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  • District Court rules student loan servicer must turn over Department of Education borrower records to Bureau

    Courts

    On August 10, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ordered a loan servicer hired by the Department of Education (Department) to service loans it owns to turn over certain Department-owned student loan borrower documents to the CFPB, which relate to the servicer’s collection and management of its federal student loan borrowers’ payments. During the course of the ongoing litigation (see previous InfoBytes coverage here), the servicer withheld the documents in discovery on the grounds that they belonged to the Department and were therefore protected from disclosure by the Privacy Act. Moreover, the servicer asserted that the dispute was really between the Bureau and the Department because, in order to turn over the documents, the servicer would first have to obtain permission from the Department.

    However, according to the opinion issued by the court, turning over the documents would not violate the defendants’ agreement with the Department or violate federal privacy law. Specifically, the court stated that “there is no dispute that the borrower documents at issue are in the possession of [d]efendants, even if, as [d]efendants assert, they are owned by the Department,” and as such, under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “requests can be made for production of documents, electronically stored information, and things in ‘the responding party’s possession, custody or control.’” Furthermore, the court stated that “the Privacy Act’s general prohibition on disclosure of records . . . does not create a qualified discovery privilege” and cannot be used as a means to “block the normal course of court proceedings, including court-ordered discovery.”

    Courts Student Lending CFPB Department of Education

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  • Illinois amends law to clarify that debt collection law firms are not student loan servicers

    State Issues

    On July 27, Illinois’s Governor signed HB 4397, which amends the state’s Student Loan Servicing Rights Act to specify that the definition of “student loan servicer” does not include a law firm or a licensed attorney that is collecting a post-default debt. The amended law is effective December 31.

    State Issues Student Lending State Legislation Student Loan Servicer Consumer Finance

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  • Department of Education issues notice of proposed rulemaking to provide borrower defense provisions

    Lending

    On July 25, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) issued a press release announcing a notice of proposed rulemaking that would apply to students who qualify for loan discharges in circumstances where a borrower was significantly misled or defrauded by the higher education institution they attended. Provisions under the proposed Institutional Accountability regulations include:

    • instituting a “borrower defense to repayment adjudication process that is clear, consistent and fair to borrowers who were harmed by institutional misconduct”;
    • replacing the existing state standard for adjudicating claims with a federal standard to provide a more expeditious review of student claims;
    • encouraging students to seek remedies directly from institutions when misrepresentation has occurred;
    • expanding the “closed school loan discharge” eligibility time period to 180 days from 120 days for students who have left an institution prior to its closure;
    • ensuring that any mandatory arbitration requirements or class action lawsuits restrictions are explained in plain language to enable students to make informed enrollment decisions; and
    • preventing guaranty agencies from charging borrowers a fee on defaulted loans if the loan goes into repayment within 60 days.

    The Department also seeks public comment on whether borrower defense to repayment claims should be limited only to students in default instead of also allowing students to apply for forgiveness who remain in good financial standing. Additionally, the Department seeks comments on whether students should be held to a higher standard through the showing of “clear and convincing” evidence, rather than the lower legal “preponderance of the evidence” standard. The new plan would affect students who take out loans beginning July 1, 2019. Comments on the proposal are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Lending Department of Education Student Lending

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  • 6th Circuit affirms dismissal of certain TCPA class action claims, reverses decision on survivability issue

    Courts

    On July 20, in a matter of first impression for the Courts of Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held that claims under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) survive the death of a plaintiff and may be brought by a successor in interest. In so doing, the court reversed the lower court’s decision that held the opposite and remanded the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. The 6th Circuit opined that the lower court erred in holding that TCPA was penal rather than remedial in nature, and thus could not survive a plaintiff’s death. “The purpose of the TCPA [is] to redress individual wrongs felt by individual consumers . . . [and] recovery under the statute runs to the harmed individual and not the public,” both of which suggest that TCPA claims were remedial, and thus survive a party’s death. Separately, the court affirmed the district court’s order granting a motion to sever and motion to dismiss.

    Courts TCPA Student Lending Servicing Appellate Sixth Circuit

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  • CFPB studies how borrowers transition out of student loan debt

    Federal Issues

    On June 29, the CFPB released a new Data Point report from the Office of Research titled, “Final Student Loan Payments and Broader Household Borrowing,” which examines how student borrowers transition out of their student loan debt and repayment patterns are interconnected with general household finances. Among other things, the report found (i) 94 percent of final payments exceed the scheduled payment, and the median final payment made is 55 times larger than the scheduled payment; (ii) student borrowers who pay off loans early are 31 percent more likely to take out their first mortgage in the year following the student loan payoff than in the previous year; and (iii) student borrowers who pay off loans on schedule are likely to use new monthly savings to pay down other debts. The CFPB’s findings suggest (i) the timing of student loan payoffs may be determined by life events such as increases in wealth and household formations, and (ii) continuing to study student loan payoffs may help predict the evolution of the student loan market.

    Federal Issues CFPB Research Student Lending Consumer Finance

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  • District Court grants preliminary approval of TCPA class action settlement

    Courts

    On June 25, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an order preliminarily approving a class action settlement between class members and a student loan management enterprise (defendants) accused of violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by using an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) to place calls to cellular telephones without receiving prior express written consent. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants used a phone number previously used by the Department of Education (Department) to contact borrowers and which was listed on the Department’s forms, website, and billing statements, so that when class members returned calls under the impression that they were contacting the Department, the defendants collected and stored the phone numbers. The plaintiff further alleged that the stored numbers were used by the defendants to place calls using an ATDS for the purpose of “mislead[ing] class members into paying for student loan forgiveness and payment programs that were otherwise offered for free by the federal government.” According to the order, preliminarily approval of the settlement prevents possible further litigation and, given the current “‘wind-down’ mode” of one of the defendants, prevents a risk that class members seeking relief would be unable to collect on a large judgment. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants have agreed to establish a $1.1 million settlement fund, as well as to injunctive relief that prohibits the defendants from using an ATDS to contact individuals without first receiving prior written consent.

    Courts Student Lending Settlement TCPA Class Action

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  • CA Attorney General secures $67 million in debt relief for former students of defunct for-profit school

    State Issues

    On June 13, the Superior Court of the State of California ordered a California-based student loan provider to halt all debt collection efforts and forgive the balances on over 30,000 private student loans, which were used for programs at a now defunct for-profit college. According to the announcement by the California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, the debt relief totals $67 million for the former students. The complaint, filed on the same day as the order, alleges the company engaged in unlawful debt collection practices, including sending borrowers notices threatening legal action, to collect on the student loans at issue. In addition to the debt forgiveness, the order requires the company to (i) refund all payments made on the student loans by California-residents after August 1, 2017; (ii) refund payments made prior to August 1, 2017 by borrowers who received allegedly unlawful debt collection notices; and (iii) delete negative credit reporting associated with the student loans for all of the for-profit students around the country.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, in a class action filed by former students, the Department of Education was recently barred by a preliminary injunction from continuing collection efforts on student loans used for the same defunct for-profit college.

    State Issues State Attorney General Student Lending Debt Cancellation Debt Collection Consumer Finance Lending Courts

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  • Court approves $12 million settlement between FTC and student debt relief company

    Courts

    On June 8, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California approved an order requiring an owner and his multiple student debt relief companies (defendants) to pay almost $12 million to settle allegations that the defendants violated the FTC Act and Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) when marketing and selling student debt relief services. As part of a coordinated effort between the FTC and state law enforcement called Operation Game of Loans, the FTC filed a complaint in September 2017 alleging the defendants, among other things, charged upfront and monthly fees to enroll students in free government programs to manage student loan debt, but did not perform any services. Additionally, the FTC alleged that the defendants marketed themselves as associated with the Department of Education and called consumers listed on the Do Not Call Registry. Under the settlement order, in addition to the nearly $12 million fine, the defendants are permanently banned from: (i) advertising, marketing, promoting, offering, or selling debt relief or credit repair products or services, or assisting others in such activities; (ii) misrepresenting or assisting others in misrepresenting information relating to any products or services and, specifically, financial products or services; (iii) making any misleading or unsubstantiated representation or assisting others in making any such representation about the benefits, performance, or result of any financial product or service; and (iv) engaging in any unlawful telemarketing practices. The defendants neither admit nor deny any of the FTC’s allegations.

    Courts Consumer Finance FTC Federal Issues Enforcement Student Lending Debt Relief

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  • FTC settles with two student loan debt relief companies

    Federal Issues

    On May 31, as part of a coordinated effort between the FTC and state law enforcement called Operation Game of Loans, the FTC announced settlements with two student loan debt relief companies. According to the FTC, the settlements resolve claims that the companies violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by illegally charging consumers upfront fees and falsely promising to reduce or eliminate their student loan debt. The first settlement is the result of a lawsuit filed by the FTC in 2017, alleging that the company would enroll consumers in debt relief programs with an upfront fee and subsequent monthly payments, but would not fulfill promises to apply the payments to the consumers’ student loans. In addition to a $17 million fine, which will be partially suspended if the defendants turn over substantially all assets worth more than $4 million, the settlement bars the defendants from debt relief and credit repair activities in the future.

    The second settlement also results from a 2017 complaint by the FTC alleging that a Los Angeles-based company defrauded consumers through programs offering mortgage assistance and student debt relief. According to the FTC, the company falsely promised distressed homeowners assistance in preventing foreclosure and promised student borrowers reduced monthly payments or loan forgiveness purportedly through the Department of Education. The $9 million settlement, which will be partially suspended once defendants turn over all assets worth $54,000 because of their inability to pay, also bans defendants from participating in debt relief and telemarketing activities in the future.

    For more InfoBytes coverage on Operation Game of Loans see here.

    Federal Issues Consumer Finance FTC Debt Relief Enforcement Student Lending

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  • New Jersey Attorney General seeks to partner with Department of Education on for-profit investigations

    State Issues

    On May 17, the New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, sent a letter to the Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, regarding concerns that the Department of Education (Department) is no longer investigating fraudulent activities at for-profit colleges. Grubir cited work that State Attorneys General did with the Department during the previous administration regarding these investigations and noted that the cooperation between his office and the Department has “ground to a halt.” The letter concludes with Grubir requesting the Department continue several investigations that are in progress and offers to assist in sharing information and supplementing resources or, if the Department chooses not to pursue the investigations, to allow the New Jersey Attorney General to “pick up where [the Department] leave[s] off.”

    State Issues State Attorney General Department of Education For-Profit College Student Lending

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