Recently, federal regulators have put more pressure on loan servicers to offer better treatment towards their borrowers. It was just last week when Wells Fargo Bank agreed to pay a $3.6 million civil penalty, effectively settling allegations by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that the bank utilized illegal loan servicing practices in order to glean higher costs and fees from its borrowers. In addition, Wells Fargo agreed to repay $410,000 to affected borrowers. Wells Fargo is the second largest lender of private loans for students.
The CFPB said that the bank’s illegal practices meant that thousands of borrowers had issues with their loans and information regarding their loans. Furthermore, the CFPB said that Wells Fargo did not clearly inform consumers of their ability to instruct the bank on how to set up and allocate their payments. Wells Fargo did not admit, nor did they deny, the findings.
Although, they said the practices had been ended and revised as far back as five years ago. Nonetheless, they were still on the hook. With the overall student debt at around $1.3 trillion, the CFPB has taken more actions towards monitoring the processes of student loan servicers–whether they are private or federal loans.
What makes private loans a bit different is they don’t come with some of the same types of consumer protections found in federal loans. Still, private loan borrowers often also have federal loans. Last week, the CFPB’s student loan ombudsman, Seth Frotman, stated that borrowers have complained that federal loan servicers make it difficult to enroll in programs that can lower their monthly federal loans based on their salaries. These are called Income-Driven Repayment (IDR). Essentially, the borrower repayment rate is based on income and family size.
If payments are made, on time, for around 20 to 25–in rare cases, 10 years–then the remaining balance will be forgiven by the government. Borrowers can be eligible for an IDR if their federal student loan debt is higher than their annual income or is grossly disproportionate to discretionary income. According to the CFPB, the application process should take no more than two weeks.
Yet, some borrowers have shared that their applications have taken weeks or months to process. Based on their interest rates, this can cost borrowers over $2 per day. Then, when they hear from their servicer–they often find out that the servicer either misplaced their application or needed more information that could have been quickly provided–if the borrowers had known.
Persis Yu, director of the Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project at the National Consumer Law Center, said “There is absolutely a lot of room for improvement.” If borrowers want to know if they can immediately enroll in an income-driven repayment plan, all they have to do is fill out the CFPB’s “Fix It” form and send it to their loan servicers. This form was designed to help lenders improve the lines of communication with their borrowers. Although, borrowers are also encouraged to use it.
Also, the Government Accountability Office urges the Education Department to increase its hours at servicing call centers in order to better help borrowers. In another avenue, for helping borrowers, the CFPB offers an online complaint form.