New York AG says 8 student lenders adopt reforms

NEW YORK (AP) -- Eight student loan companies have agreed to adopt broad reforms following an investigation by the state of New York into deceptive marketing practices, the attorney general said Tuesday.

Seven of the lenders agreed to pay a combined $1.4 million to settle the probe, the state attorney general's office said. The eighth voluntarily agreed to adopt the reforms but was not targeted in the investigation.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said the seven companies that agreed to settle pushed higher-interest private loans, used bait-and-switch tactics and marketed products so they appeared to be federal loans.

Federal loans have fixed interest rates that are often lower than private loans.

The companies who are settling were identified by the attorney general's office as Nelnet Inc., Campus Door Inc., GMAC Bank, NextStudent Inc., Xanthus Financial Services Inc., EduCap Inc. and Graduate Loan Associates LLC.

MRU Holdings Inc., known as My Rich Uncle, agreed to voluntarily adopt the code of conduct but was not a target of the investigation, the attorney general's office said.

Calls to Nelnet, GMAC Bank, EduCap and My Rich Uncle were not immediately returned. A phone number listed on Graduate Loan Associates' Web site was not working and a phone number could not be immediately found for Xanthus Financial.

Direct-to-student loan companies market to consumers online and through the mail, and don't necessarily have an on-campus presence.

The attorney general's office said the companies will adopt new standards that ban practices including:

-Using logos that make mailings appear to be from the federal government

-Paying students to get their friends to take out loans

-Offering prizes such as iPods, gift cards and GPS devices to induce students to take out loans with a particular lender

-Advertising interest rates that are not available to a majority of borrowers

"Unsolicited and deceptive mailings that are sent to the homes of students are more than a nuisance, they can result in students being buried in mountains of debt for years to come," Cuomo said in a statement.

Cuomo called on other companies in the industry to adopt the new code of conduct. Students and families should be wary of companies that fail to do so, he said.

Last week, Cuomo's office said it was preparing to sue Goal Financial LLC, based in San Diego, for similar deceptive practices. Unlike the other lenders, Cuomo's office said Goal Financial indicated it was not willing to enter into a settlement.

The settlements build on Cuomo's ongoing investigations into the burgeoning student loan industry.

Last year, the office helped bring about reforms in the industry when he investigated deals that gave colleges "kickbacks" in exchange for being listed as a preferred lender.

At least 22 schools agreed to adopt codes of conduct for financial relationships with lenders as a result. Several of the lenders targeted in that investigation, agreed to reforms and to pay a combined $6.5 million into a national fund to educate families and students about loans.


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