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was sympathetic to Ms. Roth's plight. The court said Ms. Roth had acted in good faith regarding her student-loan obligations, and it discharged her of the debt.

Can you imagine? A company run by a guy who makes more than a million dollars a year argued that an elderly woman with health issues and living on her Social Security check should make monthly payments on her student loans for 25 years! These ECMC guys make Ebenezer Scrooge look like Mother Teresa.

Want another example? In In re Stevenson (2011), an elderly woman with a history of homelessness  and who was living on less than $1,000 a month, was denied relief from her student-loan debt by a bankruptcy court in Massachusetts. ECMC opposed her effort to have her student loans discharged, and a court essentially forced Ms. Stevenson into a 25-year income-based repayment plan. Like Ms. Roth, Ms. Stevenson will be nearly 90 years old when her student-loan debt is discharged.

And take a look at the Krieger case. In Krieger v. Educational Credit Management Corporation (2013), ECMC opposed the discharge of a 53 year old woman's student-loan debt even though she was unemployed and had never made more than $12,000 a year during her entire working life.

President Obama Should Take Executive Action to Aid Elderly Student Loan Debtors

Ms. Roth, Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Krieger are not alone. According to a report prepared for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, about five percent of people who are behind on their student-loan payments are 60 years old or older. Undoubtedly, many of these people are living almost solely on their Social Security checks or are destitute.

Surely, elderly student-loan defaulters are entitled to some relief. Unfortunately, their Social Security checks are subject to garnishment, and some of them are running into opposition when they file for bankruptcy.

President Obama likes to get things done through executive orders.  So how about this for a plan? President Obama should direct all student-loan collection agencies not to oppose elderly people's efforts to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy.  And he should stop the garnishment of elderly people's Social Security checks for the purpose of collecting on student loans.

President Obama can talk all he wants about how he wants to ease the burden on people who borrow money to attend college. But there are things he can do--simple things--that would ease the burden on elderly student-loan defaulters. So why doesn't he take action?

References

John Hechinger. Taxpayers Fund $454,000 Pay for Collector Chasing Student Loans. Bloomberg.com, May 15, 2013. Accessible at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-15/taxpayers-fund-454-000-pay-for-collector-chasing-student-loans.html

Brown, M., Haughwout, A., Lee, D., Mabutas, M., and van der Klaauw, W. (2012). Grading student loans. New York: Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Accessible at: http://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2012/03/grading-student-loans.html

Krieger v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 713 F.3d 882 (7th Cir. 2013).
Lockhart v. United States, 546 U.S. 142, 126 S. Ct. 699 (2005).

Roth v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 490 B.R. 908 (9th Cir. BAP 2013).

Stevenson v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 463 B.R. 586 (Bankr. D. Mass. 2011). 






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