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July 17, 2017
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Judges across the United States are wiping away student loan debts worth, in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars, all because National Collegiate Student Loans Trusts has been unable to show in court that it owns the loans it says it does.

National Collegiate is composed of 15 different trusts, collectively holding 800,000 private student loans. Those loans add up to $12 billion, and more than $5 billion is in default, court records state. The private loans were made by banks, then sold to investors, and when the borrowers struggle to pay back these loans — which often have high interest rates — National Collegiate takes them to court; on average, at least four new collection lawsuits are filed every day, The New York Times reports, and more than 800 have been filed this year so far.

When borrowers don't go to court, National Collegiate almost always automatically wins the case, but when they do show up, most of the time judges throw the suits out because National Collegiate was not able to produce the paperwork proving it owned the debt in question. A 2015 audit of the company, organized by one of the financiers behind National Collegiate's trusts, looked at nearly 400 random loans owned by National Collegiate, and found that none had the proper paperwork documenting the chain of ownership. This is similar to what happened in the 2000s during the subprime mortgage crisis, when judges ruled in favor of borrowers, saying the companies could not collect subprime mortgage loans because the documents were either missing or forgeries.

The lawyer for Samantha Wilson, a 33-year-old mother of three, said when she was sued by National Collegiate, the paperwork was riddled with errors. She earned her degree in psychology from Lehman College in the Bronx and fell behind on payments when her daughter was ill and she had to quit her job. Documents claimed she attended a school she never went to, and a judge dismissed four lawsuits against her because trusts "failed to establish the chain of title" on her loans. Wilson told the Times she was "responsible" for the loans she took out and was prepared to pay them off over time, but "some of them I didn't take." In the end, $31,000 worth of debt was wiped clean. Read the entire report at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

1:11 p.m. ET
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Syrian government strikes have killed some 500 civilians, including about 120 children, over the course of a week in the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The activist group says Russian planes are assisting with the attacks, but Russia denies direct engagement.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces reportedly used barrel bombs and artillery shells to target the area where some 400,000 people have no option of escape. Civilians are "being forced into bunkers and many of them can't even find the time to bury their dead," reports NPR's Lama Al-Arian. The Assad regime says its goal is to liberate civilians from a nearby rebel enclave.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is pushing for a U.N. resolution implementing a 30-day ceasefire so humanitarian aid can be delivered to East Ghouta. "I am deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population," he said, describing the situation as "hell on Earth." If the resolution passes — Moscow is demanding edits in exchange for its support — its prospects for enforcement are dubious.

Update 4:32 p.m.: The U.N. Security Council passed a ceasefire resolution. Bonnie Kristian

12:44 p.m. ET

Delta and United Airlines on Saturday announced they are cutting ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The airlines join the Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, and National car rental brands as well as First National Bank of Omaha, Best Western hotels, MetLife insurance, and more than a dozen other companies in ending deals with the NRA. Delta previously offered discounted airfare for NRA members, and United offered discounts on flights to and from the organization's annual conference.

Companies are distancing themselves from the NRA in response to outrage following last week's mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Customer responses to the tweeted announcements were predictably mixed. Bonnie Kristian

12:13 p.m. ET

A daring squirrel narrowly cheated death Saturday while attempting to sprint across the course of the women's parallel giant slalom competition at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Austrian snowboarder Daniela Ulbing just barely maneuvered around the animal, which appeared to reconsider its choices after she passed. Watch the squirrel's moment of destiny below. Bonnie Kristian

12:00 p.m. ET
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Billionaire Warren Buffett published his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway on Saturday. Berkshire's net worth grew by $65.3 billion in 2017, Buffett said, but $29 billion of that gain came from savings effected by the Republican tax plan passed in December. The new tax law lowered the nominal corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent.

For individual investors, Buffett cautioned against going into debt to purchase stock because the market may drop. "There is simply no telling how far stocks can fall in a short period," he wrote. "Even if your borrowings are small and your positions aren't immediately threatened by the plunging market, your mind may well become rattled by scary headlines and breathless commentary. And an unsettled mind will not make good decisions."

Read the full letter here. Bonnie Kristian

10:26 a.m. ET
Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday began soliciting public input on restoring work requirements for food stamp recipients in high-unemployment areas where rules were waived in recent years.

"Long-term dependency has never been part of the American dream," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. "USDA's goal is to move individuals and families [using food stamps] back to the workforce as the best long-term solution to poverty."

Able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) are eligible for only three months of food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) unless they spend at least 80 hours per month working or at a qualified training. In five states — Alaska, California, Louisiana, Nevada, and New Mexico — and economically struggling localities in 28 other states, that rule is currently suspended.

No changes have been formally proposed at this time, but the USDA estimates about 2.9 million ABAWDs are currently unemployed and would therefore be affected if the waiver were rescinded. They make up about 7 percent of the 43.6 million people who used food stamps in 2017. Bonnie Kristian

10:17 a.m. ET

Heavy rains over the weekend are expected to exacerbate deadly flooding in the Midwest and southern Plains regions. Hundreds of people have evacuated their homes in affected areas from eastern Texas through southern Indiana, and at least three people, including one child, have been killed in connection to the floods.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has declared a 30-day state of emergency, and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has issued a disaster proclamation for three counties. The National Weather Service advises caution of flash floods and tornadoes throughout the weekend. Bonnie Kristian

8:33 a.m. ET

The United States men's curling team took its first-ever gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang on Saturday. After nearly being eliminated from the competition, the team made a comeback win, besting both the Canadian team — prior to this victory, no American team in men's or women's curling has ever beaten Canada at the Olympics — and the Swedish team, which was ranked first in the world.

"During the entire end we could kind of feel it building," said team leader John Shuster of the gold-medal victory over Sweden. "Their margin for error got really small."

Also Saturday, Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic became the first woman to take gold in two separate events at the Winter Games. Last Saturday, she was the surprise victor in Alpine skiing, and this week, Ledecka triumphed in her primary event, women's parallel giant slalom snowboarding. Bonnie Kristian

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