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Students

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.

We asked about your student loans and you answered

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A few months ago, we took a look at complaints and other input from private student loan borrowers. Many of you told us about stumbling blocks you face when trying to pay down your loans more quickly. In particular, we frequently hear that the process to allocate an extra payment to your loan with the highest interest rate – generally the best way to reduce your overall interest expense – is hard to navigate.

We wanted to help student loan borrowers who are trying to pay down higher-rate loans, so we created a sample letter that borrowers can send to their student loan servicer. This letter tells the loan servicer that any future payment greater than the amount due should be applied to the highest-rate loan.

We also asked student loan servicers to tell us more about their policies when borrowers are looking to pay off their loans more quickly. Many of them responded and here’s some of what we found:

  • Some servicers told us they have changed their policies so that extra payments are allocated to individual loans with the highest interest rate.
  • When making payments through your bank’s online bill pay service, any written instructions you provide to your service may not be forwarded on.
  • Some servicers will allow you to provide standing instructions on how to allocate payments to your account, so you can avoid making calls and writing letters each and every month .
  • Servicers do not seem to be proactively reaching out to consumers who regularly make extra payments on ways to provide instructions.

Check out the full summary of what we heard and tell us your story about your payment processing experience. If you are facing a specific problem with your student loan servicer, you can also submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372.

We recently finalized a rule to supervise certain nonbank student loan servicers to make sure they’re following the law.

For answers to questions about student loans, check out Ask CFPB and our other work for students.

New feedback system for GI Bill and Tuition Assistance recipients

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In April 2012, at Fort Stewart, GA, I was privileged to watch President Obama sign Executive Order 13607: Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service members, Veterans, Spouses and other Family Members.

The Order directed the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, in consultation with other government agencies, to create a system that would hold educational institutions accountable for the quality of the programs that they provide to those who use military-related education benefits. Its intent was to give military personnel, veterans, and their families the information they need to make informed decisions about where to spend their hard-earned military benefit dollars – and a place to complain if things went wrong.

Today, the CFPB is very pleased to join the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, Education, and Justice, as well as the Federal Trade Commission, in announcing a new online student complaint system where servicemembers, veterans, and their families can report negative experiences at education institutions and training programs administering the Post-9/11 GI Bill, DoD Military Tuition Assistance, and other military-related education benefit programs.

This new feedback system, modeled after CFPB’s complaint system, will help the government identify and address unfair, deceptive, and misleading practices. It’s also intended to have the larger effect of ensuring high-quality academic and student support services for veterans, service members, and their families.

Thanks to all the interagency partners who worked so hard to create this tool that gives military and veteran students the ability to help shape and improve the higher-education experience for themselves, their families and future veterans!

GI Bill recipients can use the new VA GI Bill® Feedback System. DoD Tuition Assistance recipients can provide their feedback as well.

Helping student loan borrowers stay afloat

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This morning, CFPB Director Richard Cordray, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Acting Deputy Treasury Secretary Mary Miller convened a meeting with the nation’s largest private student lenders and servicers who work with millions of borrowers and their families.

Unfortunately, too many student loan borrowers are struggling. According to a report we published jointly with the Department of Education, there were more than 850,000 private student loans in default, with even more in delinquency.

Unlike federal student loans, private student loans generally lack flexible repayment options when borrowers run into trouble.

We’ve received thousands of complaints from private student loan borrowers. The most common complaint comes from those who are unable to negotiate a repayment plan that they can actually afford. Many of you have told us that you want to pay back your loan, but you just need a payment plan that works for you, especially when you haven’t yet found a full-time job in a tough market.

Many of the financial institutions represented in today’s meeting received extraordinary assistance from federal government programs when they faced their own financial distress. We were very encouraged to hear that many of them are launching initiatives this year to help their customers weather the storm and get back on their feet.

In the meantime, we’ll keep working to help you find a way to make ends meet. To learn more about your options when repaying private and federal student loans, check out Repay Student Debt. Still need help resolving a student loan issue? Submit a complaint.

Borrowers need more options to avoid default, which is in the best interest of borrowers, financial institutions, and the economy more broadly. We’ll be monitoring this market closely to determine whether or not financial institutions are making progress.

Rohit Chopra is the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman.

Updated at 1:55 p.m.to reflect that Ms. Miller attended on behalf of Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

Sunshine for student financial products

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Today, Director Cordray is alerting financial institutions about the potentially risky practice of making secret payments to colleges and universities to market deposit accounts, prepaid cards, debit cards, and other financial products to students. We’re calling on financial institutions to voluntarily make these agreements available on their websites.

We’re also releasing a report on college credit card agreements, which shows a continued decline from 2011 to 2012.

Earlier this year, we set out to better understand how financial products are marketed to college and university students. We heard from many colleges, universities, financial institutions, as well as students and their families. We found that financial product marketing partnerships have shifted away from credit cards towards other products.

Congress created reforms to help consumers better understand the nature of these marketing partnerships. The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act) requires credit card issuers to report to us the terms and conditions of any college credit card agreement with an institution of higher education.

This includes the number of credit card accounts, amount of payments made to the company, the number of new accounts, and any agreement between the company and the college or university. You can see these agreements in our public database of college credit card agreements. Check it out and see if your school has an agreement to market credit cards.

Including other products

The CARD Act requirement is limited to credit cards and doesn’t include other financial products marketed through schools. In a public comment submitted to us by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), the association described several best practices, particularly as they relate to debit card arrangements used to access student loan and scholarship proceeds. NACUBO urges institutions to “publicly disclose the terms of any agreements.”

Making these agreements available for students and their families 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. However, not publicly disclosing these agreements raises potential consumer protection risks.

According to a survey of school officials, 69 percent of debit card arrangements are already available to the public. However, finding these agreements can be troublesome. You may even need to file a formal request under state open records laws to see them. Easier access to these arrangements will increase the public’s confidence that these agreements are structured to help students build a bright financial future.

In the new year, we’ll be contacting financial institutions to find out more about their commitment to transparency. We’ll be asking financial institutions about whether existing agreements are made available to students and families in a clear and conspicuous place on their company’s website. Financial institutions or anyone 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 financial product or service, you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372.

Rohit Chopra is the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman. To learn more about the CFPB’s work for students and young Americans, visit consumerfinance.gov/students.