Have you taken out a private student loan to fund your education? Do you know who owns the debt? The issue of who owns the debt on $5 billion worth of student loans is at the center of a legal battle that is resulting in tens of thousands of people having their debt wiped away.
Student borrowers have had a group of creditors pursue them in court since they fell behind on their loans, and judges in those cases have already dismissed dozens of the lawsuits against borrowers, essentially wiping out their debt, because documents that prove who owns the loans are missing. The New York Times reports that a review of court records shows many collection cases are flawed and have incomplete ownership records as well as mass-produced documentation.
National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts is one of the nation’s largest owners of private student loans. It is an umbrella name for 15 trusts that hold 800,000 private student loans, totaling $12 billion, and according to the Times, $5 billion of that debt is in default. National Collegiate is struggling to prove in court that it owns the loans, which were originally made by banks and then sold to investors.
The Times compared this issue to the subprime-mortgage crisis a decade ago:
Some of the problems playing out now in the $108 billion private student loan market are reminiscent of those that arose from the subprime mortgage crisis a decade ago, when billions of dollars in subprime mortgage loans were ruled uncollectible by courts because of missing or fake documentation. And like those troubled mortgages, private student loans—which come with higher interest rates and fewer consumer protections than federal loans—are often targeted at the most vulnerable borrowers, like those attending for-profit schools.
The 15 trusts behind National Collegiate aggressively pursue borrowers who fall behind on their debt, bringing at least four new collection cases each day, and tens of thousands of lawsuits in the past five years.
Judges in New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas and other states have tossed out lawsuits by National Collegiate because it could not prove that it owned the debt it was trying to collect, and the Times reports that the legal wrangling is now playing out in Pennsylvania and Delaware with no end in sight.
In addition, according to a court filing, some 2,000 borrowers who have requested forbearance or other help with their loans have had their requests go unanswered because none of the parties can agree on who has the authority to make decisions pertaining to the loans.
In a word, a mess.
Check your credit report and make sure you are not one of these people, though you ultimately may be able to get your case dismissed. The Times also notes that for the cases National Collegiate has been able to win, the mitigating factor is borrowers not even knowing their cases have gone to court and/or not showing up to defend themselves.
Read more at the New York Times.