Navient, the largest student loan servicer in the country, is here to simply collect your monthly education loan payments, not help you find ways to more easily afford those payments.
At least that’s the crux of Navient’s latest filing [PDF] to dismiss a federal lawsuit that accused the company of allegedly cheating borrowers out of repayment rights.
“There is no expectation that the servicer will act in the interest of the consumers,” Navient said in the March 24 filing, adding that courts routinely agree that servicers and lenders “do not owe borrowers any specific fiduciary duties based upon their servicer/borrower relationship.”
This icy argument, notes Bloomberg, is very different from the warm, borrower-friendly sentiment the company (formerly part of Sallie Mae) and its CEO Jack Remondi have long professed publicly.
In fact, in a blog post published just two weeks ago, Remondi talked up Navient’s desire to aid borrowers in getting out of debt.
“At Navient, our priority is to help each of our 12 million customers successfully manage their loans in a way that works for their individual circumstances,” wrote the CEO.
But in last week’s filing, Navient claimed that it simply isn’t being paid enough by the Department of Education to provide such thorough services to borrowers.
The CFPB, along with the attorneys general of Illinois and Washington, sued [PDF] Navient for allegedly cheating borrowers out of repayment rights back in January.
The lawsuit alleges that for years Navient engaged in a series of illegal and deceptive practices, including providing borrowers with incorrect information, processing payments erroneously, and failing to address customers’ complaints.
According to Navient, borrowers could not reasonably rely on Navient to counsel them into alternative payment plans because it simply wasn’t the law.
The company argues that there is no legal basis to prove that there is more than an “arm’s-length relationship” between the servicer and borrowers.
For example, the CFPB points to four statements on Navient’s website that allegedly show borrowers can rely on the company to act in their interests, including that the servicer would “work with” borrowers or “help” them find an affordable repayment option.
Navient claims that these statements — which reached millions of borrowers — do not create a fiduciary-type relationship or obligation.
Additionally, even if the statement had been made to individual borrowers, Navient argues, general pronouncements by a lender or servicer to borrowers that “we can work with you” or “help” do not create a fiduciary relationship.
“If such statements were enough, virtually every lender and loan servicer would be transformed into a fiduciary, which is not the law,” Navient states.
Consumer advocates quickly took issue with Navient’s filing, saying it ranks amongst the most appealing statements they’ve heard.
“What this means for the Education Department is that it needs to fire Navient,” David Bergeron, former deputy assistant secretary of Education and director of the Office of Postsecondary Education at Dept. of Education.
Rohit Chopra, the former assistant director and student loan ombudsman at the CFPB, tells Bloomberg that he’s never heard a loan servicer argue it wasn’t their obligation to provide borrowers with options.
“When consumers call their servicers, they’re not expecting them to withhold information,” Chopra said.