Settlement over ‘predatory’ practices to erase student debt for over 1,400 Washingtonians

Jan 13, 2022, 11:22 AM | Updated: 12:31 pm
Attorney generals Josh Shapiro, Bob Ferguson, and Rob Bonta announce the $1.85 billion settlement against Navient (courtesy TVW)
(courtesy TVW)

Navient, formerly one of the nation’s largest student loan servicers, will pay $45 million in restitution to the state of Washington in a settlement with state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

The attorney general asserts that Navient engaged in deceptive and unfair lending practices, which harmed borrowers from Washington.

Washington state, along with Illinois, were the first to obtain judgement against Navient, the attorney general’s office reports.

As part of the settlement, the student loan provider will extend $35 million in debt relief, erasing remaining debt for more than 1,400 Washingtonians who took out certain private loans between 2002 and 2014, an average of $25,000 per person.

Furthermore, they will pay $2.3 million in restitution to approximately 8,900 Washington borrowers who enrolled in forbearance for an “extended period of time” between 2009 and 2017. They are also required to pay Washington state $7 million to cover the costs associated with the attorney general’s investigation and litigation.

No action is required for those affected by the settlement. Those eligible for restitution will receive postage from the attorney general’s office “in the next few months,” a press release from Ferguson’s office reads.

“Higher education should not equal a lifelong debt sentence — and student loan corporations do not have the right to deceive Washingtonians in order to maximize their profits,” Ferguson wrote. “We are holding the country’s largest student loan servicer accountable, achieving hard-fought corporate reforms, and helping repair the damage they did to Washington borrowers. We will continue fighting to prevent the financial abuse of Washington students overburdened with debt.”

Draze: Federal student loan repayment pause is a ‘pain killer, not a treatment’

The allegations of unfair lending practices largely relate to forbearance: Ferguson states that Navient “unfairly pushed borrowers into forbearance,” forcing borrowers into accepting high interest accumulation without sufficient education of the benefits of income-driven repayment plans. When payments resumed, accumulated interest would be added to the principle, whereas income driven plans offer the possibility of loan forgiveness after 20 to 25 years of qualifying payments, which can be as low as $0 per month.

The lawsuit alleges other illegal business practices, including giving “predatory loans” to students attending for-profit colleges with low graduation rates, misapplying borrower payments, and training agents to provide misleading information related to payment schedules.

The initial lawsuits were filed in conjunction with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul in January 2017, and investigations from Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, Massachusetts, Ohio and North Carolina, as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau followed. Navient has agreed to pay $1.85 billion among them.

Navient, the Sallie Mae offshoot that was once the nation’s largest student loan servicer, began transferring $5.6 million in loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education to a company named Maximus, which will service the loans under the brand “AidVantage.”

“The company’s decision to resolve these matters, which were based on unfounded claims, allows us to avoid the additional burden, expense, time and distraction to prevail in court,” wrote Navient’s Chief Legal Officer Mark Heleen in a news release. “Navient is and has been continually focused on helping student loan borrowers understand and select the right payment options to fit their needs. In fact, we’ve driven up income-driven repayment plan enrollment and driven down default rates, and every year, hundreds of thousands of borrowers we support successfully pay off their student loans.”

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Settlement over ‘predatory’ practices to erase student debt for over 1,400 Washingtonians