The CFPB laid down some serious fines on National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts and its debt collector, Transworld Systems, Inc. The firms were collectively ordered to pay $26.1 million for attempting to collect on loans that were at best out of date and at worst nonexistent.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) specifically alleges that the firms would drag “borrowers” into court or pursue aggressive collection actions on consumers whose debts had already expired — or on debts that they could not actually prove were owed. The action against the entities further alleges that they relied on false and misleading legal documents to compel funds out of consumers illegally.
All in all, the trust filed nearly 500 lawsuits (486 at current count, though that number could climb) on debts where the statute of limitations for collections had already expired — totaling about $3.5 million in funds collected from consumers that they arguably no longer owed.
National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts is comprised of 15 trusts that own more than 800,000 private student loans in total. In the years before the financial crisis — when the world started taking a much more jaundiced look at the practice — the firm specialized in buying up student loans and packaging out those loans to investors.
And — like the subprime mortgage loans whose securitization brought on the housing bubble and the resultant recession — the paperwork associated with National Collegiate securitized student loans was often flawed or incomplete, according to the CFPB.
Harm to Consumers
Those debts, the CFPB noted in its complaint, had extremely pernicious results for consumers. Reports indicated that the debt collection agency filed nearly 95,000 lawsuits across the country between 2012 and 2016.
In 2,000 suits, National Collegiate could neither produce proof of ownership of the debt nor a promissory note, which borrowers sign promising to repay the loan. Despite being unable to produce those documents necessary to validate their debt, Transworld employees nonetheless signed sworn affidavits claiming to have reviewed account records they never read — and even, at times, had interns and mailroom clerks execute affidavits when there were backlogs.
Borrowers paid $21 million in judgments against them.
The trust’s collection practices were so extreme that Donald Uderitz, the founder of private equity firm Vantage Capital Group (VCG) and beneficial owner of the trusts (his company receives any money remaining after noteholders are paid), became concerned enough to bring in an auditor in 2015 to review the work of the company charged with handling loan payments and maintaining custody of the loan documents.
The End of a Long Investigation
The new settlements come after a three-year investigation — and still must be signed off on by a federal judge.
Uderitz noted that they collaborated with the CFPB on the agreement and they would work with the agency “to finish the job.”
”We frankly welcomed the intervention of the CFPB to help us to put an end to these appalling practices,” he said.
Transworld will pay a $2.5 million fine and take other measures “in order to avoid costly and potentially protracted litigation with our primary regulator,” it said in a statement.
The trust — as is standard practice — has neither admitted nor denied the CFPB finding, but has affirmed that its business practices “adhere to all federal and state consumer protection laws and embody best practices in the industry.”
Student loan debt, however, remains something of a sword of Damocles hanging over the head of the economy. As of the end of Q2, 11.2 percent of all outstanding student loan debt was 90 days past due or defaulted, a greater proportion than for credit cards and mortgages, according to the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
The CFPB has also been recently making noises about toughening regulation on debt collectors, due to the annual tidal wave of complaints from consumers about illegal and harassing practices by various debt collectors.
As of yet, no new rule has been proposed.