According to The New York Times, billions of dollars in private student loan debt could be wiped out, all because the private lender didn’t keep track of the paperwork that would verify that it had ownership of the loans.
The missing paperwork came to light because of a long legal argument between a group of creditors and students who they were aggressively pursuing in court for falling behind in paying back their loans.
The National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts holds 800,000 private loans, and the legal dispute comes from borrowers that have failed to pay $5 billion of the $12 billion in private student loans held by National Collegiate, which puts the loans in default. With judges dismissing the lawsuits against the former students, the debt is essentially being wiped out, and the lender doesn’t have the paperwork to prove ownership.
The problem is that these loans were made “more than a decade ago by dozens of different banks, then bundled together by a financing company and sold to investors through a process known as securitization,” the Times reported, noting that this meant they were not protected by the federal government.
Donald Uderitz, the founder of Vantage Capital Group, a private-equity firm in Delray Beach, Florida, and one of the financiers behind National Collegiate’s trusts, said that he hired an auditor in 2015 to look into the state of the loans. The audit found that not one out of the 400 randomly-collected loans had documents for chain of ownership.
“It’s fraud to try to collect on loans that you don’t own,” Uderitz told The Times. “We want no part of that. If it’s a loan we’re owed fairly, we want to collect. We need answers on this.”
Keith New, a spokesman for the servicer, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (known to borrowers as American Education Services), said, “We believe that the auditors were misinformed about the scope of P.H.E.A.A.’s contractual obligations. We are confident that the litigation will reveal that the agency has acted properly and in accordance with its agreements.”
The court dispute has been ongoing for over a year, with borrowers stuck in limbo as important questions about their loans remain unanswered, simply because there is no clear answer as to who has the authority to take those questions. A court filing late last year showed that around 2,000 borrower requests for forbearance have been unanswered.