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Government Sued Over Student Debt Collector Data

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The National Consumer Law Center filed a lawsuit recently against the Department of Education, demanding the Obama Administration comply with the Freedom of Information Act and release documents detailing its relationship to private debt collectors.

The department has denied previous requests, in which the NCLC asked the Education Department to turn over public information describing the oversight and financial incentives provided to contractors pursuing delinquent student loan borrowers.

The Education Department contracts 22 collections agencies to pursue the $94 billion of federal student loan debt in default (meaning the borrower hasn’t made a payment in more than 270 days), according to the Government Accountability Office. The NCLC first filed Freedom of Information requests about the collections contracts in 2013, and the little information it received in response was heavily redacted, the organization said in a news release about the lawsuit.

The NCLC wants the details on the department’s contracts with the private debt collectors for several reasons: The NCLC is concerned about borrowers’ rights, as debt collectors have been known to employ aggressive and sometimes illegal tactics when pursuing debtors. In addition, the contracts are fulfilled with taxpayer dollars. In 2011, taxpayers paid about $1 billion in commissions to private student loan debt collectors, the NCLC said.

“Taxpayers and student loan borrowers have a right to information about the impact of the Education Department’s policy of paying outside debt collectors on the rights of borrowers,” said National Consumer Law Center attorney Persis Yu, in the news release.

As student loan debt has grown, so has default. Americans have nearly $1.3 trillion in outstanding education debt, according to the Federal Reserve, and 14.7% of students who entered repayment in 2010 defaulted on their loans within three years (up from 13.9% for those who entered repayment in 2009).

Student loan debt is particularly draining for consumers, because they typically cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, though there are some options for making loan payments more affordable, like income-based repayment and loan consolidation — if you want to get rid of your education debt quickly, here are some strategies for you.

Failing to make loan payments not only hurts the borrower’s credit (which has a large impact on other aspects of your finances), but it can also lead to dealing with debt collectors or wage garnishment. If you’re concerned about how your student loans affect your credit, you can get a monthly snapshot of your credit standing and two credit scores using the free tools on Credit.com.

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