HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Tens of thousands of people who took out student loans over the past 20 years could see their loans canceled or receive a small check as part of a nationwide settlement with Navient, a major student loan collecting company, over allegations of abusive lending practices.
The agreement, if approved by a judge, cancels $1.7 billion in private loan debt owed by more than 66,000 borrowers across the U.S. and distributes a total of $95 million in restitution payments of about $260 each to approximately 350,000 federal loan borrowers.
Borrowers who will receive restitution or debt cancellation span all generations, officials say. They include students who went to colleges or universities right after high school and mid-career students who dropped out after enrolling.
The loans were taken out pri, officials say. Private loans often came with a variable, rather than fixed, interest rate and a shorter window than federal student loans to make payments before defaulting.
Many borrowers who were struggling to make payments were not told about a federal “income driven” program that could lower their payments. Others were not told about a federal program that forgives some debt for public-sector workers.
Borrowers who will see their private loan debt canceled will be notified by Navient by , along with a refund of payments they made on the loan after , according to state officials.
She chose the nursing program at Drexel University and, in 2006, took out a loan through Navient
Borrowers who are eligible for a restitution payment of approximately $260 will receive a postcard from the settlement administrator this spring, state officials say. Checks are expected to go out in mid-2022.
Federal loan borrowers who qualify need to update their account, or create one, to ensure the U.S. Department of Education has their current address.
For instance, they need to have lived in a state participating in the settlement as of and spent at least two years in forbearance.
Forbearance is when lenders allow borrowers to pause or reduce payments for a limited time while they improve their finances. However, interest on the loan continues to accrue and can ultimately cause the amount paid over the life of the loan to grow.
Borrowers who primarily will see their debt canceled took out private subprime student loans through Sallie Mae between 2002 and 2014, then had more than seven straight months of delinquent payments, state officials say.
Private loan borrowers don’t need to take any action to qualify
For instance, in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, the average debt being New Hampshire secured personal loan canceled is around $27,000, officials say. In Washington state, it’s about $25,000.
From Philadelphia, Alexis Miller was the first in her family to go to college and needed financial aid to attend. The total cost of the loans for nursing school were around $60,000, and then interest and penalties – some she wasn’t told about – brought the total tab to $81,000 or $82,000, Miller said.
The company hounded her, her employers and her family members with phone calls, gave her misleading information about relief programs and pushed her into forbearance “that I knew wasn’t really the right choice,” she said.
“I tried my best to make ends meet, with my own financial issues going on and there was just no solution, they were never really willing to work with me,” Miller said.
One student who enrolled in a master’s degree program did not complete the degree and struggled to repay the loan, it said.
Despite demonstrating this financial hardship to Navient, the company did not enroll the student in an “income-driven plan” to lower payments until 2015, six years after they were first allowed under federal law in 2009. Nearly $27,000 in interest was added to his loans after 2004, the lawsuit said.
In another example, a public-sector worker qualified for a federal program that forgives debt, but Navient nevertheless gave her false information that dissuaded her from enrolling.
Seven years later – in 2014 – she learned she had indeed been eligible, meaning she had made seven years of payments that didn’t count toward the total because she didn’t enroll in 2007, the lawsuit said.