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Top U.S. Student Loan Officer Resigns, Slams Trump Administration

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The U.S. student loan ombudsman, the top government official in charge of protecting student borrowers from predatory practices by lenders and loan servicers, announced that Monday he was resigning his post in protest at the end of this week.

Seth Frotman’s resignation letter, obtained by the Associated Press and National Public Radio, offered scathing words about what he said was a shift by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) under current head Mick Mulvaney — and the Trump administration more broadly — to protect major financial interests over the needs of consumers.

“Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting,” Frotman’s letter read. “Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”

Consumer advocates reacted with dismay to the news, while continuing to take the White House to task for what they see as the erosion of student loan and other consumer protections since early 2017, when President Donald J. Trump took office.

What does the student loan ombudsman do?

As the student loan ombudsman, Frotman served as an advocate for student borrowers in their complaints against student loan servicers.

When dealing with servicers, the ombudsman can help borrowers get the information they need, as well as help them get relief when they’ve been wronged.

Frotman’s resignation comes after the decision to close the Office for Students and Young Consumers, the only federal government office specifically tasked with protecting student borrowers.

“Assistant Director Frotman has been a champion of the 44 million Americans who owe student debt,” Christopher Peterson, the director of financial services at the Consumer Federal of America, said in a press release. “His work at the CFPB has curbed industry abuse and reclaimed hundreds of millions of dollars for student loan borrowers.”

Since its inception, the CFPB has overseen the return of about $750 million to student borrowers who suffered from unfair practices by student loan servicers and taken other actions to protect consumers.

“The CFPB has power to protect consumers through enforcement actions like fines and lawsuits,” said Jay Fleischman, a student loan lawyer and consumer advocate. “Since the Trump administration took over, and more specifically, since Mick Mulvaney has been in charge of the CFPB, actions like the Navient lawsuit have pretty much ground to a halt, leaving consumers exposed to abuses by servicers.”

Not everyone has been happy with the CFPB, however. Efforts to reduce the power of the CFPB have been underway since it was formed, and Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman representing South Carolina, has been one of its biggest detractors.

“It turns up being a joke, and that’s what the CFPB really has been, in a sick, sad kind of way,” Mulvaney told the Credit Union Times in 2014.

Texas congressman Jeb Hensarling, the Republican chairman of the House Financial Services committee, wrote a February 2017 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, in which he called the CFPB unconstitutional: “The CFPB has eroded freedom, trampled due process and killed jobs. It must go.”

How you can protect yourself as a consumer

Despite the disdain some policymakers have for the CFPB, consumer advocates like Peterson and Fleischman insist that the agency had done a lot of good, putting the needs of citizens ahead of the concerns of the financial industry.

“The [Trump] administration has seized control of an independent consumer watchdog and is strangling one of the only agencies in Washington dedicated to looking out for the rights of ordinary Americans,” Peterson continued in the press release.

So, what can you do if you’re unsure of the protections available to you?

Fleischman said that it’s still possible to file complaints with various government agencies, including the Department of Education and the CFPB. However, he conceded that with the contraction of offices designed to protect students, such a move might be inadequate.

“In addition to filing a complaint, consider sitting down with an attorney,” he said. “Many consumer advocate attorneys work on a contingency basis, so it won’t cost you anything to consult one.”

Fleischman recommended visiting the website for the National Association of Consumer Advocates for information on your rights and how to find a student loan lawyer that might be able to help you.

It’s also possible to influence future policy, and protect the CFPB and the office of ombudsman, by being politically active. Pay attention to higher education bills in Congress, and contact state and federal representatives with your concerns.

And, of course, vote for legislators that will implement policies designed to protect consumers (and encourage your friends to do the same).

“The student loan ombudsman has always been tremendously helpful,” said Fleischman, adding that as the government gives up its role in consumer protection, it’s up to private attorneys and consumer advocates to take on a heavier burden. “That’s what we’re here for. We’re the protectors. And now we’re some of the only ones left.”

This post originally appeared on StudentLoanHero.com, a subsidiary of LendingTree. 

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Miranda Marquit
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Miranda Marquit is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Miranda here

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6 Months After Settling Sexual Harassment Claims, a Worker Faces the Consequences

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Sexual Harassment Claims
Illustration: Kelsey Wroten for MagnifyMoney

Chelsea Jones thought she’d feel relieved.

In the spring, Jones’ employer agreed to settle her claims that she was sexually harassed by her manager. The matter was handled out of court, and Jones is not allowed to discuss the terms of the settlement. She agreed to share her story with MagnifyMoney under the condition of anonymity. We have changed her name and other identifying details in this story.

Soon after her settlement was finalized, Jones tendered her resignation. It was the end of a months-long battle to convince her employer that her manager’s unrelenting advances — offers to rub her back, late night texts and weekend phone calls — were worthy of of retribution.

But it was hardly a victory. Six months later, Jones, a single mother of a young daughter, is cashing unemployment checks and struggling to find a new job. As far as she knows, her former boss is right where she left him.

“The worst part is that I second-guess myself now,” said Jones, reflecting on the harassment, which she said began after she received a promotion last year. “I’m a hard worker, and I feel like I do a good job. But what if I’m not? Was I really good, or was it always about something else?”

Coming forward

Whether the employee is a famous news anchor or an office assistant, reporting sexual harassment at work is never an easy battle to wage alone. It’s arguably more difficult for the average worker, who may not feel they have the professional clout or the financial means to take action. Workers filed roughly 6,800 sexual harassment charges through the Equal Employment Opportunity Office in 2015, down 14% since 2010.

For Jones, speaking up was only the first of many challenges she faced. While her attorney squared off against her company’s legal team behind closed doors, she continued coming to work each day, where she said she was subjected to an increasingly hostile environment.

Even filing a simple human resources complaint can be rife with complications, exposing workers to forms of retaliation that, while illegal, can make it difficult to muster the willpower to keep fighting.

“[Workers] can be fired or suffer other consequences,” said Gary Young, an attorney who specializes in workplace harassment issues at the business law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck. “Even if you have your day in court and are vindicated, it can be a long road and it’s tough to go through the process.”

No one understands that process better than Jones.

Jones was in her late 20s when she started working for the Boston-area firm in 2013. For Jones, it was something of a professional comeback. She had recently ended a marriage and went back to school to earn her Associate’s Degree. She was thrilled to be hired and eagerly accepted a promotion a couple of years later.

The new title came with a higher salary and, she soon discovered, an increasing amount of unwanted attention from her boss.

“We were at a conference together, and he was offering to give me a back massage, to put his arms around my shoulders,” said Jones, now 30. The advances continued for months. According to Jones, her manager insisted on buying her gifts on her birthday and began texting her late at night and on weekends. She asked her manager to stop his advances, to no avail.

Worried that her coworkers would get the wrong impression about their relationship, Jones decided to report his behavior to her human resources manager.

“I was hoping to resolve the issue [through HR], and change my position so I was no longer sitting outside of his office,” Jones told MagnifyMoney. “My goal wasn’t to file a lawsuit.”

Dead-ends and demotions

Illustration: Kelsey Wroten for MagnifyMoney
Illustration: Kelsey Wroten for MagnifyMoney

HR proved to be a dead end. As a solution, her HR manager offered to put Jones in an administrative role in another part of the company. The new job would have moved her out from under her manager’s purview, but it was effectively a demotion.

She turned the offer down. In the ensuing weeks, her boss increasingly began cutting back her job duties, she said. He yanked her budget for a previously approved work project. She was told she could no longer use support staff to see the project through.

At a loss for what to do, Jones posted a message on a Facebook support group for single working moms. A member referred her to an employment attorney in her area, who offered her a free consultation.

“He said I’m young and if I file a lawsuit it will become public record and it could hurt my future employment,” Jones said. She agreed to give it another try with HR.

When she submitted another complaint, Jones said she received a warning: HR had noticed her performance was slipping and her colleagues were complaining. It was clear she was getting nowhere.

Jones went back to the attorney, who agreed to take her case. The attorney compiled all of Jones’ allegations — she had documented every unwanted advance, phone call and text message from her manager over the years — and sent a letter to her company informing them of the pending lawsuit.

“Once [my boss] got the letter, obviously it made everything way more hostile,” she said. “He didn’t speak a single word to me. I was going [to work each day] having no work to do. Then they started putting me on odds and end jobs not even related to what I was supposed to do there.”

She considered quitting, but Jones’ attorney encouraged her to hang tight.

It can in some cases help workers in sexual harassment cases if they keep working, said Paula Brantner, an attorney with Workplace Fairness, a non-profit that promotes employee rights, says . “First of all, you are required to give the company a chance to rectify the problem,” Bratner said. Quitting before a complaint is resolved can also remove some of the bargaining power in settlement negotiations. Companies are often eager to keep matters like sexual harassment under wraps.

Staying on the job can also give workers the opportunity to keep track of any retaliatory behavior. Workplace harassment lawsuits are often stronger if workers can prove their employer retaliated against them after they took matters to human resources. In Jones’ case, she was offered a demotion and her job duties shrank.

“Even if the initial harassment claim fails, the retaliation claim can subject the employer to as much or more liability as the underlying harassment claim,” said Brantner. “Judges and juries don’t like to see people [follow proper protocol], only to be subjected to more injustice.”

When her attorney reached a settlement with her employer, Jones decided to accept.

“One of the reasons I accepted a settlement instead of going to trial is that I didn’t want to be publicly seen as a woman who files these claims,” she said.

Her allegations will never be made public, but the ordeal has effectively stymied the beginning of what was a promising new career. Jones is still looking for a new job.  She worries about using her former employer as a professional reference, despite the fact that it was her first significant job in her chosen profession. While she continues her job search, Jones is studying part-time to complete her Bachelor’s degree. Under the terms of her settlement, she was entitled to collect unemployment benefits, which has given her a bit of a financial cushion. Her settlement award remains in a savings account, untouched.

“My goal with the settlement wasn’t just to get some payday,” she said. “I’d like to think it was enough to make him stop [doing this to other women].”

Handling harassment at work

We’ve spoken with legal experts and put together some tips for workers who feel they are facing harassment at work.

Identify the unwelcome behavior. Brantner, who has represented workers in harassment lawsuits, says the first thing to do is to recognize when you are being sexually harassed. She says sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is made explicitly or implicitly a term of your employment. It can also be conduct that interferes with your work or creates a hostile work environment.

Report the behavior to your human resources department or other supervisor. When you’ve identified the unwelcome behavior, Brantner says the next step is to report it and ask that it stop. “If the behavior continues after you have clearly communicated that you wish it to stop, you need to decide if you wish to take further action,” she says.

Document everything. If you want to bolster your case, Young suggests documenting any evidence of harassment. Keep a log that includes dates and times, as well as descriptions of the offensive behavior. Note your attempts to speak with human resources and the outcomes. Save emails and written notes to back you up. In some states it is illegal to record conversations without the other person’s knowledge, so check your state’s laws or consult an attorney before you take that route.

Be on alert for any form of retaliation. Speaking up about harassment in the workplace can trigger retaliatory behavior from colleagues. It’s important to keep close track of anything your colleagues may do in order to undermine your position after you have spoken up about harassment. The person you are accusing of harassment might try to make it difficult for you to do your job, or, in Jones’ case, demote you or remove your job duties. Document these instances carefully in order to support your case.

If your employer doesn’t act, contact a lawyer or the EEOC. If you aren’t getting results with your employer, Young recommends visiting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website to learn about filing a charge. You can use the EEOC’s assessment tool to get a better idea of what to expect. It takes about five minutes to use the tool, and you will be directed as to your next course of action. Some states have rules on how much time can go by before harassment suits are filed. The EEOC can help you expedite the process if needed.

Money doesn’t have to mean everything. Even if you don’t have unlimited financial resources to hire a legal team, you still have options. Many lawyers will take on workplace harassment cases on a contingency basis, which means they are paid once you have a settlement or win the lawsuit. For example, Jones’ attorney accepted a percentage of her settlement earnings as payment and collected no other fees. If you file with the EEOC or the Department of Labor, or with the appropriate office in your state, the government will investigate if there is probable cause to pursue a lawsuit.

Edited by Mandi Woodruff
Illustrations by Kelsey Wroten

*Names, dates and locations have been changed. 

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Miranda Marquit
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Miranda Marquit is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Miranda here

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How to Get Out From Under a Bad Car Loan

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Bad Car Loan

When you have a troubled credit history, the prospect of financing a new car can be daunting.

And then you see the ads on billboards, in newspapers and all over the Internet. “No credit? Bad Credit? No problem!” This is the marketing gimmick dealers across the country use to convince subprime customers — in the world of auto lending, that means people with credit scores below 600 — they can afford the car of their dreams.

Dealers make a point of convincing consumers they can afford cars, says Bruce McClary at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. They achieve this by focusing a customer’s attention on their monthly payment, rather than on the total cost of the car. By extending the terms of the loan, they can make it appear that the customer is saving money. In fact, they’re paying more in the long-run. The average term loan for subprime auto borrowers is 72 months, compared to 66 months for  prime borrowers.

The troubling thing is that this strategy is working. According to a recent MagnifyMoney study, we found 82.6% of auto loan borrowers who took out a loan with a term longer than 5 years did so just to lower their monthly payment.

These long-term loans are rarely the awesome deal they appear to be at first blush. According to the most recent data from Experian, auto loan rates for subprime borrowers can easily reach 15.25% for a used car and 11% for a brand new car — triple the rates a prime borrower might qualify for.

The longer the loan term, the more time interest has to pile up. In fact, some borrowers find their loans balloon so much overtime that eventually they owe more than the car is actually worth.

“You’re left spinning your wheels to make progress on the loan and the car is worth less than you owe,” says Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

What to do about a bad auto loan

Nearly 20% of auto loans are held by subprime borrowers, according to Experian. If you find yourself weighed down by an auto loan you can’t afford, it’s possible to get out from under it with careful planning. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Know your car’s value. You can look up the trade-in value of your car on sites like Kelly Blue Book. If the value is less than what you owe on your auto loan, you know it’s time to take action.

Avoid rolling your old loan balance into a new car loan. McClary warns against using special financing offers that claim to “pay off” your old loan when you buy a new car. Here’s what really happens: your old loan balance rolls into your new loan, creating an even bigger pile of debt.

Refinance at a lower interest rate. You may be able to refinance the original auto loan, which can reduce your rate. Use our simple tool to compare auto loan rates if you’re looking to refinance.

Keep it mind it can be difficult to qualify for a good refinancing offer if your credit is poor to begin with, which is the case with many subprime borrowers. There are some simple steps you can take to improve your credit over time. Chris Kukla, senior vice president at the Center for Responsible Lending, suggests working with a local credit union or community bank, which might have better refinancing options for shoppers with a troubled credit past.

“Some consumers assume they won’t get a loan because of their credit history,” Kukla says. “If you already have a relationship with a bank or credit union, you might discover they are willing to work with you on an auto loan refinance.”

Negotiate your loan terms. If refinancing through a different lender isn’t an option, you can try to renegotiate your loan terms with your current lender. If the lender isn’t willing to budge your interest rate, they may agree to shorten the term of your loan. Paying off your loan in larger chunks over a shorter period of time will help reduce the amount of interest you pay over time.

Sell your car. Sometimes when you’re stuck with a car that is worth less than what you owe on it, you have to cut your losses and sell, McClary says: “Sell the car, pay off the bad auto loan, and buy a less expensive car.” This will, unfortunately, still leave you with a loan balance to pay off. In that case, you can look for ways to earn additional income to help pay down the loan balance faster. Think about raising funds by selling another valuable or asking a friend or family member for a small loan. There are personal loans that can help cover remaining auto loan balance, but they can be difficult to qualify for if your credit is poor.

McClary says you don’t need to completely pay off the bad auto loan to get out of it. It’s really a numbers game: “Sometimes you just need to pay down the loan to the point where you have enough equity to qualify to refinance at a better rate.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Miranda Marquit
Miranda Marquit |

Miranda Marquit is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Miranda here

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