Is Genesis just the beginning?

Banksy on the Thekla, photo credit Adrian Pingstone

Can the government make a for-profit school tear up its private student loan promissory notes?  We’re about to find out.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed suit this week against Corinthian Colleges for alleged misconduct relating to its private loan program, called Genesis.  While lawsuits against Corinthian, which operates Heald, Wyotech and Everest, abound, something about this particular suit caught my eye.

The CFPB is asking the court to “order the rescission of all Genesis loans”.  In plain English: the government is asking a federal court to cancel all of the notes on at least 170,000 private student loans, with a combined balance of $568.7 million.  As in, tear them up.  Poof.  Make them gone, as though they had never existed. Continue reading

The CFPB bares its teeth

The CFPB bares its teeth

In a move applauded by consumer advocates, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed suit against ITT Technical Institute.  The Huffington Post reports that this marks the first suit brought by the new consumer protection agency against a for-profit school.

The complaint alleges that ITT violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act and the Truth in Lending Act by enticing students through deceptive marketing and strong-arm recruiting tactics. ITT allegedly misrepresented its graduation and placement rates, and misled consumers about the school’s accreditation.

The complaint also alleges that ITT coerced students into taking out private loans for ITT’s own private gain. How? Well, tuition at ITT is much higher than students can afford, even after maxing out federal financial aid. To close the tuition gap, ITT offered students temporary credit from ITT. That credit came due within nine months–something many of the students were not told during a rushed financial aid discussion. When many of those students were unable to pay the hefty tuition price tag within the required nine months, ITT allegedly forced those students into private loans, due within 10 years, with a 16% interest rate. Defaults at ITT on those private loans topped 70%.

This isn’t ITT’s first legal rodeo.   Former students sued ITT for misrepresentation in 1995.  In 2005, ITT settled a lawsuit with the state of California for inflating grades in order to get more state aid. And ITT’s problems don’t end there; it revealed in an recent SEC filing that a long list of state Attorneys General have issued subpoenas or “civil investigative demands” under state consumer protection statutes.

Of Student Debt and Stagnant Wages

Student debt is bearing the blame for continued weakness in the housing market.  According to the Washington Post, “regulators and industry experts warn that young adults can no longer save for down payments or qualify for the mortgages they need to buy their first homes.”

But Rohit Chopra, student loan ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, points out that debt burden alone does not tell the whole tale for first-time homebuyers:

“Real wages when adjusted for inflation have actually been flat for new college graduates for about the past ten years. So young people have more debt but are earning the same or less income.”

The prepay prevention plan

Every student loan has a prepay option, but servicers make them almost impossible to use.  Ever wonder why they make it so hard?  Rohit Chopra and his team at the CFPB asked private loan servicers and came to some conclusions:

“Creating obstacles for borrowers to direct payments to a specific loan can increase future servicing revenue.  Incentive misalignment was one cause of significant harm to consumers in the mortgage servicing industry. This may also be a contributing factor to the frustration experienced by many private student loan borrowers who submit complaints to the CFPB about payment allocation issues.”

In other words, the harder it is to prepay, the more money the servicer makes.

By the numbers: Almost $1.2 trillion and counting

In late July, the CFPB released new data indicating that total student debt has increased by 20% since the end of 2011.  As of May, 2013, the Bureau estimates that the combined total of federal and private loans approached $1.2 trillion.  For those keeping track at home, that’s $101 trillion in federal loans and $165 billion in private loans.