Showing posts with label student loan ombudsman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label student loan ombudsman. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Student Loan Ombudsman at CFPB Can’t Take the BS Anymore. Quits in Scathing Letter Telling Director Mulvaney He Sucks. Essay by Steve Rhode

By Steve Rhode

Seth Frotman, an Assistant Director and Student Loan Ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney to shove it and quit in an honest resignation. His experience inside the slowly gutted consumer protection agency was enough to say he’s mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

Frotman’s resignation letter said, “It is with great regret that I tender my resignation as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Student Loan Ombudsman. It has been the honor of a lifetime to spend the past seven years working to protect American consumers; first under Holly Petraeus as the Bureau defended America’s military families from predatory lenders, for-profit colleges, and other unscrupulous businesses, and most recently leading the Bureau’s work on behalf of the 44 million Americans struggling with student loan debt. However, after 10 months under your leadership, it has become clear that consumers no longer have a strong, independent Consumer Bureau on their side.


Each year, tens of millions of student loan borrowers struggle to stay afloat. For many, the CFPB has served as a lifeline — cutting through red tape, demanding systematic reforms when borrowers are harmed, and serving as the primary financial regulator tasked with holding student loan companies accountable when they break the law.

The hard work and commitment of the immensely talented Bureau staff has had a tremendous impact on students and their families. Together, we returned more than $750 million to harmed student loan borrowers in communities across the country and halted predatory practices that targeted millions of people in pursuit of the American Dream.

The challenges of student debt affect borrowers young and old, urban and rural, in professions ranging from infantrymen to clergymen. Tackling these challenges should know no ideology or political persuasion. I had hoped to continue this critical work in partnership with you and your staff by using our authority under law to stand up for student loan borrowers trapped in a broken system. Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting. Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.


As the Bureau official charged by Congress with overseeing the student loan market, I have seen how
the current actions being taken by Bureau leadership are hurting families. In recent months, the Bureau has made sweeping changes, including:

Undercutting enforcement of the law. It is clear that the current leadership of the Bureau has abandoned its duty to fairly and robustly enforce the law. The Bureau’s new political leadership has repeatedly undercut and undermined career CFPB staff working to secure relief for consumers. These actions will affect millions of student loan borrowers, including those harmed by the company that dominates this market. In addition, when the Education Department unilaterally shut the door to routine CFPB oversight of the largest student loan companies, the Bureau’s current leadership folded to political pressure. By undermining the Bureau’s own authority to oversee the student loan market, the Bureau has failed borrowers who depend on independent oversight to halt bad practices and bring accountability to the student loan industry.

Undermining the Bureau’s independence. The current leadership of the Bureau has made its priorities clear — it will protect the misguided goals of the Trump Administration to the detriment of student loan borrowers. For nearly seven years, I was proud to be part of an agency that served no party and no administration; the Consumer Bureau focused solely on doing what was right for American consumers. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Recently, senior leadership at the Bureau blocked efforts to call attention to the ways in which the actions of this administration will hurt families ripped off by predatory for-profit schools. Similarly, senior leadership also blocked attempts to alert the Department of Education to the far-reaching harm borrowers will face due to the Department’s unprecedented and illegal attempts to preempt state consumer laws and shield student loan companies from accountability for widespread abuses. At every turn, your political appointees have silenced warnings by those of us tasked with standing up for service members and students.

Shielding bad actors from scrutiny. The current leadership of the Bureau has turned its back on young people and their financial futures. Where we once found efficient and innovative ways to collaborate across government to protect consumers, the Bureau is now content doing the bare minimum for them while simultaneously going above and beyond to protect the interests of the biggest financial companies in America. For example, late last year, when new evidence came to light showing that the nation’s largest banks were ripping off students on campuses across the country by saddling them with legally dubious account fees, Bureau leadership suppressed the publication of a report prepared by Bureau staff. When pressed by Congress about this, you chose to leave students vulnerable to predatory practices and deny any responsibility to bring this information to light.

American families need an independent Consumer Bureau to look out for them when lenders push products they know cannot be repaid, when banks and debt collectors conspire to abuse the courts and force families out of their homes, and when student loan companies are allowed to drive millions of Americans to financial ruin with impunity.

In my time at the Bureau I have traveled across the country, meeting with consumers in over three dozen states, and with military families from over 100 military units. I have met with dozens of state law enforcement officials and, more importantly, I have heard directly from tens of thousands of individual student loan borrowers.

A common thread ties these experiences together — the American Dream under siege, told through the heart wrenching stories of individuals caught in a system rigged to favor the most powerful financial interests. For seven years, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fought to ensure these families received a fair shake as they as they strived for the American Dream.

Sadly, the damage you have done to the Bureau betrays these families and sacrifices the financial futures of millions of Americans in communities across the country.

For these reasons, I resign effective September 1, 2018. Although I will no longer be Student Loan Ombudsman, I remain committed to fighting on behalf of borrowers who are trapped in a broken student loan system.

Sincerely,
Seth Frotman
Assistant Director 5 Student Loan Ombudsman
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – Source

Steve Rhode, the Get Out of Debt Guy



`*****

This essay by Steve Rhode originally appeared on August 27, 2018 at Getoutofdebtguy.org I highly recommend Mr. Rhode's blog site--a robust ongoing commentary on consumer debt issues.



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.




Thursday, October 17, 2013

Surprise, Surpise! Student Loan Ombudsman Reports Problems in Private Student Loan Industry

 I admit that I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the reports coming out of the Student Loan Ombudsman's office. Rohit Chopra, the Student Loan Ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is doing good work.  Mr. Chopra's reports on student loans are clear, concise, and helpful.

Mr. Chopra's latest report, released this week, focuses on complaints against the private student loan industry.  About 13.7 million people have outstanding balances on private student loans, which total well over $100 billion.  Students who attend for-profit colleges are most likely to take out private student loans. In 2008, almost half of all undergraduate students who attended a for-profit college (46 percent) had at least one private student loan.

Last year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau received 3,800 complaints against private student-loan lenders, which is a highly concentrated industry. Almost all the complaints were made against eight private lenders, including Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, and KeyBank.  Almost half of the complaints were made against one lender--Sallie Mae.

Here are some of the chief complaints that student-loan borrowers reported:

  • Borrowers had trouble paying off their loans early.  They had difficulty getting an accurate payoff number. And when they attempted to pay their loans off early by making additional payments, these additional payments were often not properly credited to them.

  • Late fees were charged even when borrowers paid their monthly payments on time.

  • When borrowers ran into financial trouble and only made partial payments, these payments were credited to maximize the penalties against them.
A few comments. First, some private student-loan lenders are getting out of the business, and that is a good thing.  For Example, JP Morgan Chase, which once loaned billions of dollars a year to student borrowers, announced last month that it shutting down its private student-loan operation.

Second, there is no valid reason why private student-loan borrowers should be having the problems that the CFPB reported. People with home mortgages have no difficulty paying off their loans early by making extra payments and they have no difficulty getting an early payoff amount.  So why are student-loan borrowers having a problem?  My guess is that the banking industry runs its student-loan operations to maximize profits and has no interest in helping their borrowers pay off their loans early.

Third--and most importantly, the banking industry got its toadies in Congress to amend the Bankruptcy Code in 2005 to make private student loans as difficult to discharge in bankruptcy as federal student loans.  Several respected commentators have recommended that this provision be repealed.

If Congress would repeal its 2005 Bankruptcy Code provision and allow distressed student-loan borrowers to discharge their private student loans in bankruptcy like any other unsecured debt, the private student-loan industry would disappear almost immediately.

The banks are in this business because it is very profitable, and their borrowers have almost no access to bankruptcy or to effective consumer protections.  Students who attend for-profit colleges are most vulnerable to these voracious institutions. I say it is time to shut this pernicious industry down.

References

Rohit Chopra. Annual Report on the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman. Washington, DC: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. October 16, 2013. Accessible at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/reports/annual-report-of-the-cfpb-student-loan-ombudsman/

Alan Collinge. Commentary of the Day-May 2, 2012: What Congress Can do to Fix the Student Loan Crisis. Posted on Irascible Professor Website. accessible at: http://irascibleprofessor.com/comments-05-02-12.htm

Kimberly Hefling. Lender problems target student loan complaints. The Baton Rouge) Advocate, October 17, 2013, p. 8A.
JP Morgan Chase to stop making student loans. USA Today, September 5, 2013. Accessible at:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2013/09/05/jpmorgan-chase-student-loans/2772509/

JP Morgan Chase to stop making student loans. USA Today, September 5, 2013. Accessible at:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2013/09/05/jpmorgan-chase-student-loans/2772509/

Private Student Loans. Finaid web site. Accessible at:  http://www.finaid.org/loans/privatestudentloans.phtml

Private Student Loans. Report to Report to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services, and the House of Representatives Committee on
Education and the Workforce. August 29, 2012. Accessible at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201207_cfpb_Reports_Private-Student-Loans.pdf

Private Loans: Facts and Trends. Report updated in July 2011. Project on Student Debt. Accessible at: http://projectonstudentdebt.org/files/pub/private_loan_facts_trends.pdf

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Like Rock and Roll, The Federal Student Loan Program Will Never Die. But's Let Try to Make It Smaller

Rock and Roll is here to stay.
It will never die.
It was meant to be that way.
Though I don't know why.
                                                                                 Danny & the Juniors
As Danny and the Juniors so eloquently reminded us, some American phenomena are perpetual and will never die. Rock and Roll falls in this category, and so does the Federal Student Loan Program.
 According to Rohit Chopra, the Student Loan Ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, total student-loan indebtedness under the  Federal Student Loan Program grew by 20 percent in just 18 months!   Total indebtedness now tops out at $ 1.01 trillion.   In addition, total student-loan indebtedness to private lenders is $165 billion.  So--total student-loan debt now approaches $1.2 trillion. 
 
By the way, how would you like to have Rohit Chopra's job--Student Loan Ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?  It must be something like a medic's position in a World War II concentration camp--handing out aspirins to inmates slated for oblivion.
Turn out the lights. The party's over.
I'm a realist. I know the federal student loan program cannot be dismantled.  The American higher education community absolutely depends on it, and most for-profit colleges could not exist without it.  The for-profit colleges have powerful lobbyists, and we will never get the for-profit colleges out of the feeding trough.
 
Nevertheless, let's at least try to impose some level of decency on this train wreck of public policy.
First of all, let's treat the wounded.   Let's stop garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student-loan debtors who  defaulted on their loans.  Let's give student-loan debtors reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts.  Let's make all student loans subject to state consumer-protection laws so injured students can sue college and universities who entice people to take out student loans through fraud or misrepresentation.
 
Second, let's try to stop the growth rate in student-loan indebtedness by encouraging low-income students to attend community colleges that have low tuition rates instead of borrowing money to attend more prestigious institutions. Because you know what? If you are poor you shouldn't be borrowing money to attend Harvard; and besides you probably wouldn't like it anyway.
 
Third, let's crack down on colleges and universities that raise their tuition every year because they can't control their costs.  It is a scandal that university presidents like Ohio State University's Gordon Gee and New York University's John Sexton make more than $1 million dollars a year (far more actually) while college students across the country are borrowing more and more money every year to attend college.
 
American college students are tapped out.  According to Ombudsman Chopra's remarks, people with student-loan debt are now less likely than other people to have home mortgages or outstanding auto loans.  Why?  Because many people are now so burdened with college-loan debt that they can't participate in the consumer economy--they can't buy homes or purchase cars.
 
For years now, colleges and universities have been singing a variation of Rock and Roll is Here to Stay; they think the student loan program was meant to be this way and will never die. But if we don't reform this program soon, higher education will be singing a different tune, this one by Willie Nelson.
"Turn out the lights. The party's over."
 
 
References
Rohit Chopra. Student debt swells, federal loans now top a trillion. Excerpted remarks from speech given on July 17, 2013.  Accessible at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/speeches/student-debt-swells-federal-loans-now-top-a-trillion/