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We’re protecting students from predatory lending

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Today, we filed a lawsuit against ITT Educational Services, Inc., accusing the for-profit college chain of predatory student lending. We believe that ITT used high-pressure tactics to push many students into expensive private student loans that were likely to end in default.

This is our first public enforcement action against a company in the for-profit college industry.

“Today’s action should serve as a warning to the for-profit college industry that we will be vigilant about protecting students against predatory lending tactics,” said Director Richard Cordray.

You can read the press release, read Director Cordray’s full remarks, and view the formal complaint against ITT.

You can also watch a recording of today’s press conference.

What sunshine for student financial products can show us

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Recently, we alerted financial institutions about the potentially risky practice of not readily disclosing arrangements with colleges and universities to market bank accounts, prepaid cards, debit cards, and other financial products to students. Director Cordray called on financial institutions to voluntarily make these agreements available on their websites.

According to a survey of school officials, 69 percent of debit card agreements are already available to the public, since many contracts with public colleges and universities are subject to state open records laws. We identified agreements available in the public domain by checking state open records databases and other websites where agreements were disclosed.

Some financial institutions offer low-cost student financial products as a way of developing long-lasting relationships with students as they start their financial lives. For example, one credit union told us that “over 85 percent of student accounts remain open one year following graduation.” But other financial institutions generate a significant amount of their revenue on these products while students are currently in school.

Here’s how they work

Some of these agreements were difficult to find, but here are a few examples of the different agreements financial institutions have with colleges and universities. We didn’t verify whether these agreements are current, but the examples give us a sense of how some of these agreements work.

1. Direct payments for using school logos

We found several agreements where a financial institution offers a licensing fee in order to use a school’s logo to market its financial products. (In 2008, Congress restricted this practice for student loans, but not for other financial products.) For example, we found an agreement which provides $25 million to a university for use of the school’s logo, among other benefits.

2. Bonuses for recruiting students

Other agreements provide bonus payments based on whether students sign up for a financial institution’s student checking account marketed on campus. For example, one agreement paid a university an upfront payment of $400,000 and an additional bonus of upwards of $200,000 each year if enough new students signed up for the accounts.

3. Discounted prices in exchange for marketing access

Some colleges receive discounted – or even completely free – services in exchange for allowing a provider to market financial products to students. For example, we found many agreements where a financial institution charges a university to transfer loan and scholarship funds to students.

However, some school officials have told us that these charges may be heavily discounted, since these agreements provide the financial institution with unique access to market to students receiving financial aid. This gives the financial institution a foot in the door to generate significant revenue in fees from students, making it worthwhile to provide discounted services to schools.

Committed to transparency?

Many financial institutions offer good products at competitive prices. But as we’ve stated before, voluntarily disclosing these arrangements is a sign of a financial institution’s commitment to transparency when marketing deposit accounts, prepaid cards, financial aid disbursement accounts, and other financial products to students. In doing so, they also want to make sure students know that they have a financial relationship with their school. Responsible financial institutions also want students to know they don’t have to choose their product if they don’t want to.

Actions you can take

Students, schools, financial institutions, or anyone else who wants to share information about the availability of these agreements can email us.

If you are a student, or family member of a student, you can check out our guide to Managing Your College Money and our consumer advisory on accessing student loans and scholarships.

If you have a complaint about a student loan, checking account, or credit card, you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372.

Consumer advisory: Stop getting sidetracked by your student loan servicer

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Over the last several years, many Americans have been able to save on monthly payments on their mortgages and other loans by refinancing to the low interest rates available in the market.

Unfortunately, with few refinancing options, many student loan borrowers tell us they feel stuck in loans with high rates, well after they’ve graduated and landed a job.

Since many borrowers can’t refinance, one of the only ways to avoid paying unnecessary interest is to pay their high-rate loans off more quickly. According to the Truth in Lending Act, your lender or servicer cannot assess any penalties or fees if you prepay your private student loan.

Recently, we released a report that describes how the payment processing policies of private student lenders and loan servicers may be sidetracking responsible borrowers looking to pay off their loans more quickly. If you have several loans associated with the same loan servicer (the company that sends you a bill each month) and you don’t provide instructions, your servicer will generally decide how to allocate your payments in excess of the amount due.

Leaving this decision up to them isn’t always the best choice.

Your student loan servicer should listen to your instructions about which loan your additional payment goes toward when you submit your payment.

Here’s why providing instructions to your servicer can be a good idea:

  • If you direct any extra money to your highest interest rate loan first, you may save hundreds of dollars or more in extra interest payments and you may be able to get out of debt faster.
  • If you don’t tell them what to do, your servicer will apply extra payments as they see fit, in most cases spreading your money out across all of the loans on your account.
  • This means that you’ll pay down your debt slowly, and you’ll pay more money in interest over the life of your loan.

To help you explain to your servicer what it should do with your money, we’ve put together some sample instructions you can send to your servicer to ask them that they direct any extra payments toward your highest-rate loan. Helpful servicers will generally accommodate your request. You’ll want to be sure your servicer responds to your request so you know if you need to send additional instructions.

You can download a sample letter to mail to your servicer, or you can use the text below to provide instructions using the “Send a Message” or “Contact Us” feature when you log into your account on the servicer’s website:

I am writing to provide you instructions on how to apply payments when I send an amount greater than the minimum amount due. Please apply payments as follows:

  1. After applying the minimum amount due for each loan, any additional amount should be applied to the loan that is accruing the highest interest rate.
  2. If there are multiple loans with the same interest rate, please apply the additional amount to the loan with the lowest outstanding principal balance.
  3. If any additional amount above the minimum amount due ends up paying off an individual loan, please then apply any remaining part of my payment to the loan with the next highest interest rate.

It is possible that I may find an option to refinance my loans to a lower rate with another lender. If this lender or any third party makes payments to my account on my behalf, you should use the instructions outlined above.

Retain these instructions. Please apply these instructions to all future overpayments. Please confirm that these payments will be processed as specified or please provide an explanation as to why you are unable to follow these instructions.

Thank you for your cooperation.

You’ll want to save the message you sent for your records.

For most borrowers, it makes sense to direct any extra payment toward your loan with the highest interest rate – this is the fastest way to save the most money over the long term. For other borrowers, saving the most money might not be their main goal. You may be interested in paying extra each month on certain loans in order to improve your credit profile, qualify for a mortgage, or eliminate a monthly bill. You should weigh all of your options.

You can also submit a complaint online.

If you have questions about repaying student loans, check out our Repay Student Debt tool to find out how you can tackle your student loan debt.

For more information on private student loans and other consumer financial products or services, visit Ask CFPB.

So, how do I submit a complaint?

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This post is part of a series for National Consumer Protection Week

We began taking credit card complaints in July 2011, and we now can help with complaints about mortgages, bank accounts and services, student loans, vehicle and other consumer loans, and credit reporting.

How do I submit a complaint?
Submitting a complaint and tracking your status is simple and secure. The fastest way to get started is to go consumerfinance.gov/Complaint. If you need help while you’re online, you can chat with one of our team members on the site.

You can also submit a complaint over the phone by calling us at (855) 411-CFPB (2372), toll free. Our U.S.-based call centers can help you in over 180 languages, and can also take calls from consumers who are deaf, have hearing loss, or have speech disabilities.

What makes an effective complaint?
The best complaints are the ones that explain, clearly and concisely:

  • What happened, including key details and documents,
  • What you think would be a fair resolution, and
  • What you’ve done to try and resolve it.

What happens after I submit?
After you’ve submitted your complaint you can check its status at consumerfinance.gov/Complaint or by calling us at (855) 411-CFPB (2372). We’ll also send you email updates along the way so you know where you are in the process, and what’s next.

After the company responds to your complaint, we’ll email you, and you can log back in to review the response and give us any feedback.

Every complaint helps us in our work to supervise companies, enforce federal consumer financial laws, and write better rules and regulations. You speaking up gives us important insight into the issues you face as a consumer, so thank you!

Learn more about submitting a complaint: consumerfinance.gov/Complaint

The next front? Student loan servicing and the cost to our men and women in uniform

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Today, I joined the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon to announce a report about the servicing obstacles that servicemembers face in paying off student loan debt. The report, “The Next Front? Student Loan Servicing and the Cost to Our Men and Women in Uniform,” shows that servicemembers are having a hard time accessing the student-loan repayment protections granted to them under federal rules.

Since I began this job almost two years ago, I’ve visited over 40 different military installations – talking to senior leaders, military service providers and thousands of servicemembers and spouses. One thing I’ve heard repeatedly is that servicemembers are entering the military with – and sometimes because of –student-loan debt, and, as a result, are facing both financial challenges and paperwork challenges. And unfortunately they are not always getting the information they need from their loan servicers about programs and policies that could help them reduce that debt significantly while they’re on active duty.

We’re hearing that servicemembers are having problems getting their lenders to correctly apply their SCRA rights. They also don’t know about their repayment alternatives, and are getting inaccurate or incomplete information about their options. And they’re confused by eligibility requirements for benefits that are so complicated that they either can’t figure out what they’re entitled to or don’t realize that taking one benefit might exclude them from being eligible for another, more helpful, one.

One particular conversation with a young sailor stands out. He was just out of basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes. He told me that he entered the Navy with over $100,000 in student loan debt – and no degree! He joined the Navy because it was the only way he believed he could “make it,” but most of his Navy paycheck was going towards paying off those loans.

How he chooses to pay off his debt is not a matter of just a few dollars and cents. That young sailor could pay nearly $25,000 extra if he doesn’t receive his Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) six-percent interest-rate cap while he’s on active duty. And if he stays in the Navy for 10 years but doesn’t know about or doesn’t use the Income-Based Repayment plan, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and the SCRA rate cap, he could lose out on nearly $76,000 that he could have cut off his debt in those 10 years.

We’ll be teaming up with DoD to get the word out about military student-loan benefits and consumer protections. We’ve developed a “Guide for Servicemembers with Student Loans” with information on repayment options, as well as an FAQ section for military student loan borrowers at Ask CFPB. Servicemembers with problems in the servicing of their student loan debt can also file a complaint at consumerfinance.gov. And we want servicemembers to know that even if you didn’t ask for student loan repayment benefits when you entered active duty, it’s not too late to do it now!

Meet Julio from Florida

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Since we launched on July 21st 2011, we’ve heard directly from consumers about the challenges they face in the marketplace, brought their concerns to the attention of financial institutions, and helped address their complaints. Accepting, resolving, and analyzing consumer complaints is an integral part of our work.

Periodically, we’ll feature stories from consumers who we have helped, and who have agreed to let the CFPB make their stories public.

Julio, a 31-year-old waiter from Florida struggled to pay his private student loans from a for-profit college after his payments shot up.

When Julio left Puerto Rico to pursue his dream of studying to be an artist, he chose a for-profit college that he says advertised itself as a top ranking school. But after accruing $110,000 in debt and graduating with only an Associate’s Degree, not the Bachelor’s he wanted, he couldn’t find a job in his field. The college was not competitive, he was told.

Like many other students, Julio says the school steered him into taking on expensive private loans before exhausting his federal loan options. For more than a year, he promptly paid $700 a month to the private student loan lender. But when his federal loan kicked in, his payments increased to $1,100 a month and he could no longer make ends meet. He called his private student lender and asked to work out a deal for lower, extended payments. The company refused, he said.

After Julio contacted the CFPB, the loan provider discovered that Julio was eligible for a reduced-payment program. Julio’s private student loan payments were cut back to $407 a month for the next year. Julio is still working out a plan for to reduce his payments for the federal loans.

Learn more

To see more about how we handle consumer complaints, read our Consumer Response Snapshot and to see all credit card complaints, visit our consumer complaint database.