U.S. student loan debt reached a record high total of $1.465 trillion in November of 2018. That’s more than double the $675 billion in total debt outstanding in 2009, the year the Great Recession ended. Of more than 44.6 million borrowers, over 2.7 million owe more than $100,000, including nearly 700,000 who owe more than $200,000.
It should be no surprise that with that many borrowers, there will be some complaints. From July 2011 through August 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) had received more than 50,700 complaints related to private and federal student loans and another 9,800 related to debt collections on those loans. According to the CFPB’s annual report for 2017, these complaints have returned more than $750 million to student loan borrowers.
In 2018, the agency for the first time did not issue an annual report. In September, the CFPB’s student loan ombudsman Seth Frotman resigned. In his letter of resignation to CFPB acting director Mick Mulvaney, Frotman wrote, “Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting. Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”
Those companies include banks and other lenders that make student loans, as well as the companies that service the loans. Loan servicing companies receive the bulk of the complaints, 71% in 2017. Loan servicers primarily handle billing and repayment services for both federal and private student loans.
Because the CFPB did not issue an annual report for 2018, financial information firm LendEDU combed through the agency’s database and compiled complaint data for the period between January 1 and December 19, 2018. During that period, the CFPB received 8,340 complaints.
LendEDU’s report includes data on the 10 loan servicing companies that received the most complaints in 2018. One firm stands out, with nearly double the number of complaints as the second-ranked firm filed with the CFPB. Navient Solutions, a subsidiary of publicly traded Navient Corporation, easily led in both volume and number of complaints.
The CFPB categorizes complaints in four categories: servicer complaints; credit report or credit score problems; struggling to make payment problems; and problems getting a loan (from private lenders). We have listed below the 10 student loan companies that received the most complaints in 2018. The data reported includes complaint numbers for both federal and private student loans, as well as percentage of total complaint volume and complaint volume by category for both federal and private loans. Companies are listed in the order of the number of complaints filed related to federal loans.
> Total volume of federal and private loan complaints: 45.9%
> Total number of federal and private loan complaints: 3,827
> Complaints by category (struggling to repay, credit problem, servicing problem): 27%, 8%, 65%
Navient Solutions, once part of the Student Loan Marketing Association (Sallie Mae), is the largest student loan servicer. In 2017, the CFPB filed suit against the company for failing “to provide the most basic functions of adequate student loan servicing at every stage of repayment for both private and federal loans.” It is the most complained about loan servicer in 46 states. In 2018, the company serviced 6.66 million borrowers and received 336 complaints per million borrowers.
> Total volume of federal and private loan complaints: 19.8%
> Total number of federal and private loan complaints: 1,649
> Complaints by category (struggling to repay, credit problem, servicing problem): 11%, 10%, 79%
American Education Services/Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, despite its roots in Pennsylvania, is a leading private student lender nationally. It is the most complained about agency in four states. The company serviced 8.21 million loans in 2018 and received 170 complaints per million borrowers.
> Total volume of federal and private loan complaints: 7.5%
> Total number of federal and private loan complaints: 626
> Complaints by category (struggling to repay, credit problem, servicing problem): 15%, 21%, 63%
Another publicly traded firm, Nelnet acquired Great Lakes in November 2017 for $150 million. In 2018, Nelnet serviced 6.41 million loans and received nearly 80 complaints per million borrowers.
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