Consumer bureau sues nation's biggest student loan company

Consumer bureau sues nation's biggest student loan company
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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is suing the nation’s largest student loan company, charging it used “shortcuts and deception” to make borrowers pay more.

The regulator said Wednesday that Navient, formerly part of Sallie Mae, systematically worked to ensure millions of borrowers paid more than they needed to. Specifically, the CFPB said that the company regularly dragged its feet in helping clients successfully enroll in payment plans, giving them bad information and incorrectly processing payments.

“For years, Navient failed consumers who counted on the company to help give them a fair chance to pay back their student loans,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “At every stage of repayment, Navient chose to shortcut and deceive consumers to save on operating costs. Too many borrowers paid more for their loans because Navient illegally cheated them and today's action seeks to hold them accountable.”

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The move is high-profile legal action against a company with over 12 million borrowers to its name, including 6 million accounts under a contract with the Department of Education.

In a statement, the company slammed the CFPB’s actions, saying it was given an ultimatum: settle before Inauguration Day or be sued.

“The allegations of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are unfounded, and the timing of this lawsuit—midnight action filed on the eve of a new administration—reflects their political motivations,” the company said. “We cannot and will not accept agenda-driven ultimatums designed to get headlines rather than help for student borrowers.”

But the CFPB contended in its case that Navient regularly proved itself unhelpful to borrowers, making it difficult if not impossible for individuals paying back loans to get themselves into the most cost-effective payment programs possible.

The regulator said the company regularly misapplied payments, and often failed to note the mistake unless it was flagged by a consumer. It also claimed that Navient regularly steered struggling borrowers into a forbearance program that allowed the company to continue building interest on unpaid loans, rather than towards a repayment program that lowered monthly payments, as required by federal law.

The CFPB estimated the company made $4 billion in additional interest charges through forbearance, while “a large portion” of those charges could have been avoided with a different plan.