Consumer Law Report Blasts For-Profit Colleges for Private-Label Student Loans

A new report issued in January by the National Consumer Law Center accuses for-profit colleges of saddling their students with unregulated private-label student loans that force these students into high interest rates, excessive debt, and predatory lending terms that make it difficult for these students to succeed.

The report, entitled “Piling It On: The Growth of Proprietary School Loans and the Consequences for Students,” discusses the boom over the past three years in private student loan programs offered directly by schools rather than by third-party lenders. These institutional loans are offered by so-called “proprietary schools” – for-profit colleges, career schools, and vocational training programs.

Federal vs. Private Education Loans

Most loans for students will be one of two types: government-funded federal student loans, guaranteed and overseen by the U.S. Department of Education; or non-federal private student loans, issued by banks, credit unions, and other private-sector lenders. (Some students may also be able to take advantage of state-funded college loans available in some states for resident students.)

Private student loans, unlike federal undergraduate loans, are credit-based loans, requiring the student borrower to have adequate credit history and income, or else a creditworthy co-signer.

The Beginnings of Proprietary School Loans

Following the financial crisis in 2008 that was spurred, in part, by the lax lending practices that drove the subprime mortgage boom, lenders across all industries instituted more stringent credit requirements for private consumer loans and lines of credit.

Many private student loan companies stopped offering their loans to students who attend for-profit colleges, as these students have historically had weaker credit profiles and higher default rates than students at nonprofit colleges and universities.

These moves made it difficult for proprietary schools to comply with federal financial aid regulations that require colleges and universities to receive at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than federal student aid.

To compensate for the withdrawal of private student loan companies from their campuses, some for-profit colleges began to offer proprietary school loans to their students. Proprietary school loans are essentially private-label student loans, issued and funded by the school itself rather than by a third-party lender.

Proprietary Loans as Default Traps

The NCLC report charges that these proprietary school loans contain predatory lending terms, charge high interest rates and large loan origination fees, and have low underwriting standards, which allow students with poor credit histories and insufficient income to borrow significant sums of money that they’re in little position to be able to repay.

In addition, these proprietary loans often require students to make payments while they’re still in school, and the loans can carry very sensitive default provisions. A single late payment can result in a loan default, along with the student’s expulsion from the academic program. Several for-profit schools will withhold transcripts from borrowers whose proprietary loans are in default, making it nearly impossible for these students to resume their studies elsewhere without starting over.

The NCLC report notes that more than half of proprietary college loans go into default and are never repaid.

Recommendations for Reform

Currently, consumers are afforded few protections from proprietary lenders. Proprietary school loans aren’t subject to the federal oversight that regulates credit products originated by most banks and credit unions.

Moreover, some proprietary schools claim that their private student loans aren’t “loans” at all, but rather a form of “consumer financing” – a distinction, NCLC charges, that’s “presumably an effort to evade disclosure requirements such as the federal Truth in Lending Act” as well as a semantic maneuver meant to skirt state banking regulations.

The authors of the NCLC report make a series of recommendations for reforming proprietary school loans. The recommendations advocate for tough federal oversight of both proprietary and private student loans.

Among the NCLC’s favored reforms are requirements that private student loan companies and proprietary lenders adhere to federal truth-in-lending laws; regulations that prohibit proprietary loans from counting toward a school’s required percentage of non-federal revenue; implementing tracking of private and proprietary loan debt and default rates in the National Student Loan Data System, which currently tracks only federal education loans; and centralized oversight to ensure that for-profit schools can’t disguise their true default rates on their private-label student loans.

Other proposed reforms the NCLC supports include modification of federal bankruptcy laws and expansion of federal college loan debt relief programs.

The NCLC argues for a modification of current bankruptcy laws that would allow student borrowers to discharge onerous student loan debts in a bankruptcy petition without having to meet the current, nearly-impossible-to-satisfy “undue hardship” tests. Amidst more relaxed bankruptcy rules and strengthened non-bankruptcy alternatives, the NCLC maintains, fewer borrowers would find themselves hopelessly mired in student loan debt.

How the Law Treats Lawsuits by Debt Collectors and Original Creditors Differently

As I have pointed out elsewhere, people can be sued for debt by one of two different kinds of plaintiffs: “original creditors” or “debt collectors.” Broadly speaking, original creditors are the persons who originally claimed that you owed them money for some credit-based transaction. Debt collectors are other entities who either came into possession of the debt after it was delinquent or are acting (as independent contractors) for the original creditor.

Loan “servicers,” who come into possession of the debt immediately after it is incurred and administer the debt in the usual course of business, are considered “original creditors” even though the debt obviously did not originate with them.

Legal Impact of the Entity Suing You

Because original creditors have a direct, non-collection relationship with the general public, they have commercial pressures preventing them from acting too horribly during the collection process. Their collection activities risk alienating or annoying the public and thus, in the eyes of the law at least, they are held in check by the market. Therefore, the law does not provide any remedy against original creditors per se. However, this does not mean that original creditors are permitted to do anything without limits during the debt collection, just that there are no laws directed against them specifically. If they commit “outrageous” and abusive acts, or if they “defame” you by publishing false information, or obviously if they assault you or commit some other crime, you would still have your normal rights under the law.

Some states probably have specific laws directed against the collection process, too, either as part of their “merchandizing” codes or otherwise, so you should not automatically write-off the behavior of original creditors.

Against debt collectors, however, you have much more specific rights. And this goes back to the commercial realities underlying the transactions. There is no customer-based relationship between the debt collectors and the people from whom they are collecting. There only customers are either the original creditors, or none at all-they are acting independently on their own behalf and, as far as the market is concerned, are free to take any actions whatever to collect the money. This has given rise to some extreme and shocking abuses, and it led to the passage of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), among other legislation.

Because of the lack of market countermeasures to debt collectors and the legislative response, the relationship between individuals and debt collectors has become significantly regulated. The FDCPA makes “unfair” or “deceptive” collection techniques illegal in general, and it specifies a large number of particular practices as violations. But even if the action is not specifically named as illegal by the FDCPA it will still be illegal if it is unfair or deceptive. This allows lawyers and individuals fighting on behalf of people abused by debt collectors to be as creative in stopping obnoxious practices as the debt collectors are in creating and implementing them. The FDCPA provides attorneys fees to people suing debt collectors (if they win), but otherwise the remedies are fairly small, with the exception of “personal injuries,” which can include emotional distress. So that opens the door to real money a little bit.

Again I would remind the reader that remedies are not limited either to federal law (FDCPA), as some states may have better laws, or to debt-collection related laws. Reporting false information is defamation, and behaving beyond certain limits is “outrageous” enough for states to provide a remedy. And these remedies likely include punitive damages, various forms of “compensatory” damages, and other forms of relief that can be much more substantial than those provided by the FDCPA.

In conclusion, it is far more advantageous legally to be sued by a debt collector, as the law provides many more remedies against them. You are not without any remedy, however, against the actions of original creditors if they are sufficiently extreme.

Taking an In-Depth Look at Court Reporting

An effective stenographer is a necessity in an organization that requires accuracy and keen listening skills. Different states refer to these people with different terms such as court, shorthand, or law reporters, but they all mean the same thing.

Stenographers or court reporters handle the difficult job of transcribing every speech or written communication happening inside the courtroom. The nature of the job requires specialized skill sets and training.

The demands of the position are something many people are unwilling to take on. It takes an extraordinary amount of patience and skill to come closer to the basic requirement for the job. This is the reason law firms and federal agencies go to lengths to make sure they hire the right people for the job. This also makes the business of providing court reporting and stenography service a profitable industry.

Court reporters are some of the most competent people in the business. This is mostly because they are required to perfect their craft through years of training. Traditional stenotype court reporters are highly popular, but the market has grown to include those specializing in voice stenography. The difference is the amount of time spent in acquiring the basic court reporting skill. It takes around two to four years for stenographers to complete their training while voice reporters only need around six months to one year to complete theirs.

Evolving Technologies

In an industry as competitive as stenography, introducing new and better ways to get the job done is necessary. Many court reporting companies now use video technology to record and save legal proceedings on disks for easy reference. It also helps minimize errors and omissions as the video can be played repeatedly to collect the most comprehensive and accurate information for transcription.

Developing litigation support software has also helped make the transcription process less tedious. Litigation support software makes it easy to make revisions or add annotations to any transcripts. It also makes sharing the information more efficient.

Transcription Services Made Easy

Technology has significantly improved transcription management. The availability of different software that can save, print, and search for transcripts in a given database is a welcome convenience. With these technologies, the time needed to complete transcription and data transmission is shorter. This allows everyone involved in the legal process to get the job done in half the time.

With many companies providing the same transcription service, it all boils down to the add-ons you receive. It is important to look into what else you are getting in addition to basic transcription.