Money Matters: Student Debt Watchdog Further Muzzled

Education Resources, Finance 411,

We wrote back in May about why consumer reporters needed to be following the reorganization of a small government department most people probably have not even heard of within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Office of Students & Young Consumers. The change signaled the CFPB could be getting less aggressive about helping student loan borrowers.

This week, the head of that office resigned, saying, “The bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting.”

Following the departure of the nation’s top official for student loan protections, borrowers are now left with weaker federal protections from predatory lenders just as a new school year gets underway.

That’s where consumer reporters come in. Newly named RTDNA/NEFE Personal Finance Reporting Award winner in the digital category, Susannah Snider, Personal Finance Editor for U.S. News & World Report, provides a model in her winning 4-part series “The Problem With PLUS: How Parents Buckle Under the Weight of College Debt.”

She investigated the impacts of one federal loan program – the Parent PLUS loan – on the finances of students’ parents. A key component of the project was developing an interactive database of loan burdens at more than 1,400 colleges and universities. The reporting also included actionable advice for readers to make more informed borrowing and repayment decisions.

Given this week’s developments in federal student loan protection, borrowers need local consumer reporters’ help navigating the loan process more than ever.

Have you looked into your state education department’s loan programs and their effects on students and their parents, particularly from low income families, who frequently have higher debt?

Have you sought out and published data about average debt burdens at colleges and universities in your areas?

Have you talked to local students and their parents about borrowing mistakes and offered information about resources and repayment assistance available through federal, state, local or private programs?

Have you asked borrowers in your coverage area about potentially fishy fees associated with their loan accounts?

Take a look at Snider’s winning work and learn how she made it happen at Excellence in Journalism, Sept. 28 in Baltimore. One- and three-day passes available.

Weekly Money Matters personal finance content for your newsroom is sponsored by the National Endowment for Financial Education