Showing posts with label Steve Rhode. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Steve Rhode. Show all posts

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Deep Dive Into the Debtor Blaming 2018 Borrower Defense to Repayment Regulations. Essay by Steve Rhode










By Steve Rhode (originally posted on July 25, 2018)

Today the Department of Education (ED) has released their new rules for the program so let’s jump in and see what the Borrower Defence to Repayment program now looks like. I’m going to read the 433 pages so you don’t have to.The Department of Education put a hold on forgiving federal student loans for students who were victims of fraud by the schools that enrolled them. Under the Obama administration, the program would suspend collections activity while claims were being investigated and total forgiveness was a possible outcome.
Under the Trump administration claims were not approved and the rules were changed to only allow a partial forgiveness for most debtors based on an impractical standard.
It appears ED is trying to shift the responsibility for making good decisions for enrolling in questionable schools by pushing that obligation and blame on the student. The new rules say, “The goal of the Department is to enable students to make informed decisions on the front end of college enrollment, rather than to grant them financial remedies after-the-fact when lost time cannot be recouped and new educational opportunities may be sparse. Postsecondary students are adults who can be reasonably expected to make informed decisions and who must take personal accountability for the decisions they make.”
While ED says educational institutions should not mislead the students and “remedies should be provided to a student when misrepresentation on the part of an institution causes financial harm to that student,” let’s see how much power and practicality those remedies have.
The ED again turns back to putting the responsibility and blame on the student for enrolling in the wrong school that may have misled them. ED says, “students have a responsibility when enrolling at an institution or taking student loans to be sure they have explored their options carefully and weighed the available information to make an informed choice.”
But what seems to be missing from that lofty goal is some sort of pre-screening by the school to review the cost of the education and the expected salary for the chosen field. For example, the other day I wrote about the $90,000 associates degree in web design. Does the school have a responsibility to sell a fair product or is the responsibility now focused on the student for believing the hype?
ED says, “The Department has an obligation to enforce the Master Promissory Note, which makes clear that students are not relieved of their repayment obligations if later they regret the choices they made.” So if your 18-year-old self made a bad choice of schools that provided an overpriced education with little value, that’s your own damn fault.
The proposed rule document says, “As of January 2018, it had received 138,989 claims, of which 23 percent had been processed.” Some of these claims go back more than a year.
It is quite possible those became a major issue with the new ED because Borrower Defense Claims were being submitted and approved. These claims were not approved on no basis but because students had been misled or deceived by the school.
But here is where ED is turning the table on debtors, “the Department is concerned that several features of the 2016 final regulations might have put the Department in the untenable position of forgiving billions of dollars of Federal student loans based on potentially unfounded accusations. Specifically, those regulations would allow the Department to afford relief to borrowers without providing an opportunity for institutions to adequately tell their side of the story.”
These new rules say, students who feel they were misled and deceived by schools to get them to enroll and take out federal student loans, may still submit claims but as long as they are “not in a collections status.” So students who were saddled with questionable loans by a questionable school will have to continue to make monthly payments or stay out of collections while their claim is processed for an undetermined amount of time.
ED wants to encourage students to enroll in income-driven repayment plans and make payments on their loans. These would be the same plans that put people into decades-long repayment plans with potentially big tax bills at the end. Balances in these programs go up, not down, as the monthly payment is insufficient to cover the interest building.
ED is worried that students claiming they were harmed by their schools will strategically default on their otherwise unaffordable debt. As evidence to support this concern, ED cites research by those who intentionally defaulted on their mortgage payments to take advantage of mortgage modifications. Talk about apples and oranges here.
“The Department is trying very carefully to balance relief for borrowers who have been harmed by acts of institutional wrongdoing, with its obligation to the taxpayer to provide reliable stewardship of Federal dollars.” And while that might be true, then why isn’t the Department limiting access to federal funds by schools that engage in questionable practices?
Those questionable practices have led to massive amounts of unaffordable student loan debt sitting in a non-payment status. The lack of oversight by ED to rein in the access to federal student loan dollars by typically for-profit schools who have been approved by questionable accreditation.
So ED says, “With more than a trillion dollars in outstanding student loans, the Department must uphold its fiduciary responsibilities and exercise caution in forgiving student loans to ensure that it does not create an existential threat to a program that lacks typical credit and underwriting standards.”
But where were the underwriting standards for schools selling degrees that students would never be able to afford to repay? Where was the fiduciary responsibility for ED and student loan debtors?
ED appears to say they are not going to get involved in resolving disputes or claims of wrongdoing against schools. That is going to be left up to the individual student to fight with the school through the courts. How students will be able to afford to do that, is a mystery.
And ED is not going to block schools from forcing students into secret arbitration or stopping schools from allowing students to enter class action suits against the schools. Instead, ED says in its press release on the rulemaking “that institutions requiring students to engage in mandatory arbitration or prohibiting them from participating in class action lawsuits provide plain language explanations of these provisions to enable students to make an informed enrollment decision.” So students who decide to go to schools that block access to courts to remedy claims were stupid to enroll.
Here is what the rule says, “it seems reasonable that consumer complaints should continue to be adjudicated through existing legal channels that put experienced judges or arbitrators in the position of weighing the evidence and rendering an impartial decision.”
Even with the Borrower Defense to Repayment program in place, ED again takes the step to say the student was the idiot in this situation when they enrolled at a school they believed. ED says, “As stated in the Master Promissory Note the borrower signs when initiating their first loan, the borrower is expected to repay the loan even if the borrower fails to complete the program or is dissatisfied with the institution or his or her outcomes.”
On the issue of a group discharge of federal student loans if a school is found to have engaged in “a misrepresentation made with knowledge of its false, misleading, or deceptive nature or with a reckless disregard for the truth,” ED punts and says that will be the focus of a different rule. This appears to close the door for bulk discharges of schools found guilty of deception, like in the Corinthian Colleges case.
As evidence why the group discharge would be harmful to students, ED says “Because an institution can refuse to provide an official transcript for a borrower whose loan has been forgiven, group discharges could render some borrowers unable to verify their credentials or work in the field for which they trained and have enjoyed employment.” Maybe the real answer is that is a school was found to deceive students they should still have to provide a transcript.
In the past, schools who enrolled students who never graduated from high school or had a GED could be found to have taken advantage of people who may not have been qualified to enroll in higher education. The proposed rule shifts the burden back to the uneducated student when it says, “We also propose changes to the Department’s current false certification regulations. The Department believes that in cases when the borrower is unable to obtain an official transcript or diploma from the high school, postsecondary institutions should be able to rely on an attestation from a borrower that the borrower earned a high school diploma since the Department relies on a similar attestation in processing a student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).”
Where is the underwriting in this process that ED says it engages in?
These new rules would apply to federal student loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2019.
They would also “require a borrower to sign an attestation to ensure that financial harm is not the result of the borrower’s workplace performance, disqualification for a job for reasons unrelated to the education received, a personal decision to work less than full-time or not at all, or the borrower’s decision to change careers.”
Feel free to read the entire document, here.
My impression of the proposed new rules is the Department of Education wants to shift all the responsibility for falling for school marketing overpriced education to the least informed person in this transaction, the student.
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see how this is going to work out. Badly for debtors.
If ED is worried about underwriting and a fiduciary responsibility then why are they passing out easy loans with little regard to affordability, to begin with? Does the government have a duty to protect it’s citizens or does it need to protect its poor financial decision making and schools they pump loans through? Or is this new policy all about blaming the victim instead of investigating the claims for validity?

Steve's essay was originally posted on The Get Out of Debt Guy web site.


*****
Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Betsy DeVos, the for-profit college industry's best pal, rolls back regulatory protections for students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges

This week, Betsy DeVos, President Trump's lamentable Secretary of Education, proposed new rules for implementing the Department of Education's Borrower Defense to Repayment Program.

The new rules--433 pages long--outline the DeVos regime's procedures for processing fraud claims filed by students who took out federal loans to attend for-profit colleges and were swindled.  The New York Times and Steve Rhode of Get Out of Debt Guy reported on this development, but Rhode's analysis is more comprehensive and insightful than the Times story. Rhode's essay is the one to read.

Millions of Americans have been defrauded by for-profit colleges--literally millions. Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech filed for bankruptcy, brought down by regulatory pressures and fraud allegations. Those two institutions alone had a half million former students.

Globe University and Minnesota School of Business both lost their authority to operate in Minnesota after a Minnesota trial court ruled they had misrepresented their criminal justice programs.  Last month, the Minnesota Court of Appeals partially upheld the trial court's judgment, finding sufficient evidence to support a fraud verdict on behalf of 15 former students who testified at trial.

In California, DeVry University agreed to pay $100 million to settle claims brought by the Federal Trade Commission that it had advertised its programs deceptively. In the wake of that scandal, the company owning DeVry changed its name from DeVry Education Group to Adtalem Global Education.

The Art Institute, which charged students as much as $90,000 for a two-year associates' degree,
agreed to pay $95 million to settle fraud claims brought against it by the Justice Department, but the settlement is paltry compared to the amount of money borrowed by 80,000 former students.  And there have been numerous small for-profits that have been found liable for fraud, misrepresentation, or operating shoddy programs.

The for-profit scandal is a huge mess. If every student who was defrauded or victimized in some way by a for-profit college were to receive monetary restitution, it would probably cost taxpayers a half trillion dollars.

So how do we fix this problem? The Obama Administration approved rules that would have streamlined the process for resolving student-fraud claims, but Betsy DeVos pulled back those rules just before they were to have been implemented.

The new DeVos rules, summarized by Steve Rhode, put most of the blame on students for enrolling in these fraudulent and deceptive for-profit colleges. According to DeVos' DOE, "students have a responsibility when enrolling at an institution or taking student loans to be sure they have explored their options carefully and weighed the available information to make an informed choice."

DeVos' janky new rules forces fraud victims to continue paying on their student loans while they process their damned-near hopeless fraud claims, while DOE processes those claims--if at all--at a snail's pace.

DeVos nixed the Obama administration's ban against mandatory arbitration clauses that the for-profits have forced students to sign as a condition of enrollment. Sometimes these clauses also bar class action suits. So under Betsy DeVos' administration, many defrauded students will be barred from suing the institutions that cheated them.

Betsy and her for-profit cronies want struggling student debtors to enroll in long-term income-based repayment plans (IBRPs) that last from 20 to 25 years. Payments under those plans are generally so low that student debtors' loan balances are negatively amortizing. Borrowers in IBRPs will see their loan balances go up month by month even if they make regular monthly payments. In other words, most IBRP participants will never pay off their loans.

Some people are predicting the student-loan scandal will eventually lead to a national economic crisis similar to the one triggered by the home-mortgages meltdown. I am beginning to think these doomsday predictors are right. Already we see that student loans have impacted home ownership and may even be a factor in the nation's declining birth rates--now so low that the American population is not replacing itself.

Two things must be done to destroy the for-profit college cancer that is destroying the hopes of millions for a decent, middle-class life:

1) First, the for-profit college industry must be shut down. No more University of Phoenixes, no more DeVrys, no more Florida Coastal Universities.

2) Second, everyone who was swindled by a for-profit school should have easy access to the bankruptcy courts, so they can shed the debt they acquired due to fraud or misrepresentations and get a fresh start in life.

And there is a third thing we need to do. Congress should impeach Betsy DeVos for reckless dereliction of duty and blatant misconduct against the public interest.  Let's send her back to Michigan, where she can enjoy her family fortune as a private citizen and not as a so-called public servant.



References

Mark Brunswick. Globe U and Minn. School of Business must close, state says after fraud rulingStar Tribune, September 9, 2016. 

Christopher Magan. Globe U. and Minnesota School of Business to start closing campusesTwin Cities Pioneer Press, December 21, 2016.

State of Minnesota v. Minnesota School of Business, A17-1740, 2018 Minn. App. LEXIS 277 (Minn. Ct. App. June 4, 2018).

Sarah Cascone, Debt-Ridden Students Claim For-Profit Art Institutes Defrauded Them With Predatory Lending Practices.  Artnet.com, July 23, 2018.

Erica L. Green. DeVos Proposes to Curtail Debt Relief for Defrauded StudentsNew York Times, July 5, 2018.

Claire Cain Miller. Americans Are Having Fewer Babies. They Told Us Why. New York Times, July 5, 2018.

Steve Rhode. A Deep Dive Into the Debtor Blaming 2018 Borrower Defense to Repayment Program. Get Out of Debt Guy (blog), July 25, 2018.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

CFPB to Shift Focus From Protecting Student Loan Debtors to Something Else. Essay by Steve Rhode

By  on May 10, 2018
Recently the Trump administration has tried to change the law so individual states would not be able to enforce ;laws covering student loan debt collectors.

The new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Mick Mulvaney, has just released the updated agenda for the CFPB.
According to the new agenda, the CFPB would drop its efforts to push forward regulations of student loan collectors and scrap “student loan servicing” from its focus.
Mulvaney has also indicated the CFPB will retreat from doing anything regarding student loans in general.
“This defangs the watchdog and instead turns the office into a lapdog for the industry,” said Chris Peterson, a former top CFPB official who is now director of financial services at the Consumer Federation of America.
The unit which has been the tip of the spear on these CFPB student loan efforts to protect debtors has been informed they will be reorganized into the CFPB Office of Financial Education. Now there is a department title which just screams no enforcement.
“This is a very significant change in the mission of the student office,” said Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah and former enforcement attorney at the CFPB.
“America is facing an ongoing student debt crisis, with outstanding student debt surpassing $1.5 trillion and over 8 million borrowers in default on their student loans. Closing the office for students is like shuttering the fire department in the middle of a three-alarm fire,” Alexis Goldstein, the senior policy analyst at Americans for Financial Reform, said.
I don’t get it. All actions that have been taken by the Department of Education and now the new modified CFPB have the net effect of restricting supervision of student loan collectors, limit state authority to protect citizens from student loan collection abuse, reduce debt elimination from federal student loan fraud by schools, and give easier access to student loan money by for-profit schools.
You don’t need to read the tea leaves here to see what is going on, you just need to look at the billboard.
I don’t care what your political stripes are. With all these changes any student with any student loan debt should expect to be less protected from collector misinformation, bad advice, and poor servicing.
If you don’t believe me, just go ahead and file a complaint against your student loan servicer and see how much protection you get. Your new friend will be the word NONE.

Steve's essay was originally posted on The Get Out of Debt Guy web site.


*****
Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Alexander Holmes v. National Collegiate Student Loan Trust: Don't co-sign your children's student loans!

In 2006, Alexander Holmes co-signed a student loan with Charter Bank One to fund his son's education at the University of Southern Indiana. Charter Bank sold Holmes' loan in a pool of loans to National Collegiate Funding, which then sold the loan to National Collegiate Student Loan Trust (NCSLT).

Ten years later, NCSLT sued Mr. Holmes, claiming he owed more than $16,000 on the loan plus accrued interest. Holmes denied NCSLT's claim and argued that NCSLT did not have standing to sue him.


NCSLT moved for summary judgment, which an Indiana trial court granted. The court then ordered Holmes to pay NCSLT $18,183.26 plus interest and costs.


But Mr. Holmes had a good lawyer and he appealed. An Indiana appellate court reversed the lower court's order against Mr. Holmes on the grounds that NCSLT had not provided admissible evidence that it had the right to collect on the debt Holmes owed Charter Bank.


The court's reasoning is a bit technical; but this is a summary of the appellate court's decision:
In support of its motion for summary judgment against Mr. Holmes, NCSLT offered the affidavit of Jacqueline Jefferis, an employee of Transworld Systems, Inc. (TSI), which was the "loan subservicer" for U.S. Bank, National Association, which the court identified as the "Special Servicer" working for NCSLT.


In a sworn statement, Ms. Jefferis' said she was familiar with TSI's business practices regarding loan records. But, as the Indiana Court of Appeals pointed out:

[T]he Jefferis affidavit provided no testimony to support the admission of the contract between Holmes and Charter One Bank or the schedule of pooled loans sold and assigned to National Collegiate Funding, LLC, and then to NCSLT . . . . There was no testimony to indicate that Jefferis was familiar with or had knowledge of the regular business practices or record keeping of Charter One Bank, the loan originator, or that of NCSLT regarding the transfer of pooled loans . . . . [Emphasis added by me.
In other words, as far as the appellate court was concerned, Ms. Jefferis didn't know nuthin' about no loan from Charter Bank to Mr. Holmes. Consequently, the trial court's judgment against Mr. Holmes was reversed.

Why is the Holmes case, decided by an Indiana state court, important to other student-loan debtors? Three reasons:


I. The private student-loan industry is bundling student loans and selling them to investors


First, the private student-loan industry has been packaging student loans into bundles (or pools) and selling them to third parties, and these third parties often then sell these bundled loans to yet other parties. In fact, these loans can have multiple owners.


In this flurry of transactions, the paperwork often gets mislaid or lost. Sometimes the companies suing student-loan debtors for payment do not have the critical documents necessary to show that they have the legal right to collect on the debt.


This confusion sometimes occurs due to "robo-signing," the mindless signing of documents by people who are not familiar with the original transactions. This was a significant issue during the home-mortgage crisis of 2008, and judges sometimes dismissed home-foreclosure suits because the parties trying to foreclose on houses could not prove they were entitled to grab someone's home.


Thus, anyone who is sued by a company trying to collect on a private student loan should demand that the suing party show that it is the legal entity entitled to sue for the money. Fortunately for Mr. Holmes, NCSLT was unable to show that it was the party that had legal standing to sue him.

II. Student-loan debtors need good lawyers


This brings me to the second reason the Holmes case is significant for other student-loan debtors. Mr. Holmes defeated NCSLT on a technicality. Specifically, NCSLT's documentation did not pass muster with Indiana Evidence Rule 803(6). But only a competent lawyer would know how to make the technical argument that benefited Mr. Holmes.


I once thought that student-loan debtors with the right facts could go into court without lawyers and be successful. And indeed, some debtors have won their cases in federal bankruptcy courts over the ruthless opposition of the debt collectors' lawyers.


But many of these cases turn on legal technicalities that a nonlawyer could not be expected to know. The Holmes case was based on Indiana law, but federal bankruptcy law also has technicalities that nonlawyers will find very difficult to master.


That is why I was heartened by the decision of the Massachusetts Bar Association to organize teams of volunteer lawyers to represent student-loan debtors in bankruptcy courts. If student-loan debtors can get good lawyers, they will have a far better chance of winning their cases than if they go to court without legal counsel.


III. Never co-sign your children's student loans


There's a third lesson to be learned from the Holmes case. Mr. Holmes co-signed a student loan with his son Nicholas to enable Nicholas to enroll at the University of Southern Indiana. In my view, that was a mistake. If Nicholas couldn't figure out a way to attend a regional state university without having his dad co-sign a student loan, then Nicholas needed to figure out another way to go to college.

I've said this before, and I'll say it one more time. Parents should never co-sign their children's student loans. Never. Never. Never.


Note: My thanks to Steve Rhode for calling my attention to Holmes v. 
NCSLT.




References


Alexander Holmes v. National Collegiate Student Loan Trust (Ind. Ct. App. Feb. 27, 2018).

Steve Rhode. Perfect Example Why Most National College Student Loan Trust Lawsuits are BS. Getoutofdebtguyorg., March 1, 2018.




Friday, February 16, 2018

Congress enacts teeny weeny student-loan reform legislation: Is the glass half full or half empty?

As reported by Steve Rhode, Congress passed a very modest student-loan reform bill late last year.  Titled the Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act, the new law eliminates an unfair tax on forgiven student loans.

Prior to passage of this law, the government would forgive student loans held by debtors who became permanently disabled, but the amount of the forgiven debt was considered taxable income by the IRS. You may remember the story of Will Milzarski,  a military veteran who was wounded and disabled while fighting in Afghanistan.  The Department of Education forgave about a quarter of a million dollars in student loans, but the IRS sent Mr. Milzarski a tax bill for $62,000.

The Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act, which was adopted by Congress with bipartisan support, eliminates this unfair tax provision. Under the new law, all student-loan debt (including private student loans) that is forgiven due to the death or disability of the debtor is exempt from federal income taxes.

In addition, the law gives a tax break to the parents of student-loan debtors. Parents who owe student loans on behalf of their children may obtain a student-loan discharge if their child becomes disabled.  And parents who obtain such a discharge won't be taxed on the forgiven debt.

So, is the glass half full or half empty?

On the good side, passage of this modest and noncontroversial bill is a sign that Republicans and Democrats can work together to pass student-loan reform legislation. The bill's three co-sponsors--Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), and Angus King (I-Maine) are to be commended for getting this little bill adopted.

But on the other hand, as Mr. Rhode pointed out, the bill did not address the enormous tax liability that college borrowers face who are in income-driven repayment plans (IDRs).  More than six million student debtors are enrolled in IDRs, and most of them are making monthly loan payments so small that they will never pay off their loans.  Why? Because the monthly payments aren't large enough to cover accruing interest on the underlying debt.

People locked into IDRs are obligated to make monthly loan payments for terms that stretch out for 20, 25 and even 30 years. At the end of the repayment term, any remaining unpaid debt is forgiven, but the amount of the forgiven debt is considered taxable income.

In other words, a student debtor who successfully completes a 20-year IDR sheds one unpayable debt to the Department of Education and acquires another unpayable debt to the IRS.

Nevertheless, the fact that Congress passed the Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act is a good sign. Maybe Democrats and Republicans can build on this tiny victory to enact more sweeping student-loan reform.

For example, perhaps a bipartisan coalition could rally behind the Warren-McCaskill bill to stop the IRS from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters. Who in good conscience could vote against that bill?

And is it too much to hope that Congress might someday reform the Bankruptcy Code and allow suffering student-loan borrowers to discharge their crushing student loans in bankruptcy?

Will Milzarski, Wounded Veteran (photo credit: Chicago Tribune)


References

Associated Press. Wounded Michigan vet gets student loan debt forgiven, but now IRS wants $62,000Chicago Tribune, October 20, 2017.

Judith Putnam. Student debt forgiven, but wounded vet gets $62,000 tax billUSA Today, October 20, 2017.

Representative John Delaney press releaseDelaney and Katko File Legislation to Help Americans Struggling with Student Loan Debt, May 5, 2017.

Representative John Katko press release. Reps. Katko and Delaney File Legislation to Help Americans Struggling with Student Loan Debt. May 8, 2017.

Steve Rhode. 15 Seconds of Positive News About Student Loans and Congress. Get Out of Debt Guy, February 15, 2108.

Some physical or mental impairments can qualify you for a total r permanent disability discharge on your federal student loans and/or TEACH grant service obligation. U.S. Department of Education web site (undated).



Friday, February 2, 2018

Massachusetts Attorney General organizes volunteer lawyers to represent indigent college debtors in bankruptcy: This is A VERY BIG DEAL

Maura Healey, Massachusetts Attorney General,  announced last month that her office is partnering with the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce to organize volunteer lawyers to represent distressed college debtors in bankruptcy.

This is a VERY BIG DEAL for a least four reasons:

Dispelling the myth that student loans can't be discharged in bankruptcy

First, as Steve Rhode pointed out, AG Healey's initiative gives the lie to the myth that student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. The Department of Education and the student-loan industry want college borrowers to believe their student loans are not dischargeable, and they have been successful in  perpetuating that falsehood.

As scholar Jason Iuliano wrote in a law review article, almost a quarter of million student loan debtors filed for bankruptcy in 2007, but only a few hundred even tried to discharge their student loans. But the Massachusetts Attorney General's initiative demonstrates that competent attorneys believe these loans can be wiped out in bankruptcy, and that is welcome news.

Legal representation means that more college borrowers will win their bankruptcy cases

Second, having experienced and committed lawyers representing student-loan debtors in bankruptcy court means more college borrowers will be successful. I once thought student-loan debtors could win their cases against the Department of Education and their agents even if they went to court without lawyers.

And indeed a few debtors have gotten relief from student loans in the bankruptcy courts, even though they went to court without attorneys. Richard Precht, Jaime Clavito, and George and Melanie Johnson come to mind.  But the debt collectors--and Educational Credit Management Corporation, in particular--have appealed their losses in the appellate courts, where it is very difficult for debtors to defend their interests.

In the Hedlund case, for example, a student-loan creditor fought Michael Hedlund in the appellate courts for 10 years!  And creditors often got debtors' victories reversed by appellate courts. In a heartbreaking loss, George and Melanie Johnson got their victory snatched away after a bankruptcy judge reversed his earlier decision to discharge their loans. The judge backtracked after his original decision was vacated by an appellate judge.

With competent attorneys, however, college borrowers can fight DOE and its venal agents until hell freezes over. And eventually some of debtors' victories in the bankruptcy courts will be upheld at the federal circuit court level.  Once the federal appellate courts endorse a more humane approach to handling student-loan bankruptcies, we will see more deserving debtors get relief.

Attorneys can defend college borrowers from dastardly creditor tactics

Third, if energetic and competent lawyers begin representing college borrowers in the bankruptcy courts, debtors will have able advocates to fend off what Rafael Pardo labeled "pollutive litigation" by the debt collectors.  Indigent debtors cannot counter unscrupulous tactics by creditors' lawyers unless they themselves have lawyers. In the Bruner-Halteman case, for example, ECMC repeatedly garnishing the wages of a bankrupt student debtor in violation of federal law. Had Bruner-Halteman not had an attorney, she would have been crushed.

A State Attorney General is now in open conflict with Betsy Devos and the Dept. of Education

 Finally, Massachusetts AG Maura Healey is now in open conflict with our federal government's heinous policy of fighting bankruptcy relief for college borrowers who are truly suffering. In the Myhre case, DOE opposed bankruptcy relief for a quadriplegic student-loan borrower who was working full time and yet unable to survive financially. In the Abney case, DOE fought bankruptcy relief for Michael Abney, a man in his forties who had a record of homelessness and who had a monthly income of about $1100 a month. In Roth, ECMC fought Janet Roth all the way into an appellate court. Poor Ms. Roth was living on Social Security income amounting to less than $800 a month.

Conclusion

For the first time, we will soon see a state attorney general's office and aggressive and competent lawyers going on the attack against Betsy DeVos' Department of Education, which has become nothing more than a shill and a lackey for the corrupt student-loan business.  Hurrah for AG Maura Healey!

AG Healey has introduced a model for progressive state governments to attack a vicious federal agency and bring relief to millions of college borrowers who have their backs against the wall.  California, I call on you to rally to AG Healey's standard. New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Texas and Florida: respond to Healey's bugle call and join the fight.

It is time for state governments to fight the corrupt and sleazy student-loan industry and to bring it down.  AG Healey and the Massachusetts Bar Association have shown the nation the path toward justice.



References

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

Hann v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 711 F.3d 235 (1st Cir. 2013).

Jason Iuliano. An Empirical Assessment of Student Loan Discharge and the Undue Hardship Standard. American Bankruptcy Law Journal 86 (2012), 495.

Natalie Kitroeff. Loan Monitor is Accused of Ruthless Tactics on Student Debt. New York Times, January 1, 2014. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/us/loan-monitor-is-accused-of-ruthless-tactics-on-student-debt.html?_r=0

Rafael Pardo. The Undue Hardship Thicket: On Access to Justice, Procedural Noncompliance, and Pollutive Litigation in Bankruptcy. 66 Florida Law Review 2101 (2014).

Steve Rhode. Mass AG and Bar Association Lead Way to Help Student Loan Debtors to Help File Bankruptcy. getoutofdebtguy.org (blog), January 29, 2018.

Roth v. Educational Credit Management Corporation490 B.R. 908 (9th Cir. BAP 2013). 








Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Dept of Ed Puts Fraud First Over Students and Common Sense. Essay by Steve Rhode

By SteveRhode, January 3, 2018

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos seems to be waging a terrible war against student loan debtors who have been defrauded by their schools in order to extract federal student loan money. Since the Trump administration took over the Department of Education has not actually delivered relief to a single Borrower Defense to Repayment claim. Yet they brag as of December 20, 2017 they have just approved “12,900 pending claims submitted by former Corinthian Colleges, Inc. students, and 8,600 pending claims have been denied.”
Under that Department of Education program the student previously would be forgiven from the student loans obtained by deception and the government would claw back the money the school got.
Most of these claims have been submitted by students of for-profit schools who played fast and loose with their marketing.
But it seems the government is turning its back on students who have been misled by schools to get their student loan money. Not only is the Department of Education changing the rules but they are also proposing rules that students who land better jobs after graduation should not be forgiven from the loans they were defrauded by. Either you are or are not a victim of fraud but the proposed policy create a middle ground where victims get to be only partial victims.
Under the deadline of “Improved Borrower Defense Discharge Process Will Aid Defrauded Borrowers, Protect Taxpayers” the government proposes what they say is more fair. Department of Education Secretary DeVos says “No fraud is acceptable, and students deserve relief if the school they attended acted dishonestly.” But then goes on to say relief is conditional based on gainful employment. – Source

While the Department of Education brags about their recent wave of Corinthian College Borrower Defense to Repayment claims they also disclose “rather than taking an “all or nothing” approach to discharge, the improved process will provide tiers of relief to compensate former Corinthian students based on damages incurred.”

Relief from fraud will be dependent on the current earnings of the victims. Victims earning 70% and above of the income of their peers will only receive a 30 percent forgiveness of the fraudulent student loans. So to be clear, that income test is against the other students who were the victims of the same fraud and not the general population.
As a bonus the Department of Education gives fraud victims this carot “to mitigate the inconvenience for how long it has taken to adjudicate claims, the Department will apply a credit to interest that accrues on loans starting one year after the borrower defense application is filed.”
So the Department of Education will take forever to deal with the forgiveness application and then only tack on a year worth of interest while they drag their feet.
Now to add insult to injury the Department of Education is proposing making it much harder for students to prove they were subject to misrepresentation to induce enrollment in an effort to extract money from students loan debtors.
The proposed forgiveness plan is to eliminate any successful judgment against a school by an Attorney General as proof of deception. Instead the individual student would have to obtain an individual judgment against the school. This would require a legal action that nearly all students would never be able to afford to file. Additionally the defrauded student would have to show clear and convincing evidence they were intentionally misled and that misrepresentation let to monetary harm.
“They’ve made it almost impossible for borrowers to meet the misrepresentation standard by requiring them to demonstrate the intent of the school especially when students don’t have the power of discovery” to examine the inner workings of a school, said Clare McCann, deputy director of higher education policy at New America, who worked on the Obama-era policy. “They took every dial and dialed to the far extreme. It really tries to make [the regulation] as useless as possible.”
Pretty soon we are going to need a Department of Education Victim Helpline to assist people soon to be screwed over by a government department that clearly appears to be putting for-profit colleges first.


*****

Steve's essay was originally posted on The Get Out of Debt Guy web site.
Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here. 



Friday, January 12, 2018

Betsy DeVos is trying to nullify a federal law intended to give defrauded students relief from student loans: Our government is shielding crooks

Betsy DeVos is in bed with the corrupt for-profit college industry. Her slavish pandering to the for-profit-college racketeers is truly shocking. Now she is trying to nullify a law that gives relief to students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

In 1994, Congress passed a law giving students an avenue for getting their student loans discharged if they were defrauded by the college they attended.  The law was not used much until Corinthian Colleges--a for-profit college group--collapsed and filed for bankruptcy. At the time of its demise, Corinthian had over 300,000 students or former students; and several thousand filed so-called borrower defense applications seeking to get their student loans discharged on the grounds they were defrauded by Corinthian.

The Obama administration adopted regulations for implementing the borrower-defense rule, which provided a regulatory avenue for reviewing fraud claims. But Betsy DeVos nullified those regulations. DeVos said the Obama regulations would allow students to wrongly obtain "free money" at the expense of for-profit colleges.

DeVos launched a new round of administrative review, and DOE said the new regulations would probably not be implemented until 2019. The DeVos DOE's new borrower-defense rules are very different from what the Obama administration had fashioned. In fact, the DeVos regulations, if implemented, will basically invalidate the federal borrower-defense statute altogether.

David Halperin, writing in Huffington Post, observed that "the DeVos-Trump draft borrower defense rules . . . essentially nullify the 1994 law that gives former students who are ripped off by their colleges . . . the right to seek cancellation of their student loans."

As Halperin explained, the DeVos rules erect "numerous and redundant barriers to students getting the benefit of that law." The DeVos draft rules are so draconian that a representative of the for-profit college industry admitted that the new rules "feels a little stacked against the student."

For example, under the rules DeVos proposes, students will have to prove their fraud claims by "clear and convincing evidence." This is a very high legal barrier, especially when you consider that the colleges--not the complaining students--have access to the evidence of fraud.

Of course, state attorneys general have been suing the for-profits for fraud.  Surely a former student could present a judgment for fraud against a for-profit college as evidence that the student herself is a fraud victim. No, DeVos' new regulations will not permit a fraud victim to present a judgment against a for-profit college as part of the student's own fraud claim. As Steve Rhode wrote recently:
The proposed forgiveness plan is to eliminate any successful judgment against a school by an Attorney General as proof of deception. Instead, the individual student would have to obtain an individual judgment against the school. This would require a legal action that nearly all students would never be able to afford to file.
If the DeVos rules go into effect, fraud victims will rarely if ever obtain relief from their student loans. Abbey Shafroth, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, said this: "I really think [the DeVos rules] would effectively do away with borrowers' ability to get relief in almost all circumstances."

The DeVos Department of Education's proposed borrower-defense rules demonstrate that it has abandoned all pretense of fairness and decency toward student-loan debtors. DeVos herself is nothing more than obsequious book licker for the for-profit college industry, and Congress seems unable or unwilling to rein her in.

Last July, Eighteen Democratic state Attorneys General sued DeVos and the Department of Education, seeking to force the Department to implement the Obama-era borrower defense rules. I hope they are successful because what DeVos is essentially trying to do is eviscerate a 1994 statute passed by Congress for the express purpose of  providing student fraud victims with well deserved relief from their student loans.




References

David Halperin. Backing DeVos Repeal of Obama Rules, For-Profit Colleges Vilify Students. Huffington Post, January 9, 2018.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Few Details on Tougher Borrower-Relief Standards. Inside Higher Ed, January 9, 2018.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Devos: Borrower-Defense Rule Offered 'Free Money'Inside Higher Ed, September 26, 2017.

Steve Rhode. Dept of Ed Puts Fraud First Over Students and Common Sense. Getoutofdebtguy.org (blog), January 3, 2018.

Editorial: Scamming for-profit schools roar back under Betsy DeVos. Chicago Sun-Times, December 25, 2017.




Thursday, January 4, 2018

Forget the Russians: Democrats should focus their energy on removing Betsy DeVos from Trump's Cabinet

Almost 44 million Americans are student-loan debtors, and every single one of them should see Betsy DeVos as their mortal enemy. Since President Trump appointed her as Secretary of Education, DeVos has done nothing to ease the suffering of college borrowers. On the contrary, she has done everything she can to prop up the venal and corrupt for-profit college industry, which has preyed on vulnerable and naive students, many of them minority members or just plain poor.

We have known for years that the for-profit college racket is a cancer. Senator Tom Harkin's 2012 report on the for-profits made that fact absolutely clear. And we know that a high percentage of people who take out student loans to attend these shyster colleges default on their loans. Nearly half of a recent cohort of borrowers who attended for-profit colleges defaulted within five years. It was recently reported that more than half of the students who took out student loans to attend 1,000 colleges and schools had not paid down one dime of their student loans seven years into repayment. Most of those 1,000 institutions are for-profits.

Minorities have been especially injured by the for-profit colleges. Three quarters of African Americans who take out loans to study at a for-profit college and then drop out eventually default.

In my view, the Obama administration did not do a great job of reining in the for-profit racketeers, but it did make an effort. The combined efforts of the Obama Department of Education and several state attorney generals brought down two bad actors: Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech. These two organizations had a total of a half million students and former students at the time they closed and filed for bankruptcy.

And the Obama administration put regulations in place to process students' fraud claims--claims against Corinthian in particular. But Betsy DeVos derailed those regulations and appears intent on protecting the for-profits from fraud claims. She's cooked up a bogus formula for resolving fraud claims, awarding only partial compensation to victims.

As Steve Rhode noted in a recent essay, the DeVos DOE has not provided relief to a single student borrower who was defrauded by a for-profit college, although it has approved around 13,000 claims by former Corinthian students (while rejecting 8,600 pending  claims).

DeVos also nullified an Obama-era regulation that would prohibit the for-profits from forcing their students to sign covenants not to sue as a condition of enrollment.  In addition, DeVos is slow rolling the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), which provides debt relief to people who devote ten years to public service. Indeed, the Trump administration proposes to do away with the PSLF program.

And if that weren't enough, the Republicans sent a bill out of the House Education Committee that would do away with student-loan forgiveness altogether. DeVos has not formally endorsed this bill, but she called it a "starting point."  The bill, if it becomes law, would give student borrowers only two options--pay off their loans in ten years or go into a perpetual income-based program that would not end until the loans are paid off or the student borrower dies. Oh yes, and the bill would eliminate the authority of state attorney generals to police the student loan industry.

And what have the Democrats done in response to DeVos' shockingly obsequious behavior toward the for-profit college racketeers? Not a friggin' thing. Senator Elizabeth Warren--self-proclaimed consumer advocate, writes stern letters to DeVos and other government bureaucrats, but she can't point to a single accomplishment in terms of student-loan relief.

I give the Democrats grudging credit for at least introducing legislation that addresses the student-loan crisis. The Delaney-Katko bill (co-sponsored by 25 Democrats and one Republican) would open the bankruptcy courts to deserving student borrowers, which is really the only comprehensive solution to the crisis. But that bill will never make through a Republican dominated Congress that is totally beholden to the financial industry.

In my mind, the litmus test for Congress in terms of student-loan relief is the Warren-McCaskill bill that would bar the federal government from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters. Passing this bill would at least alleviate the suffering of the 114,000 older Americans who are seeing their Social Security income reduced due to unpaid student loans.

 It is not enough for Senators Warren and McCaskill to simply file this bill; they need to get it to a vote. What Republican would vote against that bill? Can't Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Pelosi walk across the aisle and get Warren-McCaskill bill signed into law with bipartisan support?

Frankly, if there is not enough good will between Republicans and Democrats to enact the Warren-McCaskill Social Security relief bill, which only provides puny student-debt relief, then student debtors should say the hell with both parties and form a third political party.

In the meantime, Democrats should focus on getting Betsy DeVos out of Trump's cabinet. I don't know if her slavish catering to the for-profit-college gang amounts to high crimes and misdemeanors for impeachment purposes, but this I know: Betsy has got to go.

Image credit: GQ Magazine


References

Douglas Belkin, Josh Mitchell, & Melissa Korn. House GOP to Propose Sweeping Changes to Higher EducationWall Street Journal, November 29, 2017.

Jillian Berman. House Republicans seek to roll back state laws protecting student loan borrowers. Marketwatch.com, December 7, 2017.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. GOP higher ed plan would end student loan forgiveness in repayment program, overhaul federal financial aidWashington Post, December 1, 2017.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Dems raise concern about possible links betwen DeVos and student debt collection agencyWashington Post, January 17, 2017.


Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Elizabeth Warren wants the Education Dept.'s use of earnings data investigated. Washington Post, January 2, 2018.

Paul Fain. Half of black student loan borrowers default, new federal data showInside Higher Ed, October 17, 2017.

Andrea Fuller. Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than BelievedWall Street Journal, January 18, 2017. 

Andrew Kreighbaum. DeVos on Higher Education Act Rewrite. Inside Higher Ed, December 15, 2017.

Jack Moore. Betsy DeVos may be Gearing Up to Screw Over Public Service Workers Who Expect Student Loan Forgiveness. GQ.com, August 3, 2017.

Representative John Delaney press releaseDelaney and Katko File Legislation to Help Americans Struggling with Student Loan Debt, May 5, 2017.

Senator Claire McCaskill Press Release, December 20, 2016. McCaskill-Warren GAO Report Shows Shocking Increase in Student Loan Debt Among Seniors.

Senator Elizabeth Warren Press Release, December 20, 2016. McCaskill-Warren GAO Report Shows Shocking Increase in Student Loan Debt Among Seniors

Steve Rhode. Dept of Ed Puts Fraud First Over Students and Common Sense. Getoutofdebtguy.com, January 3, 2017.

United States Government Accountability Office. Social Security Offsets: Improvement to Program Design Could Better Assist Older Student Borrowers with Obtaining Permitted Relief. Washington DC: Author, December 2016).

United States Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success. July 2012. Accessible at: http://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/for_profit_report/PartI.pdf













Tuesday, December 5, 2017

GOP proposal to abolish student-loan forgiveness is Looney Tunes

Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) looks like a kindly grandmother, and maybe she is. But she is also the Chair of the House Education Committee, and her committee's proposal for revising the Higher Education Act makes me wonder if she isn't a cartoon character from Looney Tunes.

Others have commented on the House Committee's proposal--Steve Rhode, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, and a team of Wall Street Journal writers--all insightful and trenchant. I will limit my observations to one component of the Republican proposal, which is nuts.

The House Education Committee proposes to eliminate all student-loan forgiveness in the law to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.  That's right--all student-loan forgiveness.

Currently, student borrowers can enroll in income-driven repayment plans that last from 20 to 25 years. At the end of that term, the remaining balance on a borrower's student loan is forgiven.

The Foxx committee's proposal eliminate those plans and replaces them with a plan that allows borrowers to make income-adjusted payments on their student loans until they they are paid off. Interest will accrue on these loans during the first ten years of repayment, when the loan balance is capped. But borrowers will continue making income-based payments on their loans until they are paid off or they die.

In short, if the GOP proposal becomes law in its present form (which seems unlikely), student debtors will have only two repayment options: the standard ten-year plan or an income-driven plan that doesn't end until the loans are repaid--which for most people will be never.

Representative Foxx's committee labeled this lunatic proposal the PROSPER ACT (Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity Through Education Reform), but a more accurate title would be the Slavery Reinstatement Act.

Let's look at the facts. Last year, 1.1 million student borrowers defaulted on their loans at the average rate of 3,000 per day. And that's just for 2016.

How many Americans defaulted on their loans in past years and never got them reinstated?  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that figure in its 2013 report, and it was 6.5 million.

Nearly six million more are in income-driven repayment plans, and several million borrowers are not making loan payments because they obtained economic hardship deferments. I estimate that from 18 to 20 million Americans are not paying down their student loans because they defaulted, obtained deferments or signed up for income-driven plans that only require them to make token repayments. Most of these people will never pay of their student loans.

And what's the GOP Education Committee's response to this catastrophe? An income-based repayment plan that never ends.

GOP advocates may argue that most borrowers in the proposed income-driven repayment plan will eventually pay off their loans. But that notion is delusional. Borrowers who can't pay off their student loans in ten years will likely never pay them off--no matter how long they make income-based payments.

The student-loan program in its present form is an unmitigated disaster. But Representative Foxx and her GOP cronies on the House Education Committee have done something I thought no one could do. They have come up with a plan that makes this disaster even worse.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC). We really stuck it to 'em this time, Paul.


References

Douglas Belkin, Josh Mitchell, & Melissa Korn. House GOP to Propose Sweeping Changes to Higher Education. Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2017.

Rohit Chopra. A Closer Look at the Trillion. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, August 5, 2013.