News Release

New Report Identifies Most Troublesome Private Lenders to Students

California Students Resolve Lending Disputes Through the CFPB’s Public Consumer Complaints Database

Oakland, CA – Thousands of American students are using the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) public Consumer Complaints Database to settle disputes about private student loans, according to a new report from the CALPIRG Education Fund.

Sallie Mae, the student lending giant, generated the most private student loan complaints in California, and ranked first in every other state. Student loan borrowers in California carry $25,700 on average in total student loan debt.

“The CFPB levels the playing field for private student loan borrowers who may feel at the mercy of their student lender,” said Jon Fox, Consumer Advocate with the CALPIRG Education Fund. “Filing a complaint to the complaints database can get real results for consumers.”

The report, “Private Loans, Public Complaints: The CFPB’s Consumer Complaints Database Gets Real Results for Student Borrowers, is the second in a series that analyzes the data in the CFPB’s Consumer Complaints Database, which accepts complaints relating to a variety of financial products and services. This report focuses on complaints about private student loans, which are the riskiest and most expensive way to pay for a college education. Private student loans make up just 15% of the student loan market. However, student loan borrowers with more than $40,000 in total debt disproportionately carry private student loans. 

Some key findings:

  • The CFPB has helped enable more than 330 consumers, or about eight percent of the total complaints filed, to receive monetary compensation to resolve their student loan complaints, with a median of $700 in monetary relief, and maximum relief of more than $75,000.   More than 500 additional consumers, or twelve percent of the total complaints filed, have had their complaints closed with some form of non-monetary relief, such as modifying collections proceedings and providing assistance with documentation.
  • California ranked second among the states from which the most complaints were filed, with 413 complaints.
  • The most complained-about lender in every state was Sallie Mae, which generated 187 complaints in California alone. Nationally, Sallie Mae generated 46 percent of complaints about private student loans in the database. It dominates the private student lending market with an estimated 50 percent market share.
  • After Sallie Mae, the lender that generated the most complaints in California was American Education Services, a non-profit organization set up by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (AES/PHEAA). 
  • California ranked 19 nationally in how likely borrowers in the state were to complain about their private student loans. Overall, borrowers in the Northeast were much more likely to file a complaint.
  • Borrowers were most likely to complain about problems with repaying their loan, as issues with fees, billing, deferment, forbearance, fraud and credit reporting accounted for 65% of complaints.

The harsh reality of private student loans is clear for Robyn Hall, a recent graduate from Humboldt State University. “There is clause in my loan contract that says Sallie Mae can increase the interest rate at any time, and that scares me since I want to payoff this debt in my lifetime,” said Hall, adding “I took out a loan in 2010, and after making steady payments, I still owe the same amount to Sallie Mae.”

The CALPIRG Education Fund report comes just after the CFPB student loan ombudsman released its annual report last week on the private student loan marketplace which provides a more qualitative look at the complaints.

The report also highlights several changes that the CFPB should make to the public database, such as adding individual complaint narratives in order to share richer details about the problems private student loan borrowers are facing, in order to further help student consumers who may be considering taking on a private student loan. The report praises the CFPB for analyzing the complaints data on a regular basis to spot trends and to take action, and urges the bureau to do even more in the arena of aggregating data and taking regulatory action.

"The CFPB is making it possible for private student loan borrowers and other financial consumers to make it right when they’ve been wronged by their lender,” Jon Fox said.



Download the report, “Private Loans, Public Complaints: The CFPB’s Consumer Complaints Database Gets Real Results for Student Borrowers

This is the second in a series of five reports by the CALPIRG Education Fund that analyze the complaints in the CFPB’s public Consumer Complaints Database. Upcoming reports will analyze complaints relating to credit reporting, credit cards, and debt collection.

Visit the CFPB’s public Consumer Complaints Database:

CALPIRG Education Fund works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation.

Support us

Your tax-deductible donation supports CALPIRG Education Fund’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support CALPIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations. 

CALPIRG Education Fund is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to getting things done.