The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has just filed a lawsuit against Navient, one of the nation’s largest student loan providers. The suit alleges that the loan servicer “cheated borrowers through shortcuts and deception” in violation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. The suit seeks redress for affected borrowers and an end to the offending practices.
When you read the litany of allegations detailed in the CFPB’s press release, it’s staggering. And the illegal strategies allegedly used by Navient to deceive its own customers are eerily similar to the ugliness exposed by the CFPB at Wells Fargo.
If you’re wondering the type of runaround borrowers were made to endure, I can shed some light on that. Last year, I helped a student named David Healey sort out his own drama with Navient. His case illustrates how frustrating — and damaging — Navient’s improper loan servicing can be. Here’s what happened:
Healey went back to school in 2008, taking out a student loan with Sallie Mae, then the nation’s largest student loan servicer. He then deferred his loan.
At least that’s what he thought.
During that time, Navient took over all of Sallie Mae’s student loan portfolio. In June 2015, Navient told Healey his loan was past due. At the time, Healey was still a student, and thought the loan was still in deferment status. A Navient rep tried to verify his information, but realized that the postal and email addresses on the account belonged to someone else, perhaps explaining why he never received any communication from the company about repayment.
The Navient representative told Healey she put the loan back into deferment status, and he would receive an updated statement in the mail. When a month passed and he received nothing, he called back. Healey couldn’t believe it when a different representative revealed all his account information was still incorrect, including the deferment status of the loan.
“Finally, she told me my loan was deferred until May 2016, and that I didn’t need to make a payment,” Healey recalls. “I told her, ‘That sounds perfect, actually.'”
But in late September, Healey came home to a package from Navient, informing him he would be sued if he didn’t make a payment. He immediately called Navient and the phone representative told him he could pay $50 to defer the loan until November, when it would be due.
But that wasn’t all Navient told him. It assured him that making the $50 payment would remove any possible negative information that may have been reported to the credit bureaus, something Healey was legitimately concerned about. According to Healey, Navient acknowledged the account status was its own mistake and had been out of Healey’s control. Healey paid the $50 and thought that was the end of it.
In December, Healey applied for a car loan, but was declined. Perplexed by being unable to secure an auto loan, Healey ordered his credit report. He quickly realized his problem with Navient was bigger than he previously understood.
“I discovered Navient was reporting my loan as 60/90/120 days late,” Healey tells us. “Along with the late payments, the reports showed the two different incorrect addresses they read to me over the phone when we spoke.”
The problem Healey tried to solve by dealing directly with Navient ballooned into something much bigger, and is now affecting his ability to get other types of loans. The mishandling of Healey’s loan and millions of others like him is now the subject of CFPB scrutiny.
So what can borrowers do if their loan servicer reports erroneous information to the credit bureaus?
In Healey’s case, when he realized going back to Navient was a lost cause, he disputed the information with the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Information on how to dispute errors on your credit report can be found on the Federal Trade Commission website.
He also filed a complaint with the CFPB, which handles complaints from individual borrowers who have problems with their student loan servicers. The CFPB gave Healey a tracking number and opened an investigation.
Within 15 days, Navient responded to his CFPB complaint, requesting an additional 60 days (as allowed under the law) to complete its investigation. After the CFPB intervened, Navient took the necessary steps to remove the negative information from Healey’s credit report. The company insists Healey is still responsible for late fees.
While waiting, Healey continued to make monthly payments on his loan account, doing everything within his power to improve his credit score, which was damaged through no fault of his own. What remains to be seen is whether the CFPB’s lawsuit and any potential settlement resulting from it will make Healey whole.
With student loan debt topping $1.4 trillion, and growing by the minute, it’s an industry ripe for abuse. At the risk of repeating myself, Healey’s case and the Navient crackdown is just another reason America needs a strong CFPB. An entire generation of students needs it — in addition to students’ parents and those of us who graduated long ago but are still working to pay off student loan debt.