Showing posts with label Richard Cordray. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richard Cordray. Show all posts

Monday, March 13, 2017

Student Debtors and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Trump needs to strengthen the CFPB, not weaken it

Last January, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Navient Corporation, a student-loan debt collector, accusing the company of "systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment."

According to CFPB Director Richard Cordray, Navient cheated student borrowers by making it more difficult for them to pay back their college loans. "At every stage of repayment, Navient chose to shortcut and deceive consumers to save on operating costs," Cordray charged. "Too many borrowers paid more for their loans because Navient illegally cheated them , , , "

Specifically, the CFPB accused Navient of these illegal practices:
  • Failing to correctly apply and allocate borrowers' payments to their student-loan accounts. "Navient repeatedly misapplies and misallocates payments--often making the same error multiple times,"  the CFPB alleged. And all too often, Navient would not correct its errors unless a borrower discovered the problem and brought it to Navient's attention.
  • Giving struggling borrowers bad advice about student-loan repayment options.  The CFPB also accused Navient of steering student debtors toward costly forbearance options when they were having trouble making their monthly loan payments. These options give borrowers a break from making their payments, but the interest continues to accrue during forbearance. CFPB believes Navient should have helped borrowers get into income-driven repayment plans (IDRs) that would lower their monthly payments instead of encouraging them to apply for forbearances.
  • "Obscur[ing] information" borrowers needed to remain in income-driven repayment plans. The CFPB also said Navient failed to adequately inform borrowers about what they need to do to maintain their eligibility for income-driven repayment plans. Once borrowers enter those plans, their monthly payments are determined by their annual income; but to remain eligible, borrowers must recertify their income every calendar year. Apparently, a lot of borrowers in IDRs do not know they are required to recertify their income on an annual basis.
As the New York Times said in an editorial, CFPB's charges against Navient "have the ring of truth." Without question, student borrowers who opt to skip loan payments temporarily under  a government-approved forbearance plan see their loan balances grow dramatically due to accruing interest, which accelerates their descent into default. And it seems evident that people in income-driven repayment plans don't understand what they need to do to maintain their eligibility; half the people who enroll in IDRs get kicked out of them for failing to recertify their income on an annual basis.

The student-loan debt collectors are hoping President Trump will dismantle or cripple the CFPB, which would prevent the agency from bringing lawsuits like the one it brought against Navient. And perhaps he will.

But I am hoping the Trump administration  surprises the corporate fat cats and throws its full support behind CFPB's lawsuit against Navient.  Indeed, the CFPB needs to become a lot more aggressive.

In my view, the CFPB should investigate the student loan guaranty agencies that are making a fortune in the student-loan collection business. As the Century Foundation reported last year, four of these agencies have amassed $ 1 billion apiece through servicing and collecting student loans.

Educational Credit Management Corporation, which holds a billion dollars in unrestricted assets, is particularly ruthless. Just last year, a federal bankruptcy judge assessed punitive damages against ECMC for repeatedly violating the automatic stay provision of the Bankruptcy Code by garnishing the wages of a Starbucks employee more than 30 times after she filed for bankruptcy in an effort to collect on a defaulted student loan.

In short, there is a lot for the CFPB to do, and the Navient lawsuit is only a small step in the right direction. It would be a tragedy if the corporate interests defanged the CFPB, which is only now getting serious about protecting student-loan debtors from abuse.

Richard Cordray, CFPB Director
photo credit: Getty Images

References

Bruner-Halteman v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, Case No. 12-324-HDH-13, ADV. No. 14-03041 (Bankr. N.D. Tex. 2016).

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. CFPB Sues Nation's Largest Student Loan Company Navient for Failing Borrowers at Every Stage of Repayment. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Press Release, January 18, 2017.

Robert Shireman and Tariq Habash. Have Student Loan Guaranty Agencies Lost Their Way? The Century Foundation, September 29, 2016. Accessible at https://tcf.org/content/report/student-loan-guaranty-agencies-lost-way/

Bob Sullivan. Will a Trump presidency lead to more predatory lending? Market Watch, January 18, 2017.

Unfairly Squeezing Student BorrowersNew York Times, February 4, 2017.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Rohit Chopra and Rich Cordray Should Be Ashamed of Themselves: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Timid Report on Distressed Private Student-Loan Borrowers

Rohit Chopra should be ashamed of himself.
Rohit Chopra, the Student Loan Ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), issued a report earlier this month on the status of distressed private student-loan borrowers.  The report is so timid, so tepid, so lacking in real recommendations for reform that Chopra and Chopra's boss, CFPB Director Richard Cordray, should be ashamed of themselves.

Basically, Ombudsman Chopra's  report analyzed more than 5,000 student loan complaints directed at private lenders.  The report documents that many students who borrowed money from banks to attend college have been driven into default.  Chopra's reported identified these problems:
  • Borrowers who have trouble paying back their private loans receive little information from the banks about their options for modifying their loan terms.
  • People who borrow from the banks often find that there are no loan-modification options available.  
  • Private lenders are sometimes willing to offer borrowers a temporary forbearance from making their loan payments, but these forbearances often only delay default. Moreover, borrowers sometimes have to pay enrollment fees or experience processing delays in order to get nothing more than temporary relief. 
Chopra's report ends on a pathetic note. Although it professes to offer "new tools to help borrowers take action when they run into trouble [with private student loans]," the report offers nothing more than a sample letter "that consumers can edit and send to their student loan servicer to request lower monthly payments and information on available repayment plans."  That's all the CFPB has to offer--a crummy form letter!

Chopra and the CFPB Understate the Harm Caused by the Private Student Loan Industry

Chopra and the CFPB vastly understate the harm done to student borrowers who take out loans from private lenders to finance their college educations.

First of all, many students are ignorant of the difference between private loans and loans obtained through the federal student-loan program. Federal loans give distressed borrowers access to economic hardship deferments, income-based repayment plans, and loan consolidation options.  For the most part, these options are not available to people who borrow money from private lenders to finance their college studies. Moreover, federal student loans generally offer lower interest rates than private student loans.

Many students are so unsophisticated that they do not realize that they are taking out loans from private lenders rather than participating in the federal student loan program. Thus, students often pass up the opportunity to participate in the federal student loan program and fall into the clutches of private banks.

Second, unlike most federal student loan programs, private lenders generally require students to obtain co-signers for their student loans.  In most cases, the co-signer is a student's parent or other relative. Parents who co-sign their children's private student loans become personally liable for the debt--all of it.

Third, students and their parents may not realize that private student loans,like federal student loans, cannot be discharged in bankruptcy absent a showing of undue hardship, which is very hard to establish in a bankruptcy court. Students who take out private loans and are unable to pay them back may see their parents dragged down into financial ruin if their parents are not able pay back the debt. In most cases, the parents will have no recourse to the bankruptcy courts. 

The Federal Government Should Shut Down the Private Student-Loan Industry

The CFPB report is pathetic in terms of its advice to students and their families who find themselves unable to pay back their private student loans.  All Cordray and Chopra could think to do about the rapacious private student-loan industry was draft a form letter that students can use to beg for mercy when they find themselves unable to make their loan payments.

Students don't need sample letters to deal with the private student-loan industry; they need effective relief from private student-loans that many students did not fully understand when they signed the loan documents.

What needs to be done?

Congress needs to repeal the 2005 amendment to the Bankruptcy Code that has made it almost impossible for student borrowers and their co-signers (usually parents) to discharge their private loans in bankruptcy.  

If Congress would take this simple step, the private student-loan industry would almost immediately shut down, which would be a good thing.  The banks are happy to loan students money so long as students' parents co-sign the loans and bankruptcy relief is unavailable.  But if private student loans could be discharged in bankruptcy like any other unsecured debt, the banks would get out of the student-loan business in a hurry.

In the meantime, Rohit Chopra, Rich Cordray and the CFPB need to issue dire warnings to college students and their families not to take out private loans to attend college.  Such loans may make sense for people who are enrolling in expensive but high-quality professional programs in law or medicine. But low-income students have no business taking out student loans from banks and other private lenders.  Too often, taking out a private student loan leads to financial disaster not only for the student but for the student's parents as well.

Mr. Chopra and Mr. Cordray are fully aware of the harm being caused by private student-loan financiers.  “Struggling private student loan borrowers are finding themselves out of luck and out of options," Mr. Cordray acknowledged.  Unfortunately, Mr. Chopra, Mr. Cordray, and the CFPB do not have the courage to propose effective reforms.

Mr. Cordray should be ashamed of himself too.
References

CFPB Report Finds Distressed Private Student Loan Borrowers Driven Into Default. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, October 16, 2014.




Friday, September 19, 2014

Is it OK to beat a dead horse? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sues Corinthian Colleges

According to Chronicle of Higher Education, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has sued Corinthian Colleges, accusing the company of "predatory lending and illegal collection tactics." 

As the Chronicle noted, Corinthian is "the crippled for-profit higher-education company that is in the process of winding down its operations."  In fact, Corinthian has entered into a deal with the U.S. Department of Education, whereby the company will sell or close most of its campuses in exchange for continued access to federal student aid money.

The CFPB is accusing Corinthian of some pretty bad stuff. "We believe Corinthian lured in consumers with lies about their job prospects upon graduation, sold high-cost loans to pay for that false hope, and then harassed students for overdue debts while they were still in school," Richard Cordray, the CFPB chief,was quoted as saying in the Chronicle article.

If Corinthian Colleges did the things the CFPB accused it of doing, then it certainly deserves to be sued. But, as the Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out, the company was already in financial trouble. 

I am happy to see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau take some strong action against the for-profit college industry, which has been wracked by reports of abusive behavior.  Several for-profits have been accused of engaging in unsavory practices. But I would be happier still if the CFPB would go after abusive for-profit colleges that are not teetering on the edge of closure.  

It is OK, I suppose, to beat a dead horse now and then. But I would like to see the CFPB to beat a few live ones.

References

Field, Kelly. Federal Watchdog's Lawsuit Accuses Corinthian Colleges of Predatory Lending. Chronicle of Higher Education, September 16, 2014. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Such hypocrisy! The Obama administration urges private college-loan lenders to play nice with student borrowers

Obama administration officials summoned the leading private student-loan creditors to a meeting at the Treasury Department yesterday to urge them to do more to help student-loan borrowers who are in danger of default.

Who attended this meeting?  Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, and Richard Cordray, chief of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, represented the government.

And these are some of the banks that attended: Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, RBS Citizens Financial, PNC Financial Services, SunTrust Banks, and Discover Financial Services.

The Obamacrats delivered their usual blather about easing the plight of overburdened student-loan borrowers.  This is how a government  spokeswoman described the meeting.
Participants discussed strategies to assist borrowers in successfully managing their private student loans, including servicing best practices and approaches to private student loan modifications and refinancing.
Yak, yak, yak.  The only way to get the private banks to behave decently toward indebted college students is to force them out of the student-loan business altogether.  And this could be done so easily.

In 2005, Congress amended the Bankruptcy Code to make private student loans nondischargeable in bankruptcy absent "undue hardship"--the same standard that applies to federal student loans. Consequently, private student loans--like federal student loans--are almost impossible to discharge in a bankruptcy court.

All Congress needs to do to reform the private student-loan industry is repeal the 2005 law and allow insolvent debtors with private student loans to discharge those loans in bankruptcy. I guarantee you, this single legislative change would dry up the private student-loan industry overnight.

But Congress won't do the straightforward thing.  No--it will tinker with all kinds of cosmetic fixes and allow the private banks to continue exploiting colleges students.  

Hands down, Sallie Mae is the chief offender. According to a 2012 news story, Albert Lord, Sallie Mae's CEO, made $225 million between 1999 and 2004 and was building his own private golf course.  What do you think his total compensation is today?

Democrats seem to think they can establish their liberal credentials simply by expressing sympathetic platitudes. Arne Duncan talks about helping student borrowers but hasn't done a damn thing to alleviate the student loan crisis.  And Senator Elizabeth Warren, a self-proclaimed consumer's  advocate, is all bark and and no bite.

Thanks, Arne,ever so much!
Why doesn't Congress act more aggressively to give college students some relief? Maybe because the private lenders and private-college industry hire well-paid lobbyists to protect their interests and make strategic campaign contributions to powerful politicians.

Personally, I won't start believing the so-called liberal Democrats who express concern about the student-loan crisis until some of them throw their support behind some straightforward and simple reforms.  First and foremost, insolvent students who took out private loans to finance their education should have access to bankruptcy.  

References

U.S. Urges Private Lenders and services to Help Borrowers. Inside Higher Education, January 20, 2014. Accessible at: http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2014/01/10/us-urges-private-lenders-and-servicers-help-borrowers

Sophia Zamen. "Education is Worth It": Students Take on Sallie Mae CEO Albert Lord at Shareholder Meeting.  Alternet.org, May 21,2012. Accessible at: http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/932971/%22education_is_worth_it%22%3A_students_take_on_sallie_mae_ceo_albert_lord_at_shareholder_meeting

Note: My description of the meeting at the Treasury Department comes from the Inside Higher Education story.  My references to Sallie Mae are taken from Sophia Zamen's essay for Alternet.org


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Richard Cordray, New Director of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is Clueless About the Student Loan Crisis

CFPB's Richard Cordray: Clueless
First, the good news. The nation's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a new director--Richard Cordray; and he is worried about the college loan crisis.  Now the bad news. Mr. Cordray is apparently clueless about how to address this problem.

In an interview with USA Today, Mr. Cordray made clear that the CFPB is concerned about young people who have taken on high levels of debt to attend college.  "Their lives are effectively ruined or certainly potentially held back for many years," Cordray told USA Today. According to a CFPB report, many young people have been forced to postpone buying a home, starting a business or having a family by their massive student loans.

So what does Mr. Corday suggest we do about it?  More education! 

That's right, the CFPB is encouraging better financial education for young college students, including the use of its "Know Before You Owe" online financial aid shopping tool. 

Thanks, Richie, for warning people to be more careful when they take out student loans. 

And what is Mr. Cordray's other suggestion for dealing with the student loan crisis? He advises more borrowers to take advantage of the government's extended loan repayment plans.  Instead of paying loans off in ten years, more debtors should pay a percentage of their income toward paying off their loans over a period of 20 or 25 years.  In other words, he has bought into the sharecropper solution to the student loan crisis.  Just pay a portion of your income to the government over a majority of your working life. 

Thanks again, Richie. That's really helpful.

Not surprisingly, the CFPB's advice fits exactly with the higher education industry's stance on the student loan crisis.  This gigantic problem can be fixed, the colleges' trade organizations say, by giving students more information about borrowing money to attend college and then encouraging students to enroll in long-term income-based repayment plans to pay off their debt.

This stance relieves colleges and universities from reining in their costs, and it relieves the government from any responsibility for effectively regulating the for-profit college sector, where student-loan abuses are most prevalent.

Frankly, this country doesn't need a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau if it is just going to perpetuate the status quo and parrot the stance of the rapacious higher education industry.  If the CFPB is going to effectively address the student loan crisis, it should do these things:

1) Insist that the Department of Education accurately report the student loan default rate--the percentage of people who default over the life of the loan repayment period.  It should also insist on an accurate accounting of the people who are not making loan repayments because they obtained financial hardship deferments.

2) Advocate for amending the Bankruptcy Code to allow distressed student loan debtors to discharge their loans in bankruptcy under the same terms available for discharging other nonsecured debt.

3) Insist on legislation to stop the government from garnishing Social Security checks of elderly student-loan debtors who defaulted on their loans.

And of course there are a host of other things the CFPB can do to address the student-loan crisis besides service a "Know Before You Owe" project. 

But perhaps I'm being unfair to the CFPB. After all, it also operates a complaint department.  If you have a complaint about your student loans,  just call the CFPB's 800 number: 1-800-TUF-LUCK. 

References

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Know Before You Owe: Student Loan Project. Accessible at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/students/knowbeforeyouowe/

Jayne O'Donnell. Consumer protection chief talks student loans. USA Today, August 5, 2013, p. 3B.