There’s been a lot of uncertainty since the election regarding what the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress may have in mind for student loan borrowers. During the past few weeks, I’ve been carefully watching public statements, investigating proposed appointments, and speaking with other advocates and experts. While everything at this point is still speculation, I think we’re beginning to see some clues as to where student loan reform may be going in the next few years, and who may be most at risk from potential negative consequences.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.
It’s been two weeks since the election, and there’s still much uncertainty about what the consequences of the election will be for student loan borrowers. While Hillary Clinton had mapped out a series of student loan reform proposals, Donald Trump has been far less specific about how he plans to deal with the $1.4 trillion in outstanding student debt.
In this time of uncertainty, and in keeping with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I think it’s a good time to take stock of what we have and be grateful. If you follow this blog, you know that I frequently write about problems and deficiencies with the the student loan system. And for good reason – student loans are a mess, with inefficient servicing, damaging debt collection, and the potential for life-altering negative consequences for borrowers. There’s a lot to be angry about, and a lot that should change.
But, there are also good elements of the student loan system – programs and laws that keep people in good standing, allow them to repay their loans fairly, and protect them from abuses. As we press forward into this period of change and uncertainty, we may have to do some hard work to preserve what we have.Read More
It’s the political upset of the century, and this election is going to be studied by analysts and political scientists for years. But the reality is clear: Donald Trump has been elected the next President of the United States, and both houses of Congress will remain firmly in Republican control for the next two (and likely four) years. This is starkly different than what was expected by the political class just 48 hours ago – a Hillary Clinton win, with the Senate likely flipping to Democratic control.
A lot is being written right now about this election, and what it might mean for the country. I have seen very little, however, on what the election might mean for student loan borrowers. I’ve been quite clear that this election was going to be hugely consequential for student loan borrowers, regardless of who won. This is certainly still true today. And now we have to start thinking about what may be next for people with student loans.
Below are my candid thoughts on what I think student loan borrowers may be looking at over the next four years. I should be clear – while I believe my assessments below are consistent with the rhetoric and with the past actions of our next executive and legislative leaders, absolutely nothing is concrete at this time. There is a lot we just don’t know – and can’t know – at this early juncture. With that caveat, read on. Read More
As you may recall, thousands of borrowers began petitioning the federal government to forgive their federal student loans following the collapse of the for-profit college chain, Corinthian Colleges. Students argued that they should not be held responsible for student loans issued by a predatory company that took advantage of people and actively misled them. The students requested student loan relief and forgiveness under a little-known contractual and regulatory clause called “Defense to Repayment.” Since then, ITT Technical Institute has also collapsed, and many ITT graduates are requesting similar forms of relief.
The Dept. of Education had no formalized procedure for addressing Defense to Repayment, and so it began a long bureaucratic process to implement new rules and standards so that officials can determine who may be entitled to relief. After months of work, the Dept. of Education finally issued its new rules. Here are the highlights:Read More
Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans are a true lifeboat for millions of federal student loan borrowers struggling to repay their student loans. The programs provide uniquely-tailored monthly payments for borrowers based on income and family size, with a loan forgiveness safety net at the conclusion of the repayment term (20 or 25 years, depending on the specific plan). For many student loan borrowers, an IDR plan is the only thing standing between them and default.
The problem, though, is that the IDR system is a mess. For one thing, we have a confusing menu of individual IDR plans – there’s Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR), Income-Based Repayment (IBR), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), and Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE). Each plan has its own formula, unique eligibility criteria, and strange programmatic quirks. Figuring out what plan is right for you – and whether you should switch – can be a daunting task.
The complexities of IDR programs don’t make the struggling student loan servicing system any better, either. The CFPB recently released a report slamming student loan servicers for IDR-related processing delays and mistakes. Borrowers are frequently getting bumped off of IDR plans through no fault of their own, leading to serious negative consequences.
I think the current system is just not sustainable on a long term basis, even as more borrowers rely on these IDR programs to stay afloat. Things must change. Well, I think we’re starting to see the beginnings of reform.Read More
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) is a relatively new federal agency tasked with overseeing financial markets and regulating their impacts on everyday consumers. The CFPB “protects consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices” and it “takes action against companies that break the law.”
The CFPB made the news recently for hitting Wells Fargo with a massive financial penalty; Wells Fargo defrauded its customers by setting up thousands of bogus bank accounts and lines of credit. The CFPB has also come down hard on student loan servicers and debt collectors, most recently slamming the federal student loan income-driven repayment system in a comprehensive report just a few months ago.
This week, however, the media has been reporting on a federal appeals court case involving the CFPB. Some media outlets erroneously declared that the court found that the CFPB was “unconstitutional.” Hysteria quickly followed. Does this mean the CFPB has been gutted? Will consumers and student loan borrowers no longer be protected? Is this a big win for big business over the little guy?Read More
Attorney Adam S. Minsky has been selected as a Massachusetts Super Lawyer “Rising Star” for the second consecutive year, in recognition of his groundbreaking work helping student loan borrowers. This distinction is only awarded to the top 2.5% of attorneys in the state, and reflects Attorney Minsky’s expertise and commitment. His name will be published in Super Lawyers magazine and Boston magazine in November.
This month, I’m wrapping up two cases that involved major federal student loan consolidation errors by the U.S. Dept. of Education and an assortment of student loan guaranty agencies, servicers, and debt collectors. These errors were massive, complex, and entirely not the borrower’s fault. They also took months of effort and coordination to resolve. I am ecstatic that we obtained good outcomes for my clients and got the errors fixed, but unfortunately these problems are not exactly uncommon. It really shouldn’t be this difficult for student loan borrowers, but sometimes, it is.
If you’re thinking about consolidating your federal student loans through the federal Direct consolidation program, there are potentially many benefits: streamlined repayment (one combined loan, one servicer, one monthly bill); simplified interest (if you are converting variable-rate loans to the fixed, weighted-average interest rate provided by the Direct consolidation program); default resolution if you are including defaulted federal student loans in the consolidation; and conversion to the Direct loan program through which you can access some additional student loan forgiveness and repayment programs.
But when things go wrong – especially due to mistakes outside of your control – it can be a mess to untangle. Here are some things to watch out for.Read More
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