(SIMON LIM/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Thousands of troops who were charged excess interest on their student loans by Navient Solutions will start getting checks in the mail next month for up to $100,000, the Justice Department said Thursday.

It has been a year since federal prosecutors hit Navient with a $60 million fine for allegedly charging members of the military more than the 6 percent interest permitted by law. Prosecutors said the company violated the the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a federal law that extends legal and financial protections to military personnel.

[Sallie Mae to pay $97 million for unlawfully charging troops on student loans]

Now Navient, which collects and applies student loan payments to borrower debt, has to pay out $60 million to 77,795 members of the military to satisfy the terms of the settlement. The agreement covers the entire portfolio of student loans serviced by the company, including ones originated by the federal government and private lenders such as banks.

The checks, which are scheduled to be mailed on June 12, will range from $10 to over $100,000, with an average of about $771. Check amounts will depend on how long the interest rate exceeded 6 percent, by how much and on the types of documentation the service member provided the government’s independent administrator last year.

Besides compensating victims, Navient must request that all three major credit bureaus delete black marks caused by the interest rate overcharges and improper default judgments. The company also had to simplify the process for service members to prove their eligibility under the SCRA statute. Instead of having military personnel submit reams of documents to establish their eligibility for better loan rates, companies can make the determination through the Defense Department database.

Any member of the military with questions about eligibility for compensation under the settlement can call a Justice Department hotline at (855) 382-6421 beginning June 12.

Justice learned of problems at Navient from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs, which received complaints from members of the military about their student loans.

According to prosecutors, Navient staff denied some borrowers’ benefit requests and stuck others with more than $500 in excess interest. And when soldiers fell behind on payments, the company took legal action against them without documenting their military service, in violation of the law, prosecutors said.

Navient has admitted no wrongdoing. In fact, chief executive Jack Remondi said earlier this week that a recent review of Navient’s files by the Education Department is evidence that the company has been in compliance with the law.

On Tuesday, the Education Department said it found little evidence of its four largest loan servicers, including Navient, unlawfully charging active-duty troops high interest rates on federal student loans (it did not look at loans made by private lenders). The department said less than 1 percent of the troops’ files it reviewed from 2009 to 2014 contained violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

[Government investigation finds companies are not overcharging troops on student loans]

When the Justice Department announced the Navient settlement, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the department would comb through the records of all of its loan servicers to make sure the violations were not widespread. The department outsources the management of about $818 billion in federal student loans to 11 private debt servicers, with American Education Service overseeing the largest portion of the portfolio.

Lawmakers and consumer advocates have been pressuring Education to release the findings of the review, which was supposed to be completed within 120 days of the Navient complaint.

A group of Senate Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Dick Durbin of Illinois, sent a letter to Duncan last week questioning the delay and why the department continues to use Navient as a contractor.

During the press conference announcing the Navient fine, Duncan said the department would consider ending the company’s contract over the service member violations. Not only did the government later extend Navient’s contract, it also gave the company more accounts.

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