Protecting Consumers and Fighting Predatory Debt to Enable Opportunity

Protecting Consumers and Fighting Predatory Debt to Enable Opportunity

Like many Coloradans, Joanie Bronson (not her real name) is working hard to build up her career.  On account of her considerable student loan debt, which is gobbling up her wages, she is placed under constant stress. Matters only got worse recently when she answered the call of one of the several purported student loan debt relief companies that constantly send her text messages. Looking for help, she authorized what looked like a legitimate company to deduct three payments of $800 from her checking account. The money vanished, but her debt remained unchanged. The company never provided her with anything, leaving her deeper in debt and more frustrated than ever.

Some politicians might tell Joanie that it’s time for her to pick herself up by her bootstraps, but as Scott Wasserman, President of Colorado’s Bell Policy Center explained, “you can’t pick yourself up by the bootstraps if your feet are chained to the floor.”  

I agree. I’m running for Attorney General to fight for people like Joanie.  We need to support Coloradans who work so hard to escape the burdens of predatory debt—whether from student loans, car loans, mortgages, or the high-cost short-term payday loans peddled by those that prey upon our economic insecurity.

The American Dream is personal to me—both my parents were the first in their families to go to college and were able to graduate without debt, thanks to scholarships, hard work, and public support for higher education. Those same support mechanisms should be available for everyone. That’s the American Dream and the Colorado promise. And it’s something I’ll fight for as your Attorney General.

We can’t rely on the federal government to do this important work for us. Today, debt, predatory scams, and a lack of opportunity have undermined many people’s faith that a better future lies ahead.  And with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau eviscerated by President Trump, we must act together with other states to protect Coloradans from the forces that exploit the vulnerable every day.

Addressing the Challenges of Student Debt, Shady Servicing, and Collection Practices

As Attorney General, I will focus on student loan borrower debt. I know how stressful this debt can be. As the Dean of the University of Colorado Law School, I worked hard to lower student debt. In particular, I decreased average indebtedness of law school graduates by $16,000 through increased scholarships and by holding tuition constant.

I also worked hard to increase employment opportunities so students could pay back their debts.  One such initiative was to create a multi-million-dollar loan repayment program for students who took low-paying jobs in public service or in underserved parts of our state.

I recognize that many students don’t have such opportunities.  Too many are taken advantage of by predatory for-profit schools, student loan servicers that make it more difficult for borrowers to pay off their debt, shady debt collectors, and scammers that prey on those who want to do something to get out from under the debt—like the ones that took advantage of Joanie.

Our Attorney General must stand up for Coloradans facing shady student debt practices.  

We need our next AG to stand up for Coloradans harmed by the burdens of student loan debt. Part of the challenge is addressing the source of the debt. For example, under the Trump Administration, we are headed toward a resurgence of shady for-profit schools that have taken advantage of Coloradans (including veterans back from military service) by using high-pressure sales tactics and deceptive recruiting, while offering a low-quality degree. Indeed, one study found that some students made less money after attending certain for-profit colleges. Our AG needs to stand with other states in taking aggressive enforcement actions against these companies.

We also need to closely watch the companies that service these debts. Recently, for example, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro took action against the student loan servicer Navient for misleading borrowers, including by putting borrowers in the wrong repayment plan and leading them to pay far more than they would have otherwise.

And we need to go after the companies like the one that harmed Joanie and takes advantage of graduates with student debt through abusive debt relief scams. The FTC recently targeted such efforts by working with a number of states.  They reported that such fraudulent efforts have cheated consumers like Joanie out of almost $100 million.  

The Colorado AG needs to pursue these companies while also cutting off the tools of their fraud.  This includes stopping the data brokers that sell information about debtors (like the cell phone number that scammers used to contact Joanie) and the banks and payment processors that facilitate fraud by allowing debt relief companies to drain consumers’ accounts.  

But it’s not enough to hold wrongdoers accountable.  We also need to present students, prospective students, and debtors with a path forward.

As our next Attorney General, I will work to develop and oversee certification and validation programs for educational programs, enable responsible companies to be trusted by Colorado consumers, and sanction irresponsible companies who deceive their customers.  For a description of how such programs can work, see my thoughts on this topic.

I’ll also convene stakeholders and Colorado attorneys to develop programs to provide access to justice to consumers seeking to discharge their student loan borrower debts in bankruptcy, just like Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has done in her state.

Finally, I’ll continue fighting back against the Trump Administration to protect borrowers buried under federal student loans. Under President Obama, the Department of Education adopted rules to protect these consumers, including by putting responsibility for the loans on the backs of educational institutions that did not provide marketable skills.  But Betsy DeVos recently acted to undermine those protections.  Thankfully, a number of state AGs—but not Colorado’s—challenged her action, standing up for those borrowers taken advantage of by such institutions.

Reclaiming Opportunity for All

We need to make sure that Coloradans are not taken advantage of, saddled with predatory debt, and denied the opportunity to gain the skills they need to succeed.  As a professor and former dean, education is personal to me, and I have devoted my career to ensuring that students can gain real opportunities to thrive professionally.  Unfortunately, not all educators or educational institutions have this same ethic.  

As our next AG, I will also work with other public officials in Colorado to support an environment where everyone can get ahead.  Our State values opportunity for all, and we need to work hard to create real opportunities for all Coloradans in a changing economy.  To help drive this vision, please join our campaign and help us build a State where we are committed to economic opportunity for all.


Endorser: Irene Griego, University of Colorado Regent

“As the Dean of the University of Colorado Law School, Phil Weiser demonstrated that he cares deeply about student indebtedness and making sure that students receive a valuable training from higher education. At Colorado Law, he lowered the average student indebtedness by $16,000 and vaulted Colorado Law’s employment ranking into the top 20. As our next Attorney General, he will work hard to make sure our students are not being cheated or taken advantage of. And he will work tirelessly with leaders across our state to make sure people are getting the training they need for the 21st century economy.”

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