A presidential memorandum signed Tuesday directs federal agencies to overhaul the way Americans repay their student loans, the latest move in a series of steps the Obama administration is taking to promote college affordability and access.
The steps include growing a program that caps student loan payments to 10% of a persons income for 20 years. It comes at a time when student debt has surpassed $1.3 trillion and the average graduate is leaving school with nearly $29,000 in school loans.
The memorandum, called the Student Aid Bill of Rights, calls for the Education Department to create a website by July 2016 to give borrowers a simple way to file complaints and provide feedback about collection agencies, federal student lenders, servicers and their schools. The portal is supposed to help the department to quickly respond to complaints.
Much of the plan involves improving the way borrowers interact with student-loan servicers, the middlemen who collect loan payments. Obama will require companies, including Navient and Nelnet, to alert borrowers when their loans are transferred to another firm or if they fall behind on payments.
Obama unveiled his plan Tuesday at the Georgia Institute of Technology, a school regularly ranked as one of the best bargains in education."Every borrower has the right to an affordable repayment plan," Obama said. "Every borrower has the right to quality customer service, reliable information and fair treatment, even if they struggle to repay their loans."The administration will establish a central point of access for all people repaying federal student loans to check their accounts and track their payments, rather than leaving it up to each servicer to furnish that information. It also will require servicers to automatically apply prepayments to loans with the highest interest rates unless otherwise directed by borrowers.
Consumer groups have complained that student-loan servicers fail to make struggling borrowers aware of the options, leading them to fall behind or wind up in default.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that some servicers spread out payments across multiple loans to trigger more late fees or sometimes charging them even when payments are received during the grace period.