Lisa Madigan: It’s time for an Illinois Student Loan Bill of Rights

Across Illinois and the country, millions of Americans young and old contend with student loan debt. Their struggle is exacerbated by fraudulent practices in the student loan industry that create more difficult and more expensive paths to repayment. I initiated the Illinois Student Loan Bill of Rights to rein in the student lending industry and put borrowers’ needs first so they can repay at rates they can afford. But while I fight to ensure fairness in this industry, companies who profit off deception and abuse are fighting against me.

Big corporations that receive hundreds of millions of our federal tax dollars every year are trying to kill the Illinois Student Loan Bill of Rights in order to protect their profits. One of the largest loan companies, Navient, consistently fails to inform struggling borrowers of their options or put borrowers into the best repayment plan for them. My investigation into Navient showed it repeatedly stuck borrowers in more expensive repayment plans that racked up millions of dollars in additional debt for borrowers when more affordable plans were available.

I sued Navient over these abuses and worked with the U.S. Department of Education to reform the student loan industry to finally force companies to do their jobs. The new administration, however, eliminated these critical reforms. Since the federal government failed to protect borrowers, we must enact the Illinois Student Loan Bill of Rights to prevent continued harm to borrowers in our state.

In Illinois, student loan borrowers are effectively paralyzed by student loan debt, prevented from achieving their goals, dreams and financial independence. As a result, borrowers move back home because they cannot afford to rent or buy their own. They delay starting a family or cannot start a business. Veterans, older people, women, African-Americans and Latinos are disproportionately affected, particularly borrowers who attended expensive for-profit schools that lured in students with false and illegal promises of good-paying jobs. They now have to contend with a lifetime of loan debt without a useful degree to help them repay it.

Gov. Bruce Rauner must stand up for the financial interests of Illinois student loan borrowers and sign this bill of rights, Senate Bill 1351, into law. Failing to sign it will negatively impact student borrowers, their families, and our state’s economy. Illinois must take action to address the student loan crisis and stop companies from illegally disrupting the financial futures of people in our state.