Last week, the New York Attorney General’s office reached a $9 million settlement with ACS – one of the country’s major student loan servicers – for systematically harming student loan borrowers by misinforming them, misleading them, misapplying payments, and more.
As far as I can tell, no one who works with student loan borrowers is surprised. The types of problems that the New York Attorney General’s office found are widespread, and by no means limited to ACS. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has reported extensively on rampant student loan servicing problems throughout the industry. Major lawsuits brought by other state attorney general’s offices are still ongoing against giants such as Navient and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority (PHEAA), which also runs FedLoan Servicing. Even smaller servicers such as ECSI have been under investigation.
Why is Student Loan Servicing a Mess?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a student loan expert) to understand what’s going on here: the federal government outsources the servicing and day-to-day operations of its entire student loan portfolio to a handful of private companies. And it pays them handsomely; one servicer, Nelnet, made more than $200 million in profits in 2016 alone. But there is virtually no oversight of these companies, and no accountability. It’s often up to individual states (usually via proactive attorney general offices) to try to protect borrowers, leading to a patchwork of enforcement actions that can sometimes get results (like we just saw in New York) but doesn’t always lead to systemwide change.