The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office filed suit Thursday against Navient, the largest U.S. student-loan servicer, alleging widespread abuses and deceptive acts involving its administration of student loans.
The suit against Navient Corp. and its subsidiary Navient Solutions LLC, formerly a part of Sallie Mae, could affect hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, adding that the office is seeking restitution for all borrowers affected by the practices.
That includes anyone who received private student loans from Sallie Mae or who has had federal or private student loans serviced by Navient and has had problems with repayment.
"Navient's deceptive practices and predatory conduct harmed student borrowers and put their own profits ahead of the interests of millions of families across our country who are struggling to repay student loans," Shapiro said in a statement.
Navient said in a statement that the allegations "are completely unfounded and the case was filed without any review of Pennsylvania residents' customer accounts."
"We comply with the rules that govern the student loan program as set by Congress and the Department of Education, and there are no allegations that we have violated these rules," said Patricia Nash Christel, vice president of corporate communications. She said Navient-serviced borrowers are 37 percent less likely to default than those serviced by others.
The Wilmington-based company, which has a large servicing center in Wilkes-Barre, already is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed this year by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Washington state and Illinois also have sued the company.
Pennsylvania residents have filed 1,059 complaints against Navient with the CFPB as of September, the Attorney General's Office said.
Navient has more than 12 million borrowers nationally, more than six million of them through a contract with the Department of Education, and handles more than $300 billion in federal and private student loans.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, alleges that the company has "engaged in practices that have harmed countless student loan borrowers by … peddling risky and expensive subprime loans that they knew or should have known were likely to default, and … while servicing student loans, failing to perform core servicing duties, thereby causing harm to borrowers and cosigners."
The company's subprime products included high interest rates and origination fees, according to the suit, in some cases as high as the equivalent of a 15.75 percent interest rate. One of the company's emails on a subprime lending workshop described the subprime loan program as "the baited hook to gain …volume," according to the suit.
The company, according to the Attorney General's Office, has made predatory loans to students attending for-profit and nonprofit colleges with graduation rates lower than 50 percent despite "clear expectations that an extremely high percentage of students would not be able to repay them."
The suit also accuses the company of loosening credit standards to give expensive loans to students who could not afford them. Some borrowers, as a result, have had to delay starting a family, purchasing a home, or opening a business, the suit alleges.
And the company, beginning in 2009, steered borrowers into short-term loan forbearances that actually continued longer and accrued interest, adding to students' debt, Shapiro's office said.
"The company should have been helping borrowers apply for income-driven repayment plans during this time," his office said. "From 2010 to 2015, Navient added up to $4 billion in interest charges in this way to the principal balances of borrowers."