Attorney General Andrew Cuomo Announces First Legal Action In College Loan Industry Investigation

NEW YORK, NY (March 22, 2007) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that his office has issued a formal notice to Education Finance Partners (EFP) that the Attorney General’s office will be filing suit over deceptive practices in the company’s student loan business.  The suit is the first filed in a nationwide investigation into the college loan industry.

Cuomo’s investigation has revealed that Education Finance Partners has repeatedly paid schools in exchange for steering loans to EFP and for putting EFP on “preferred lender” lists.  Approximately 90% of students choose their lenders from their school’s preferred lender lists.  Cuomo’s investigation has uncovered that neither the schools nor EFP adequately disclose to students that EFP is paying the schools to be promoted as a “preferred lender.”  Cuomo’s legal action alleges that the relationship and financial arrangements between EFP and the schools constitute a deceptive business practice.  Cuomo also revealed today that EFP made its financial kickback arrangements with schools through what are called revenue sharing agreements, which often were based on a tiered system that would give a higher percentage to the schools based on the amount of loans referred.   

“EFP aggressively offered schools cash kickbacks in exchange for business,” Cuomo said.  “This kickback scheme was widespread and took place from coast to coast, at colleges large and small, public and private.  This lawsuit is just the beginning of an investigation that will show that lenders put market share above fair play.  A preferred lender ought to mean that the lender is preferred by students for its low rates, not by schools for its kickbacks.  With the cost of college rising every day, the last thing students want to hear is that their lender may be muscling aside a more competitive loan package.”

This arrangement resulted in potentially large amounts of money paid by EFP to universities participating in the preferred lender program.  For example, EFP’s agreement with Duquesne University gives the school 60 basis points (.6%) of the net value of all referred loans. The agreements are structured to encourage the schools to refer as much business as possible to EFP.  For example, EFP’s agreement with Boston University provides that Boston University will receive 25 basis points (.25 percent) of the net value of referred loans of at least $1,000,000 up to $5,000,000; 50 basis points (.5 percent) of value of referred loans between $5,000,000 and $10,000,000; and 75 basis points (.75 percent) of the net value of referred loans over $10,000,000.

Some schools such as Drexel University in Philadelphia received over $100,000 in kickbacks from EFP in a single year.

Under Drexel’s agreement with EFP, dated April 1, 2006, Drexel has agreed to make EFP its “sole preferred private loan provider.”  In return, EFP has agreed that Drexel will receive 75 basis points (.75 percent) of the net value of referred loans between $1 and $24,999,999; and 100 basis point (1 percent) of all loan amounts of $25,000,000 or greater.      

Among the schools with which EFP has had such revenue sharing agreements are: Baylor University, Boston University, Clemson University, Drexel University, Duquesne University, Fordham University, Long Island University, Pepperdine University, St. John’s University, Texas Christian University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Mississippi.  In total, EFP has had such agreements with more than 60 schools across the nation.

EFP engaged further in deceptive marketing practices by using schools’ logos, mascots, and names in EFP promotional materials to imply that EFP had the school’s official endorsement. 

“EFP’s marketing practices were clearly intended to imply that the universities had endorsed EFP loan products for individual student borrowers,” Cuomo said.  “Deceptive marketing is just that and it limits the information available for students to get the best deal in their college loans.”

According to the New York State Department of Education, two-thirds of all four year college graduates nationwide now have loan debt, compared with less than one-third of graduates in 1993.In New York State, 59 percent of undergraduates took out loans to finance their college education.  The average student graduating from a four-year college in New York owes $17,594 on graduation day.

The Attorney General has been leading an ongoing investigation into the $85 billion-per-year student loan industry.  In February, he requested information from more than 60 public and private colleges and universities nationwide regarding the standards they use to determine which lending companies are included on their “preferred lender” lists.  Financial aid administrators often produce such lists to direct their students toward the lenders that are most preferred by the schools but may not offer the best deals for students and parents.

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