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More than 11% of America’s student loan payments are more than 90 days delinquent or, even worse, in default. But the Department of Education is hopeful its new student loan servicing system, slated to debut in 2019, will get federal loan borrowers back on track.
The platform, called Next Generation Financial Services Environment, or “NextGen” for short, aspires to be a one-stop shop for anyone with federal loans to manage.
In advance of NextGen’s arrival, here’s what’s new, plus how it could affect you.
How NextGen came to be
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos created a stir in May 2017 when she announced an overhaul to the federal student loan system. At the time, DeVos proposed awarding a trillion dollars’ worth of federal loans, spanning 42.3 million customer accounts, to a single loan servicer — instead of keeping them spread out among the nine servicers, the contracts for which expire in 2019.
Reactions to the plan cited various pros and cons of a single-servicer platform, but there was pushback from critics who saw a potential monopoly forming, one that would be hard for the government to rein in, let alone serve borrowers best.
After hiring Dr. A. Wayne Johnson to lead the department’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) office, DeVos changed plans. In August 2017, the secretary announced a single online platform accessed by multiple servicers — NextGen.
The latest proposal kept DeVos’ initial promise of a simpler, more streamlined repayment experience for borrowers but balanced it with more competition among servicers.
What to expect from NextGen
With NextGen, you’d only have one URL to bookmark. Even if you have a number of outstanding loans with varying servicers, you would manage every step of your repayment in one place, whether you want to adjust your repayment plan or consolidate your debt.
“It should be easier for borrowers to manage their student loans and to be placed into the most advantageous repayment programs,” said student loan lawyer Stanley Tate. “For instance, a public service employee should get bright, loud, ringing alarms that tell them some of their loans aren’t eligible for forgiveness.”
One complication is that NextGen will feature two sets of user experiences: one for older federal student loan types (such as now-defunct Perkins loans) and another experience for newer loans.
Still, housing all servicers in one place is bound to be a boon for borrowers with multiple accounts. You’d no longer have to track down the customer service phone number for each of your loans or keep track of sending payments to different places.
How NextGen will keep loan servicers in check
Of course, it’ll be a monumental task to upload about 42 million borrowers’ worth of loan information to NextGen. That would fulfill the FSA’s promise of achieving a “single data processing platform” that not only serves borrowers but also delivers excellent data about how they’re being served.
Via the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, Congress mandated the education department use “common metrics” to judge the performance of servicers before deciding to award them federal borrowers’ accounts.
Once it’s live, NextGen could take that to the next level.
“There is a lot more latitude for Federal Student Aid to measure servicers against one another, because they will have more data available to them on how servicers interact with borrowers than they currently do,” said Colleen Campbell, who wrote a detailed report on NextGen’s development for the Center for American Progress (CAP).
As Campbell noted, however, the education department’s latest solicitation for servicers doesn’t include information on how they would be held in check.
“There has historically been such poor oversight of servicers and other Federal Student Aid contractors that I think it’s difficult to have faith that the organization will do what’s best for borrowers rather than what’s most cost-efficient,” Campbell said.
Navient might not be a match for NextGen
If you peruse the list of companies contending for government contracts to build NextGen, you might notice some familiar names, including Nelnet and the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA). You’ll also see technology companies without a background in student loans — IBM Corporation is the most recognizable — as the education department looks to build the back end of its new servicing platform.
However, Navient — currently one of the country’s largest loan servicers — is notably absent. It remains involved, however, as a subcontractor teamed with other servicers.
The company itself is a frequent target of lawsuits, and announced in November that it was taking the Trump administration to court over the education department’s handling of servicer contracts, as first reported by Politico. Navient alleges the department broke federal procurement rules during its search for NextGen contractors and put it at a “competitive disadvantage,” according to the lawsuit.
According to government data, Navient has been one of the most complained-about student loan servicers in recent years. NextGen on the other hand, if it lives up to its promise, could offer improved customer service, easier loan management and a clearer path to being debt-free.
“Navient has such a history of poor past performance, it would be difficult to imagine them making it into the new system if there is any integrity in the selection process,” Campbell said. “Their suit strikes me as another blow to that relationship.”
If you have student loans serviced by Navient, you may or may not be happy to learn that either way, it won’t be operating on its own in the future. When the time comes, you’ll need to lean on NextGen instead.
This article was originally published on Student Loan Hero, which like MagnifyMoney, is owned by LendingTree.