A student loan debtor sued her loan servicer, arguing that the servicer had violated Illinois consumer fraud law by asserting that its customer representatives were experts in repayment options and acted in a borrower’s best interest when they were in fact instructed to steer borrowers into payment options that benefited the servicer more than the borrower. The district court dismissed the suit, finding that federal disclosure law preempted the suit, but the appellate court reversed, holding that penalizing loan servicers for making affirmative misrepresentations did not impose additional disclosure requirements on servicers, and thus was not preempted.
Nicole Nelson financed her education with federal student loans. Great Lakes, Nelson’s loan servicer, manages borrowers’ accounts, processes payments, assists borrowers with alternative repayment plans, and communicates with borrowers about the repayment of their loans. Nelson began repaying her loans in December 2009. In September 2013, she changed jobs and her income dropped. She contacted Great Lakes, and its representative led Nelson to believe that “forbearance” was the best option for her personal financial situation. A few months later, Nelson lost her new job. She contacted Great Lakes again in March 2014. This time, the representative again did not inform her of income-based repayment options, and instead steered her into deferment.
Forbearance is the temporary cessation of payments, allowing an extension of the term of the loan, or temporarily accepting smaller payments than were previously scheduled. Under forbearance, unpaid interest is capitalized, which can substantially increase monthly payments after the forbearance period ends. Federal law requires lenders and loan servicers to offer income-driven repayment plans, which Nelson argues are more appropriate in situations of longer-term financial hardship. Enrolling callers in these plans is, however, time-consuming for customer service representatives. Nelson eventually sued Great Lakes on behalf of a putative class, arguing that Great Lakes breach Illinois consumer protection law when it held itself out as an expert on student loan plans and caused her to rely on their assertions that they would operate on her behalf. The district court dismissed Nelson’s complaint, finding that her claims were preempted by federal law that stated that federal student loans were not subject to state-law disclosure requirements. Nelson then appealed. Continue reading ›