By STEVE LeBLANC
BOSTON (AP) — Navient, a major student loan collecting company, agreed to cancel $1.7 billion in debt owed by more than 66,000 borrowers across the U.S. and pay over $140 million in other penalties to settle allegations of abusive lending practices.
The settlement with 39 state attorneys general was announced Thursday.
Navient “engaged in deceptive and abusive practices, targeted students who it knew would struggle to pay loans back, and placed an unfair burden on people trying to improve their lives through education,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who helped lead the negotiations, said in a statement.
Among other things, he said, Navient misled borrowers who were having trouble making payments into entering what are known as long-term forbearances, which caused them to run up even more debt.
Forbearance is when lenders allow borrowers to pause or reduce payments for a limited time while they build back their finances. However, interest on the loan continues to accrue and can ultimately cause the amount paid over the life of the loan to be higher.
Navient denied acting illegally, and it did not admit to any wrongdoing under the settlement, which is subject to court approval.
“Navient is and has been continually focused on helping student loan borrowers understand and select the right payment options to fit their needs,” Chief Legal Officer Mark Heleen said in a statement.
In addition to forgiving tens of thousands of loans, Navient will pay $142.5 million, most of which will go to about 350,000 borrowers who were placed in long-term forbearances.
Also, Navient will be required to do more to advise borrowers of their options and explain repayment plans to them.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey called the settlement “an important step toward addressing our broken student loan repayment system.”
Borrowers whose loans are canceled will receive notice from Navient along with refunds of any payments made after mid-2021.
The settlement also includes Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
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