California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Thursday he plans to sue Navient, one of the nation’s largest student loan servicing companies, for alleged widespread abuses in the collection of education debt payments.
The forthcoming lawsuit will add to Navient’s legal woes. The company is fending off similar cases in Illinois, Washington and Pennsylvania as well as a lawsuit filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the last days of President Barack Obama’s administration.
“Navient’s loan servicing abuses have compounded the misery of parents and students who sacrificed to pay for college,” Becerra said in a statement. “Our students can’t afford to be cheated out of any more money than they legally owe simply because Navient knew how to game the system. We are ready to hold Navient accountable.”
Becerra alleges the company, which works on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education, violated state laws by encouraging borrowers to postpone payments through forbearance, an option in which interest continues to accrue, rather than enroll in an income-driven repayment plan that would avoid fees.
Consumer advocates say loan servicers steer borrowers toward forbearance because it requires substantially less paperwork than enrolling them in low-cost plans that peg monthly payments to a percentage of income. Navient has long countered that it has one of the highest rates of enrollment in income-driven plans, denying there is a nefarious plan afoot to deny borrowers the option.
According to Becerra, Navient has also misrepresented the amount that delinquent borrowers owe on their accounts. The company also allegedly failed to discharge the federal student loans of borrowers who are permanently disabled. Becerra said Navient’s subsidiary, debt collection agency Pioneer Credit Recovery, also made illegal misrepresentations about the federal loan rehabilitation program available to defaulted borrowers.
Jack Remondi, Navient’s chief executive, called Becerra’s allegations “unfounded.” Instead of targeting his company, Remondi said authorities should improve the financial literacy of students before they enroll in college, work to increase graduation rates and simplify student loan repayment programs.
“The lawsuit is another attempt to blame a single servicer for the failures of the higher-education system and the federal student loan program to deliver desired outcomes,” Remondi said in a statement.
Navient said less than 1 percent of its roughly 1 million customers filed complaints against the company last year. Of those complaints, 23 involved servicing, according to the company. Navient says that more than 98 percent of complaints nationally have been related to federal policy or the terms of the loan.
“The need to blame someone has driven these lawsuits,” Remondi said. “If the parties were truly interested in addressing the real issues in higher education and student debt, they would direct their focus” elsewhere.
The state and federal lawsuits against Navient are still wending their way through the courts despite the company’s attempts to have them dismissed. Politico reported Thursday that Remondi wrote Mick Mulvaney, acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, urging him to reconsider the bureau’s “politically driven” lawsuit against the company.
Navient has had its share of run-ins with regulators. The Justice Department under Obama fined the company millions of dollars for unlawfully charging active-duty service members high interest rates and late fees on student loans, violations that the company called “processing errors.”