From a financial and legal standpoint, 2017 was a big year for student loan debt in the United States.
First, the national student loan debt grew to $1.41 trillion. There are now over 45 million student loan borrowers in the U.S. and around 70 percent of all college students graduate with debt.
In addition, reports of student loan lawsuits always seemed to pop up in the news this past year. In the summer, it was reported that one of the largest owners of private student loans could be responsible for over $5 billion in student debt being forgiven due to missing paperwork needed to prove ownership of the loans.
Later in the fall, Navient, the largest student loan servicer in the U.S., was dealt a lawsuit by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, alleging predatory and misleading practices, including $4 billion in abusive interest charges.
To try and quantify the impact all of this news, The Student Loan Report analyzed every single student loan-related complaint filed on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) complaint database in 2017
Unsurprisingly, we found that Navient was the most complained about student loan company in 2017. Aside from representing 63.42 percent of all student loan complaints in 2017, Navient was also the most complained about company in all 50 states and Washington D.C.
However, The Student Loan Report’s 2017 student loan CFPB complaint study is not just about Navient, but rather an all-encompassing look into the student loan industry’s biggest faults.
In 2017, Student Loans Were the Fourth Most Complained-About Product & Navient Led the Charge
In 2017, student loans accounted for 17,175 complaints that were filed with the CFPB by consumers. This was the fourth highest total of any financial product, trailing only “personal consumer reports,” “debt collection,” and “mortgage.”
Of those complaints, 62.01 percent dealt with federal student loans, while 37.99 percent pertained to the private market. Further, there were 53.09 student-loan related complaints per every million U.S. residents.
Which company is largely to blame for many of the student loan complaints logged with the CFPB last year? Navient, mostly.
In every single state and Washington, D.C., Navient was the single-most complained about company when it came to student loans. In the state of Washington, Navient was responsible for 76.40 percent of all student loan complaints, while in Alabama Navient’s share was 73.79 percent.
Interestingly in January 2017, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Navient Corporation, accusing the lender of a number of deceptive practices, including pushing distressed students toward short-term forbearance.
The state of Washington had the second highest rate of complaints per million residents in 2017 (96.07), surpassing only Washington, D.C., which had a staggering rate of 222.77 student loan complaints per million residents.
Not Surprisingly, Navient Most Complained-About Company, PHEAA Second
Last year, 63.42 percent of the 17,175 student loan complaints filed in 2017 pertained to Navient. This translates to 10,893 grievances against the company just last year.
When we broke down Navient’s 2017 complaints further, the two most common issues dealt with “struggling to repay the loan” and “dealing with lender or servicer.” Those two sub-issues racked up 3,956 and 6,680 complaints, respectively.
Considering that the lawsuits filed against Navient last year mainly pertained to predatory lending and abusive interest charges, it is not much of a surprise that so many complaints against the company had to do with repayment struggles. One of the many charges against Navient was that they were engaging in subprime lending with borrowers they knew would likely default on the loans.
What is more interesting is that American Education Services/Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (AES/PHEAA) accounted for 11.74 percent of last year’s complaints, the second highest proportion and the only other company to hit a double-figure percent.
It must be noted that PHEAA conducts student loan servicing activities nationally as AES, so both names represent the same entity. In August 2017, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued PHEAA for allegedly undermining a loan forgiveness program that forgives a student borrower’s debts if they work in public service for 10 years.
“Dealing With Lender or Servicer” Most Common Complaint in 2017
In 2017, the most prevalent complaint out of the 17,175 filed in 2017 was tagged under the category “dealing with lender or service,” which happened 65.52 percent of the time.
What exactly does that mean? We broke down that complaint tag further by analyzing the sub-issue complaint tags for any complaint pertaining to “dealing with lender or servicer.” Of all complaints, 3,678, the most of any sub-issue, dealt with the borrower having “trouble with how payments are handled,” while 3,437 pertained to “received bad information about the loan.”
When it comes to the exact complaint issues, it is tough to discover a pattern or point to an exact reason other than the student loan industry has plenty to work on in 2018 in many different departments if they want consumer satisfaction to improve.
For this report, The Student Loan Report accessed the CFPB’s “Consumer Complaint Database” to analyze the aforementioned data. All CFPB complaints that were filed between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2017, and pertained to the financial product “student loan” were analyzed for this report. There were 17,175 of those complaints during the aforementioned timeframe.
You may notice that the percentages in table two for the first three columns do not add up to 100 percent. This is because some complaints in the database were tagged under a U.S. territory and not a specific state; we did not include these complaints in our analysis.
To find the complaints per one million residents, The Student Loan Report accessed the most recent population figures for each state and the U.S. as a whole and ran those figures against the complaint totals for each corresponding location.
The Student Loan Report did not make any edits or corrections to the CFPB database and reported it as is. For example, if a consumer mistakenly filed a complaint as “federal” instead of “private,” we did not correct this mistake as there was no way of verifying its accuracy.