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AG Ferguson announces more than $2 million in recoveries for student-borrowers

AG Ferguson announces more than $2 million in recoveries for student-borrowers
Nearly three dozen entities must pay restitution to more than 2,600 Washingtonians with an average payment of nearly $800 per consumer

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OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that his office has recovered more than $2 million from nearly three dozen debt adjusters who preyed on student borrowers. These entities engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, including unlawfully charging tens of thousands of dollars in excessive fees to thousands of Washingtonians.

The effort pursuing these recoveries is part of the Attorney General’s Student Loan Initiative to help borrowers navigate the complexity of signing up for then paying off student loans.

This year alone, Ferguson’s office resolved cases against three out-of-state debt adjusters, who are now required to pay 495 borrowers $359,832 in restitution. Every impacted Washingtonian is receiving a full reimbursement of unlawfully charged fees. In all, Ferguson’s initiative to root out predatory debt services has already helped 2,652 Washington consumers by resolving cases against 35 entities, resulting in payments averaging nearly $800 per borrower.

This comes at a time when the federal government is restarting student loan payments.

“It is a chaotic time for millions of borrowers as student loan repayments resume after more than three years,” Ferguson said. “My office is committed to protecting Washingtonians from companies that take advantage of consumers who are simply trying to manage their debt.”

Consumers who suspect they were charged or paid fees in excess of what is allowed under the law are encouraged to submit a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division.

Student loan debt adjustment firms offer to help students complete and submit paperwork to the U.S. Department of Education to consolidate their federal student loans. But information about repayment options and help consolidating federal student loans is available — for free — directly from the U.S. Department of Education. Borrowers can also contact the company to which they currently make payments for information about consolidation and repayment options like income-based repayment.

Under the Debt Adjustment Act, the maximum upfront fee a debt adjuster can legally charge is $25. The companies investigated by Ferguson’s office charged anywhere from several hundred to thousands in upfront fees. Borrowers were also charged monthly “monitoring” fees in excess of the legal limit and without a clear understanding that these fees would span the life of the loan. The law limits those monitoring fees to no more than 15% of the payment amount. For example, a person paying $300 a month may not be charged more than $45 per month in monitoring fees.

Other unlawful actions by these debt adjusters included:

  • False claims of an affiliation with the federal Department of Education;
  • Aggressive marketing of “student loan forgiveness” for ineligible loans;
  • Claims of employing student loan “experts” when staff had no industry experience;
  • And claims to expedite loan consolidation despite an inability to actually do so.

The restitution recovered so far from all the financial entities totals $2,004,205 for an average of $755 per consumer. The resolutions also include payment of $321,035 in attorneys’ fees to the Attorney General, which covers the costs of investigation.

Recoveries in 2023

The most recent debt adjuster resolution, with Skyway Financial Group, resulted from a swift investigation that began in late spring. The agreement makes whole 188 Washington borrowers who will receive a total of $139,591 in restitution from Skyway. The assurance of discontinuance also prevents the company from continuing to engage in unlawful practices in Washington state.

Other resolutions this year include:

  • Student Aid Group: The Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation in October last year. The resolution reached in early 2023 resulted in payouts for 98 borrowers totaling $45,635. The agreement also covered $7,000 in attorneys’ fees.
  • Allied Financial: The office’s investigation started in November last year. The agreement, also reached in early 2023, resulted in $174,606 in restitution for 209 borrowers, plus $7,000 in attorneys’ fees.

Process for investigating debt adjusters

The process for investigating debt adjusters is often consumer-driven: Each resolution resulted from a consumer submitting a complaint to the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office. Consumer Protection opened investigations and demanded business records to ensure the entities were complying with the law. So far, all of Consumer Protection’s student loan debt adjuster investigations have resulted in the entities paying full restitution.

Washington consumers who plan to use debt adjustment or consolidation services are encouraged to become familiar with the requirements for companies offering those services, and to submit complaints when they discover any of those companies violating the law.

Consumers can submit complaints to the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division here.

Ferguson’s efforts to protect student borrowers

The effort to root out predatory debt adjustment services is part of Ferguson’s broader initiative to protect student borrowers.

Ferguson filed a lawsuit in January 2017 against national loan servicer Navient for numerous unlawful practices that harmed Washington student borrowers. Last year, his office announced it had recovered $45 million in debt relief, restitutions and costs to resolve that lawsuit. Ferguson has previously recovered millions of dollars in debt relief for thousands of student borrowers who attended for-profit colleges that used misleading and deceptive practices.

In July 2017, the Student Loan Transparency Act went into effect. The bipartisan law — proposed by Ferguson and sponsored by Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, and Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines — requires colleges and other institutions of higher education to provide notices to students detailing their loan balances and estimated monthly payments within 30 days of the disbursement of the loan.

In 2018, the Legislature passed the Student Loan Bill of Rights, which Ferguson requested to provide vital protections to Washington state’s student borrowers. The law created a dedicated student loan advocate to help students navigate student loan borrowing, and adopted standards for student loan servicers. Learn more about the Washington Student Loan Advocate and access free resources here.

The Student Loan Bill of Rights also provided students with basic guarantees: student loan servicers must credit borrowers’ payments within one business day, respond to requests for information promptly in writing, and refund fees assessed in error, among other standards.

To assist student loan borrowers in Washington, the Attorney General’s Office has compiled a Student Loan Survival Guide. This guide provides tips and links to resources to help high school students thinking about attending college, former college students who are not able to keep up with their payments, parents of students and everyone in between.

Ferguson also recently co-authored a letter, along with Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell, urging the Biden Administration to take action to protect student loan borrowers as payments resume nationwide for the first time since March 2020. A coalition of 17 other state attorneys general signed onto the letter, which details concerns about student loan servicers’ abilities to support borrowers as student loan payments restart.

More information on the office’s work to protect student borrowers is available here.

As of 9/21/2023Attorney General’s Office Student Loan Adjuster Cases
AdjusterSettlement Mo/YrWashington BorrowersCosts & FeesRestitution
Irvine Web Works Inc./Student Loan ProcessingNov-1587$124,000$114,896.46
SLRS, LLC d/b/a Student Loan Relief ServicesJan-1623$7,386$6,238
Student Debt Solutions, LLCFeb-1621$8,193$11,807
United Advisors Group, LLCMar-16158$14,726$85,273
American Student Loan Consolidators, LLCMar-1627$5,536$14,659
Debt Relief Pros, Inc. d/b/a Student Debt ReliefMar-1678$7,954$30,544
DFL International LLC d/b/a US Direct Student Loan ServicesApr-1630$6,330$13,671
National Student Loan Solutions, Inc.Mar-161$0$1,050
LIBRE Technologies, Inc. d/b/a Student Loan ServiceJun-16323$5,000$369,976
DORM Group, Inc./Student Loan Service ManagersJul-1677$5,000$79,532
Student Services, LLC d/b/a Student Loan AidAug-1680$5,500$39,862
American Document Preparation Services LLC/The Student Resolution Center LLCOct-166$5,000$3,788
SLAC Inc./Student Loan Assistance CenterNov-16422$5,000$248,297
H&S Marketing LLC/Student Loan CounselDec-16268$5,500$231,936
Miller Student Loan Consulting, LLCSep-163$1,500$930
Title 4 Services, LLCApr-1722$4,500$8,124
CSADVO, LLC d/b/a National Student Aid CareMay-1715$5,500$8,968
Financial Education Referral Center d/b/a Student Financial Help CenterMay-1792$7,500$51,259
Student Loan Solutions, LLCMay-1724$5,500$10,682
National BPO, LLC d/b/a National Student ServicingJun-1767$7,500$55,201
United Student Loan Solutions, LLCMar-172$1,000$899
Prima Processing Solutions, LLCFeb-1757$5,500$27,170
FNZA Marketing, LLC d/b/a Student Loan ProAug-1729$5,500$25,356
Student Loan Relief Center, LLCAug-174$1,000$1,197
Sign on the X, LLC d/b/a Student Loan ExchangeAug-1755$6,500$36,037
SLAC, Inc. d/b/a Student Loan Assistance Center (amended consent decree)Aug-17No additional consumers$15,000$1,758
Global Doc Prep, Inc.Oct-177$7,500$5,138
NSLFC, LLC d/b/a Fed-Help.orgNov-1728$7,500$10,576
Clarity Solutions Center, LLC (Joe Magana)Oct-1831$3,000$10,240
Student Aid Center, Inc., Damien Alvarez, and Ramiro Fernandez-MorisNov-17N/AN/AN/A
J & B Endeavors d/b/a Student Loan MovementFeb-20108$7,500$130,531
Tangent Solution Support d/b/a Tangent Solution a Graduate Assistance CompanyAug-2112$4,500$8,780
Total Rain d/b/a Student Aid Group28-Feb-2398$7,000$45,635
Allied Document Prep d/b/a Global Business GroupMar-23209$7,000$174,606
Skyway Financial GroupSep-23188$5,409$139,591
TOTAL2652$321,034.98$2,004,205.09
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