More Fees for Student Loan Borrowers

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos listens at left as President Donald Trump speaks during a round table discussion at Saint Andrew Catholic School, Friday, March 3, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Last week, the Trump administration issued its first policy on student loans.

As a result, loan guarantee agencies that collect on defaulted debt can charge borrowers who have defaulted on their federal student loans fees up to 16% on their student loan balances – even when these borrowers promise to make good on their student loans within 60 days.

The action comes days after a Consumer Federation of America report that showed that 1.1 million borrowers defaulted on their federal student loans last year.

Here is what you need to know, whether it impacts you and what you can do about it.

What Happened

In a two-page “Dear Colleague” letter, the U.S. Department of Education has asked guarantee agencies to disregard a July 2015 memorandum issued by the Obama administration that forbid the agencies from charging up to 16% of the principal and interest accrued on student loans if the borrower entered the government’s student loan rehabilitation within 60 days of default.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos urging the Education Department to uphold the Obama administration’s guidance on collection fees, they said resulted in an “unnecessary financial burden.”

 

“Congress gave borrowers in default on their federal student loans the one-time opportunity to rehabilitate their loans out of default and re-enter repayment,” Warren and Bonamici wrote. “It is inconsistent with the goal of rehabilitation to return borrowers to repayment with such large fees added.”

The Obama memorandum pertained to federal loans issued by banks prior to 2010, known as the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. Since 2010, all federal student loans have been issued only by the federal government.

The memorandum was issued after the 7th circuit court of appeals asked the U.S. Department of Education for guidance in a lawsuit against United Student Aid Funds (USA Funds), which challenged the assessment of collection costs. Bryana Bible, a student loan borrower, sued USA Funds after being charged $4,547 in collection costs on a loan on which she defaulted in 2012. Although Bible signed a rehabilitation agreement with USA Funds to set a reduced payment schedule, USA Funds charged her the fees.

The U.S. Department of Education sided with Bible in an amicus brief, which led USA Funds to sue the Education Department in 2015. USA Funds paid $23 million to settle a class action lawsuit related to the Bible case without admitting any wrongdoing.

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