In 2003, Adam Beverly borrowed $30,000 from Bank One, now owned by JPMorgan Chase, to help cover the cost of attending Ohio State University. He never graduated. Three years later he found himself being sued by National Collegiate Student Loan Trust, which claimed he owed more than $45,000 with interest and penalties. After a two-year court struggle, Beverly prevailed. In September a panel of Ohio judges said the collector had no evidence that it owned the debt and vacated the judgment.
Student loans have eclipsed credit cards to become the second-largest source of outstanding debt in the U.S., after mortgages. Since 2007 the federal student loan balance has more than doubled, to almost $1.2 trillion from $516 billion. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that students, former students, and their parents owe an additional $150 billion in loans from banks and other private lenders.
With defaults climbing, lenders have turned to the courts to collect. Many of their suits are marred by missing documents and procedural errors, say consumer advocates and lawyers defending debtors. “Our office is seeing an uptick in abusive loan debt-collection tactics that leave no room for relief,” wrote Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in an e-mail.