2021-3-8

WARNER, TESTER, KING INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO EASE BURDEN OF STUDENT DEBT & STIMULATE ECONOMY

~ Legislation will reset federal student loan interest rates and allow borrowers to refinance their existing student loans ~

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Angus King (I-ME) today introduced legislation to stimulate the economy and allow borrowers to get a better handle on their student debt during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. This legislation comes as student debt in the U.S. surpasses $1.7 trillion – all while an increasing number of borrowers find themselves unable to pay back their loans due to job scarcity and other extraordinary financial circumstances caused by the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. 

“All over the country, we have young people who made a substantial decision to invest in their future, but now find themselves saddled by overwhelming student loan debt during a pandemic that has tanked the economy and shattered the job market,” said U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner. “The way to get our economy back on track is not by having an entire generation of people who are unwilling or unable to make future financial commitments because they are buried by the loans they took out in their late teens or early twenties. This legislation will give student borrowers a real shot at paying back their debt so that in the near future they are able to invest in a home, start up a business, or save for retirement.”

“Young folks across our country are facing unprecedented financial hardship simply because they made a choice to invest in their futures,” said Sen. Tester. “These are the current and future leaders of our communities and it’s critical that they have financial security so they can make investments and purchases to drive our economy forward and help America bounce back from this crisis. This bill will provide student borrowers with more opportunities to pay back their loans so that they are better able to participate in their local economies without the fear of drowning in debt.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has hit our economy hard – and that’s a major problem for the millions of Americans who took out student loans to invest in their future,” said Sen. King. “As the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout continues to unfold, Congress needs to take steps to help these young people have added flexibility and options to meet these obligations. Our legislation provides paths to help get this debt under control – if enacted, it can improve financial prospects for these borrowers while also supporting the overall health of the American economy.”

The Coronavirus Emergency Student Loan Refinancing Act of 2021 would ease the burden of the student debt crisis by:

  • Allowing student loan borrowers to refinance their federal student loans as long as they are in good standing and meet eligibility requirements based on income or the debt-to-income ratio established by the Department of Education. Under the legislation, borrowers would be able to apply to refinance their Direct Loan or Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL).
  • Giving borrowers the option to refinance their federal student loans at lower interest rates to the lowest yield of the 10-year Treasury note in the preceding six months, plus a fixed percentage rate established by the Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013.
    • For undergraduate borrowers with Federal Direct Stafford, Unsubsidized, PLUS, and Consolidated loans, the interest rate would be equal to the lowest yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note in the preceding six months plus 2.05 percent;
    • For graduate borrowers with Federal Direct Stafford or Unsubsidized loans, the interest rate would be equal to the lowest yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note in the preceding six months plus 3.6 percent; and
    • For borrowers with PLUS loans, the new interest rate would be equal to the lowest yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note in the preceding six months plus 4.6 percent.

This legislation has the support of a number of organizations, including the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), the National Association of Realtors, and the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce:

“Loans keep people from going to college, loans force students to major in lucrative subjects rather than follow their true work interests and values, and loans force people to postpone making decisions like buying homes and forming families, which hurts all of us. We are fortunate that Senator Warner recognizes this and has stepped up to do something about it,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, Director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“High student loan debt is deterring families and individuals from pursuing the American Dream of homeownership, and its impact has been particularly significant on minority and millennial households. In fact, a 2020 NAR report found that student loan costs have been the single biggest factor inhibiting Americans’ ability to save for a down payment over the past five years. Realtors® applaud Senator Warner for furthering the critical national conversation regarding the impact of student loan debt on the broader U.S. economy, and look forward to working with him to advance this legislation through Congress,” said Charlie Oppler, President of National Association of Realtors.

Bill text is available here. A one-page summary is available here.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES OLDER VIRGINIANS TO BE WARY OF FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION

~ Herring highlights resources for older Virginians to help prevent them from becoming victims of scams and other financial exploitation ~

RICHMOND (March 5, 2021) – As part of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Mark R. Herring is highlighting resources for older Virginians to help prevent them from becoming victims of scams and other kinds of financial exploitation. Attorney General Herring and his team have worked hard to educate Virginia’s older population through Triad chapters around the Commonwealth. Additionally, Attorney General Herring has taken on businesses that have defrauded elderly and disabled consumers, including securing a permanent injunction against Jim Clore and his companies Access Mobility, LLC and 2911 Mobility, LLC for their fraudulent actions.

“Unfortunately, too often scammers and fraudsters try to take advantage of Virginia’s older population, because they believe they’re easily scammed,” said Attorney General Herring. “My team and I have worked hard to make sure that Virginia’s seniors are the most informed group in the Commonwealth so that we can help prevent as many from falling victim to scams and other fraud as possible. It’s despicable that individuals prey upon older Virginians to make money and my office will remain dedicated to putting a stop to these scammers and bringing those that are successful to justice.”

“Financial exploitation of older Virginians is a growing problem with losses in the millions of dollars each year. A lot of these crimes go unreported because people are embarrassed about being victimized. We can't let these perpetrators control the financial future of older Virginians. Contacting Adult Protective Services is another way to stop financial abuse and prevent it from happening again,” said Paige McCleary, Director of Adult Protective Services at the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services.

Access Mobility and Jim Clore

In November 2020, Attorney General Herring secured a Permanent Injunction and Final Order against James R. Clore, Jr., Access Mobility Equipment, LLC, and 2911 Mobility, LLC for defrauding elderly and disabled consumers out of thousands of dollars they paid for the delivery and installation of mobility aids and equipment, and for undertaking contracting work without a license. In addition to prohibiting future violations of the law, the Permanent Injunction and Final Order awarded the Commonwealth judgments totaling $84,290.68 in restitution for affected consumers, $220,000.00 in civil penalties, and $64,238.25 in attorneys’ fees and costs. 

Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation is the mishandling, obtaining by fraud or deception, or theft of someone’s income, money, accounts, assets, or property by another person, either a friend, a family member, a caregiver, a neighbor, a bogus charity, a business, or even a stranger. Below are some ways that older Virginians can protect themselves from becoming the victim of financial exploitation:

  • Stay socially active. Being alone increases your risk of becoming a victim of financial exploitation. Become familiar with programs in your community that bring people together and support older adults and individuals with a disability.

  • Plan Ahead. Document your financial arrangements. Planning for your future gives you control over your assets and resources. Put your wishes concerning financial arrangements in writing. It reduces the chance of a misunderstanding.

  • Don’t give away property to anyone in exchange for lifelong care. Before you enter into an agreement with a person to provide you lifelong care, discuss the arrangement with an attorney, a financial advisor, or other professional you trust. Spell out what compensation, if any, will be paid to the caregiver.

  • Never sign anything you do not understand. If you are asked to sign a document, have someone you trust review it with you. Know what the document is about and get clear answers to questions before you sign anything.

  • Be careful when you give someone power of attorney. Before you assign a power of attorney, be sure you understand the agreement and the authority you are giving to your power of attorney.

  • Keep track of your financial documents and personal items. Monitor your savings, checking or retirement account balances. Contact your financial institution if you see accounting irregularities. Keep an inventory of your jewelry and other personal items. A person may try to take these items without your permission.

  • Be aware of scams. Many door-to-door, telephone, and internet solicitations are scams. Be concerned if you are told that you “have just won a prize!” If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

If you believe you or someone you know is being financially exploited, please call your local department of social services or you can call the 24-hour Adult Protective Services hotline at (888) 832-3858. Learn more about financial exploitation at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services website.

Scams Targeted at Older Virginians

Some warning signs to look out for so you don’t become the victim of a scam are:

  • "Free" gifts that require you to pay shipping and handling fees, redemption fees or gift taxes before delivery

  • "High profit, no-risk" investments

  • "Act now" and other high pressure sales tactics

  • A request for a credit card number for identification purposes or to verify that you have won a prize

  • Refusal to provide written information or even the most basic details about an organization

  • Organizations that are unfamiliar or have only a post office box for an address

Below are some common scams targeted at older Virginians:

  • Telemarketing fraud – Every day, older adults receive phone calls from solicitors who tell them, "This is your lucky day." Telemarketing is a huge business in the United States. However, there is no way to tell how much telemarketing is fraudulent, because victims are often too embarrassed to report their losses to the police. Fraudulent telemarketers are often difficult to catch because they have a fly-by-night style of operation. They often work in "boiler-rooms," which involve leased space with banks of telephones, staffed by scam artists. 

  • Romance scams – Romance scams start when the scammer creates a fake online dating profile and then strikes up a relationship with their target in order to build trust. Once that relationship has been created, they’ll make up some kind of story and ask for money. Any love interest who asks you to give them money through gift cards, cryptocurrency, or through a money transfer is a scammer.

  • Grandparent scams – In grandparent scams, bad actors pose as someone’s panicked grandchild in trouble and they call or send messages or emails asking for money to be wired to them immediately. Oftentimes, they’ll say that they need cash to help with an emergency, like needing to leave a foreign country, posting bail, or paying some kind of bill. They take advantage of a grandparent being worried about their grandchild in order to try and take their money.

Virginia Triad

During his time in office, Attorney General Herring has made protecting Virginia’s seniors a top priority and the Office of Attorney General even houses the Virginia Triad Office, making Virginia the only state in the country with a statewide coordinated office at the executive level of government. Triad is a cooperative effort between law enforcement agencies (police/fire/sheriffs), senior citizens, and senior organizations, across the Commonwealth.

The goal of Triad is to reduce the fear of crime and victimization among seniors by increasing awareness of scams and frauds, strengthening communication between the law enforcement and senior communities, and promoting awareness of local and state resources that may benefit them. Local Triad chapters meet regularly and host a variety of educational programs and social opportunities that emphasize crime prevention and promote connection and senior safety. The Office of the Attorney General provides technical assistance and support to local Triad chapters by assisting in the development of new chapters, hosting the annual Triad conference, and funding grant opportunities. Today, Virginia has over 200 cities, counties, and towns with signed Triad agreements and has been recognized by the National Association of Triads, Inc. as having the highest number of active local groups nationwide.

If someone believes they have been a victim of financial fraud or a scam they should contact Attorney General Herring's Consumer Protection Section to file a complaint or to get additional information about any consumer protection related matter:

 

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