In First Move on Student Loans, Administration Announces Fee Hike on Struggling Borrowers

Education Department to Allow Debt Collectors to Charge 16% Default Penalty

The Consumer Federation of America press release

Washington, D.C. – In its first major policy decision on student loan issues, the U.S. Department of Education took action to give agencies collecting on certain defaulted student debt the right to charge a 16% fee to borrowers who promptly seek to back their loans. The action reverses previous guidance that forbid fees that lead to ballooning borrower costs.

“The Administration’s first move on the student loan default crisis will do nothing to stop the tidal wave of defaults that is sweeping across the nation,” said Rohit Chopra, Senior Fellow at the Consumer Federation of America and the former Student Loan Ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “With more than 3,000 Americans defaulting on a student loan every day, this just adds insult to injury.”

Current guidance forbids the guaranty agencies that collect on defaulted debt to tack on large collection fees if the student loan borrower makes – and honors – a repayment arrangement within 60 days of the notice of default. Federal student loans typically enter a default status when borrowers are 270 days late on their payments. Due to servicing mistakes, many borrowers may be learning about problems with their loan for the first time. These agencies are entitled to “reasonable” collection costs under existing law, but hefty fees were considered inappropriate for borrowers who promptly seek to address their default.

The action applies only to borrowers who took out loans from banks and other institutions, not Federal Direct Loans.

One of these agencies, USA Funds, fought the Education Department for the right to charge large collection fees to these borrowers who quickly make arrangements to get out of default.

Last week, the Consumer Federation of America released an analysis that showed that 1.1 million Americans defaulted on a federal student loan in 2016. Americans are now in default on $137 billion in federal student loans.

The Consumer Federation of America is an association of more than 250 non-profit consumer groups that, since 1968, has sought to advance the consumer interest through research, education, and advocacy.

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Link for managing student loans

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