For Immediate Release
January 15, 2021
Contact: Andrew Farnitano, 925-917-1354, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hildreth Institute Applauds Enactment of Student Loan Bill of Rights in MA Economic Development Bill
BOSTON – Last night, Governor Baker signed legislation establishing a Student Loan Bill of Rights for Massachusetts student loan borrowers as part of an end-of-session economic development bill, H. 5250. The Hildreth Institute, a non-profit research and policy center dedicated to restoring the promise of higher education as an engine of upward mobility for all, applauded the enactment of the student borrower protections.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic threw many student loan borrowers into financial disarray, thousands in Massachusetts struggled to manage their student loans. Student borrowers need protection from predatory student loan servicers who routinely mislead borrowers in order to increase their profits,” said Bob Hildreth, Founder of the Hildreth Institute. “We thank Senator Lesser, Representative Michlewitz, Senate President Spilka, and Speaker Mariano for including these critical protections in the economic development bill and thank Governor Baker for signing the legislation into law. I also want to thank Representatives Higgins and Arciero for their leadership on this issue, along with Senator Lesser, throughout the legislative session.”
“Loan servicers like Navient Solutions, AES/PHEAA, Nelnet, and ACS Education Services are supposed to work in good faith to help students manage their debt. But far too often, these loan servicers work against borrowers’ best interests by steering students into options that can add more interest to their loans, pushing some borrowers into default, and, even in the midst of the current pandemic, by not properly implementing federal payment relief options,” said Bahar Akman Imboden, Managing Director of the Hildreth Institute. “The burden of student debt falls disproportionately on women, who collectively hold two-thirds of all student debt, and on people of color, exacerbating existing income and wealth gaps.”
“Thanks to this legislation, Massachusetts will join the more than ten other states that have passed a Student Loan Bill of Rights to ensure that borrowers know their rights; are protected by strong consumer guidelines; and understand the resources and tools available to assist them,” she continued. “Now that we’ve won this important victory for Massachusetts borrowers, we will work to ensure that the Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights is implemented quickly and in its entirety.”
More than a million student loan borrowers in Massachusetts struggle with a predatory student loan servicing industry, but unlike mortgages or credit cards, student loans come with little to no consumer protections to give borrowers a chance to reduce their debt burdens. Multiple investigations show that loan servicers consistently work against borrowers’ best interests by steering students into options that can add more interest to their loans, pushing some borrowers into default, and, even in the midst of the current pandemic, by not properly implementing federal payment relief options.
The Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights will require student loan servicers to be licensed at the state level, prohibit servicers from engaging in predatory, unfair, and unlawful practices, and establish a Student Loan Ombudsman in the Attorney General’s office to resolve complaints and help borrowers navigate their repayment options.
“The coronavirus pandemic has crippled our economy and exacerbated the struggle countless families face due to overwhelming debt. More than 800,000 people in our Commonwealth alone collectively owe more than $40 billion in student loans, and protections to ensure oversight and fair practices in collecting this debt have been nonexistent of late,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and lead Senate negotiator for the economic development conference committee. “The passage of An Act enabling partnerships for growth codifies those desperately needed protections here in Massachusetts through the establishment of a Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights and new Student Loan Ombudsman. We have fought tirelessly alongside MassPIRG, the Student Borrower Protection Center, the Hildreth Institute, PHENOM, colleagues in the Legislature, and other stakeholders since 2017 to put these guidelines in place, and thanks to everyone’s hard work we can now begin to rebalance the scales in an unfair system that has burdened an entire generation with debt.”
“Student debt has grown faster in Massachusetts than in 49 other states since 2001,” said State Representative Natalie Higgins, lead sponsor of the Student Loan Bill of Rights in the House. “These new protections will be available to the nearly one million student loan borrowers across our state.”
In August, representatives from fifty student and consumer rights organizations, including leaders from Massachusetts’ public colleges, sent a letter to members of the state legislature’s economic development bill conference committee in support of the establishment of the Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights.
“The Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights will protect borrowers from unfair, predatory, and deceptive lending and loan servicing companies,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director of MASSPIRG.
A fact sheet on the legislation, prepared by the Hildreth Institute, the Student Borrower Protection Center, and ZeroDebt Massachusetts, highlights several complaints submitted by MA student loan borrowers to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in recent years.
“I successfully reapplied for my Income-Based Repayment and thought that I was all set to stay on my Income-Based Repayment plan,” reads one Massachusetts complaint. “For a reason unbeknownst to me, I have been removed from that plan and told to reapply, and so my accrued interest has been immediately capitalized, and I have been moved to a flat payment where the payment amount is so high and causes financial hardship. This is the second time this has happened. The first time this happened, the customer service representative put me into forbearance and told me that they never received the income documentation that I had sent. It then took Navient 3 months to get me back on the plan. This time, I have not been able to speak to customer service, and do not want to go into forbearance, so I will have to make this payment while trying to get back on the plan. But I will have had the interest capitalized, which adds to the hardship.”
“I have spent over a year attempting to certify employment for Public Service Loan Forgiveness,” reads another Massachusetts complaint. “After submitting the form three times, and having my employer send a letter to [the servicer], they continue to claim that my form is not complete and they can not certify my employment. I have contacted [the servicer] dozens of times in an attempt to resolve the problem, yet have not received appropriate assistance or a solution to my problem. It is unacceptable for a simple 2-page form to consume hours worth of my time because of a servicer‘s inability to comply with student loan policies and procedures.”
Hildreth Institute is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to restoring the promise of higher education as an engine of upward mobility for all. We believe that all students should be able to obtain a high-quality, zero-debt postsecondary education. At Hildreth Institute, we fight for zero-debt college because we believe that student loans are not the right financial aid tool for our students or their families. We need to move to a zero-debt system that makes high-quality college affordable to all, without leaving students mired in debt.
We research, develop, and promote solutions for changes in public policies and institutional financial practices that will reduce costs to students and improve quality. Through partnerships with researchers and policy experts, with politically diverse organizations, with policymakers from both major political parties, and with corporate and community leaders, we will build support for transformative change in higher education financing. Working closely with our sister organization, Zero Debt Massachusetts, we will empower students and families to come together to demand change and hold policymakers and college leaders accountable. Hildreth Institute is a member of the national Higher Ed, Not Debt coalition, a campaign of dozens of organizations dedicated to tackling the crippling and ever-growing issue of student loan debt in America.