A “forbearance” allows student loan borrowers to temporarily postpone payments on their student loans. It’s a great – and important – option available to people who cannot afford their regular monthly payments, because it allows you to stay in good standing on your student loan and avoid default. But forbearance is not without its consequences, and when used improperly, it can cause major problems.Read More
2016 has been a big year in student loan law. We saw the release of Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), a new income-driven repayment plan for federal student loans, although its rollout and implementation were a bit of a mess. We saw a continued federal crackdown on predatory for-profit schools which resulted in the collapse of ITT Technical Institute. The Obama administration issued final rules on student loan forgiveness and debt relief for students who were defrauded by their colleges and universities. And finally, Donald Trump was elected to be the next President, leading to a great deal of uncertainty about the direction of student loan programs.
There’s never a dull moment when it comes to student loan issues, and as the year comes to a close, there’s still a lot going on. Here are some highlights. Read More
The ability to refinance student loans is a big topic right now. Currently, there are no options to refinance federal student loans at lower interest rates while remaining in the federal student aid system (which I believe is problematic). There are an increasing number of private student loan refinancing options available, but these programs are generally geared towards high-income borrowers and carry their own set of risks and concerns.
SoFi, one of the major new private student loan refinancing companies, recently announced a new refinancing program involving mortgages. Specifically, SoFi has partnered with Fannie Mae to offer a mortgage refinancing program that can also be used to refinance student loan debt. In other words, borrowers who own a home could potentially take out a new mortgage at a lower interest rate to pay off their current mortgage and their student loan debt, too.
This student loan-mortgage combo refinancing package has some clear benefits. First of all, because a mortgage is a “secured” debt (meaning the debt is backed by an asset – in this case, a home), there is less risk to the lender, and so they are willing to offer a lower interest rate. Furthermore, mortgage interest rates are at historic lows at the moment. So homeowners can take advantage of the current interest rate environment to lower their rates on both their mortgage debt and their student loan debt. Depending on the borrower, this could lead to substantial savings.
However, this type of refinancing product also carries some risk. First of all, if borrowers are refinancing federal student loans into any type of private student loan, they may forever lose out on the unique consumer protections offered by the federal student loan system such as income-driven repayment, profession-based loan forgiveness, and discharges upon death or disability. Even more problematic, however, is the fact that with this specific type of refinancing product, borrowers would be turning an “unsecured” debt (a student loan not backed by any asset) into a “secured” debt (a mortgage backed by the borrower’s home). While defaulting on federal and private student loans is no picnic, defaulting on a mortgage means the mortgage lender can foreclose on the home – meaning force a sale. Is the interest rate reduction worth that risk?
There’s no right or wrong answer here, but I expect these types of refinancing programs to grow in popularity as long as the housing market remains strong. Borrowers who may be in a position to refinance their student loans through these programs should fully understand the potential risks and rewards before entering into any contract.
There’s about $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loan debt in the United States. Most of that consists of federal student loans, but there are several hundred billion dollars in private student loans, as well.
Both federal student loan lenders and private student loan lenders charge interest – a percentage of the loan principal balance that acts as the cost of borrowing and a way of reducing risk to the lender. But borrowers have no real control over their interest rate and are largely stuck with it – federal student loan interest rates are set by Congress, and private student loan interest rates are set by the terms of the underlying loan contract. Given these limitations, the only option available to borrowers to lower their rates is to refinance their loans through a private lender (there is no federal student loan refinancing program that results in a lower interest rate). This is a major undertaking, and borrowers who are considering student loan refinancing should be aware of the potential risks and rewards.Read More
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has released a scathing new report on the student loan servicing system, with a particular focus on borrowers having difficulty accessing income-driven repayment plan programs like Income-Based Repayment (IBR), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), and Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE).
Based on complaints submitted by consumers, the CFPB is confirming what many of us already know: that student loan servicing problems impede the ability of student loan borrowers to access programs to repay their loans, and widespread bureaucratic delays and errors lead to negative consequences for people. The CFPB’s report echoes my recent article highlighting the widespread problems with one of the biggest federal student loan servicers, FedLoan Servicing/PHEAA.
Here are some of the highlights from the report: Read More
The presidential party conventions are over, and what seems like the “election that never ends” will actually be over in less than 100 days.
A lot is being said about this election – that it’s the most important in a generation; that it could fundamentally change the United States and its place in the world; that our core national values are at stake. All of this may be true, and there’s plenty of analysis out there about how big and important it is.
But as a student loan attorney, I can tell you without hesitation that this presidential election is going to have a real, tangible impact on millions of student loan borrowers. It’s going to have significant, lasting consequences. What these impacts and consequences look like, however, will depend primarily on who wins this November. If you have student loans, you should be paying attention. Here’s why:Read More
New York State recently implemented new, stronger laws regulating debt collectors – including debt collectors that pursue student loan borrowers. The changes go above and beyond what is required under federal debt collection laws and make New York one of the strongest states in the country for consumer protection.
Strengthening consumer debt collection laws is critical for student loan borrowers. Nearly one in four borrowers are delinquent or in default on their student loans, and that figure has been stubbornly persistent despite the addition of new repayment programs and increasing scrutiny on student loan servicing. It doesn’t help that federal student loan collectors have enormous powers to pursue defaulted borrowers. Private student loan lenders often engage in aggressive tactics as well, and may resort to filing lawsuits against student loan borrowers.
Here’s a summary of some of the major new rules in New York protecting student loan borrowers and other consumers:Read More
Representative Maxine Waters of California has introduced sweeping legislation designed to improve the credit reporting system for student loan borrowers and other consumers.
Credit reporting has become a major national issue. Even with critical consumer protection laws like the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), creditors and credit bureaus often still report inaccurate information about people’s credit histories. This can have serious and damaging consequences – credit reports can be the deciding factor in obtaining housing or employment, and negative information can make a huge difference. And even when negative events are accurately reported on people’s credit reports, their effects can be far-reaching and long-lasting, since damaging credit report information can remain on a consumer’s credit report for many years.
This new bill, called the “Comprehensive Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act,” is designed to increase protections for consumers and make credit reporting a bit more fair. Here are some of the highlights of the bill:Read More
I am thrilled to announce the release of my new book, The Student Loan Handbook for Law Students and Attorneys, published by the American Bar Association. It’s the first and only book of its kind: a concise student loan management guide geared specifically to lawyers and soon-to-be law grads.
Here’s what the ABA has to say about the book:
Getting student loans is remarkably easy – but dealing with student loan repayment can be a nightmare. And as student loan debt continues to grow and repayment programs get even more complicated, it’s no wonder that so many borrowers feel lost. The typical college graduate takes on an average of over $30,000 in student loans, and the numbers are even more staggering for law school graduates. Considering the combined cost of an undergraduate and law school education, the average law school debt burden can easily exceed $100,000. With the many challenges unique to new lawyers, it can be difficult to create an effective plan for managing student loans while studying for the bar exam, searching for a job, and adjusting to a new work environment.Read More
Many private student loan contracts have a tiny little clause, hidden away in the obscure depths of the fine print. It’s written in formal and somewhat vague language, but it basically says that if the cosigner or the borrower dies or declares bankruptcy, the entire balance of the private student loan is due immediately. This can be true even where the borrower (or cosigner) has been making regular, on-time monthly installment payments and can continue to do so.
I call this the “death and bankruptcy clause.” It’s essentially an automatic default: if you can’t pay the entire loan balance right then, the “accelerated” loan will go into default and collections. Sometimes, borrowers are not even notified of the situation until the loan has been placed with a third-party debt collector and has been reported to national credit bureaus as charged-off or defaulted.
As you can imagine, this leads to terrible situations. Imagine a borrower who has a good job and is making regular payments, when the cosigner (perhaps a well-meaning family member who got into trouble, or an ex-spouse who the borrower hasn’t heard from in years) declares bankruptcy. Suddenly, the student loan is in default. Or how about the situation where the borrower’s mother dies – mom is a cosigner on the borrower’s private student loan, and hasn’t really had much to do with the loan since she originally signed for it. But now, the borrower is going to have to deal with default and a collections agency, on top of the grief of losing a parent.
Absurd, isn’t it?
Well, this little clause from hell might be getting extinguished.Read More