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BOSTON – In the last hours of this legislative session, lawmakers passed key protections on Wednesday for people who have borrowed money to attend college. The new provisions, known as the Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights, are part of Massachusetts’ larger economic development bill, H5250.
“The Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights will protect borrowers from unfair, predatory, and deceptive lending and loan servicing companies,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s legislative director. “We hope the governor will sign the bill and help out our friends, family and neighbors who have tried to better themselves through higher education.”
“The passage of the bill will codify desperately needed protections for borrowers. We have fought tirelessly alongside MASSPIRG, the Student Borrower Protection Center, the Hildreth Institute, PHENOM 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,” stated Sen. Eric P. Lesser, Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and lead negotiator for the economic development conference committee.
According to the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) , nearly two-thirds of Massachusetts students graduating in 2018 from an undergraduate program left school in debt -- and those students had an average of $32,000 of student debt. In Massachusetts, we have 855,500 student loan borrowers who owe a collective $33 billion. Nationally, there is $1.7 trillion in outstanding student loan debt.
“Student debt has grown faster in Massachusetts than in 49 other states since 2001,” said state Rep. Natalie Higgins. “These new protections will be available to the nearly one million student loan borrowers across our state.”
MASSPIRG Students Statewide Board Chair Silver Wolf, a junior at UMass Boston, added, “With the cost of college tuition skyrocketing, more students and families are driven to seek student loans to pay for it. These common-sense consumer protections are needed and long overdue to prevent the student debt crisis from getting worse.”
"In addition to the student leaders, we are proud that more than 50 state and national civil rights, higher education, and consumer advocacy organizations also joined together to urge Massachusetts lawmakers to pass the Student Borrower Bill of Rights," said Bahar Akman Imboden, Managing Director of the Hildreth Institute. “As the COVID-19 pandemic puts a strain on many student borrowers' finances, now more than ever, we must promote financial security and economic justice for Massachusetts communities."
Some student loan servicers have taken advantage of student borrowers by using illegal or unfair predatory lending methods, charging exorbitant fees, misrepresenting their products to students, botching paperwork, failing to properly process paperwork or misleading them into opting for more expensive options. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), almost two-thirds of the complaints filed by student borrowers last year were related to problems with loan servicing.
The Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights will protect student borrowers by:
Requiring the Division of Banks to license all student loan servicers, holding them accountable for deceptive practices under state law.
Establishing a Student Loan Ombudsman office that will receive, review and assist in resolving complaints. This office will be critical in spotting and evaluating unfair and deceptive trends and practices, enabling regulators to act to protect borrowers. The office will also educate borrowers.
Requiring the Ombudsman to release annual reports on conduct, complaints, resolutions, and trends in student loan servicing practices. In addition to recommendations to improve the lending process and protect borrowers, the annual report will also include information from the Division of Banks on complaints, resolutions and recommendations on how to improve oversight of industry.
Similar bills have been passed in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Washington state, and Washington, D.C.
“We commend the leadership and relentless advocacy of Senator Eric Lesser of Longmeadow and Representative Higgins of Leominster, the initial sponsors of the Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights; and the other members of the conference committee, including Chairpeople Michlewitz, Rodrigues and O’Connor and Representatives Ferrante and Wong,“ Cummings concluded. “Now more than ever, it is critical that we defend students from predatory loan servicers. The need for state oversight could not be more urgent.”
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