Texas Church Abolishes Over $10 Million in Medical Debt for Local Families

During their Easter service on April 1, 2018, Pastor Stephen Hayes of Covenant Church in Carrollton, Texas revealed that the congregation alone helped to relieve over 4,000 local families of their medical debt.

Because Hayes himself understands firsthand what it’s like to be impaired with medical debt, as he was hit by a car at 17 years old and spent 12 days in the ICU, this hit close to home for him. At the time, his family was aided in paying off the medical bills with the help of his church family. He wanted to do the same for others.

Usually, leading up to Easter Sunday, the church spends upwards of $100,000 to in order to promote their services. They’ve purchased radio ads, TV commercials and even billboards, which costs close to $30,000 per month. This year, they decided to take that money and spend it differently.

Hayes suggested sending out letters that said something along the lines of: “We are Covenant Church and we are local in this area and can serve you in any way, and we would love to be your church. But even if we don’t get to meet you, just know that God loves you.”

The medical debt money first went to local veterans who were suffering injuries caused by war. After every veteran in the 20-mile radius of each campus was covered, the rest of the money went to other families.

Now, 4,229 families in the Carrollton, Texas area will receive letters informing them that their medical debt has been completely paid off. The money that the congregation offered up ended up paying off $10,551,618 in total debt.

After the reveal of the total amount of debt abolished, Hayes reminded his congregation that they, too, have received similar letters, referencing to John 19:30 when Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’

“That’s your letter in the mail,” Hayes preached. “If you can imagine what those people this week will be feeling when they receive the letter that you sent them saying their debt is paid. I prayed 100-fold that [is how] you would feel in the reading the letter He wrote to you in the book of John 19:30. Hey, your debt of sin is paid. You are covered.”

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Department of Education blocks states on student loan debt collectors

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has a message for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and officials in other states hoping to rein in student loan debt collectors: Back off.

The US Department of Education announced Friday that it considers state efforts to regulate collection companies — many of which have been accused of unfair consumer practices — inappropriate and that they “undermine” federal authority.

The notice from the Education Department and DeVos infuriated consumer advocates and Healey, who called it a move to protect debt collectors at the expense of student loan borrowers across the country.

“Secretary DeVos can write as many love letters to the loan servicing industry as she wants,” Healey said in a statement. “The last thing we need is to give this industry a free pass while millions of students cannot afford to pay their loans.”

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The federal education agency in particular singled out Healey’s ongoing lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency as an example of state officials overstepping their authority. The federal government has stepped in on behalf of the debt servicer in this state case.

Healey has alleged that the servicer, which does business as FedLoan Servicing, violated state and federal laws by causing teachers and others to lose benefits and financial help under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Under the program, students can have loans forgiven after 10 years of public service, a benefit designed to encourage graduates to take jobs in government and nonprofits.

Legislators in other states have also adopted new laws requiring these loan collection companies to get state licenses, meet certain business standards, and comply with investigations launched by state authorities.

These new state requirements “may conflict with legal, regulatory and contractual requirements, and may skew the balance the department has sought in calibrating its enforcement decisions to the objectives of the program,” the Department of Education said in its notice.

They may also cost taxpayers more money by piling regulations onto these companies, who are likely to pass on the cost to the Education Department, DeVos said.

The Department of Education, which has issued more than $1 trillion of the $1.4 trillion in student loan debt owed by Americans, hires companies such as FedLoan Servicing and Navient to collect payments.

Federal and state investigations have found significant problems in the collection practices and Education Department oversight.

For example, an investigation by states and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleged that Navient encouraged struggling consumers into a short-term forbearance program that required less paperwork for the company but meant that borrowers who postponed payments accrued more interest on their debt. Many of these borrowers could have instead qualified for the income-driven repayment plan, which would have lowered their monthly bill and put them on a potential path for loan forgiveness.

Authorities said Navient offered its employees incentives to get borrowers into forbearance plans, a move that allowed the company to collect $4 billion in interest charges over five years. Navient has denied any wrongdoing, but several states have also sued the company.

The Education Department, which contracts with these companies, hasn’t always been the best enforcer of consumer laws, said Persis Yu, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, a Boston-based organization that operates a borrower assistance project.

“People have lost years in their payments, and they will be paying thousands of dollars more because of the delays and the errors made by these companies,” Yu said. “Having more cops on the beat to look out for student loan borrowers [is] better.”

Healey said her office plans to continue its investigations into student loan collection companies, but consumer groups worry that state authorities may be discouraged by the additional hurdle put in place by the Education Department’s notice that federal authority trumps state guidelines.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.

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Michael Avenatti is hit with $4.85-million judgment for unpaid debt as court orders eviction of his law firm

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn actress Stormy Daniels, was hit with a personal judgment of $4.85 million Monday for his failure to pay a debt to a former colleague at his longtime Newport Beach firm.

Less than an hour after his defeat in the Los Angeles lawsuit, the firm, Eagan Avenatti, suffered a setback at a trial in Santa Ana: The Irvine Co. won a court order evicting Avenatti and his staff from their offices for skipping the last four months of rent.

The twin blows came as Avenatti was heading to New Hampshire for his third visit to the state that kicks off the 2020 presidential primaries. The celebrity lawyer is exploring a run for the Democratic nomination. His troubled financial history could emerge as a significant campaign issue if he joins the race.

The personal judgment against Avenatti by Judge Dennis J. Landin in Superior Court in Los Angeles is his latest in a series of courtroom losses in a protracted dispute with Jason Frank, the former colleague.

Eagan Avenatti emerged from federal bankruptcy protection in March after Avenatti promised that it would pay millions of dollars to Frank and other creditors, including the Internal Revenue Service. It has defaulted on nearly every payment that was due.

No one has pursued Avenatti more relentlessly than Frank, who has been fighting in federal court to collect on a $10-million judgment that he won against the firm in May.

“My client has had an awful lot of money owed to him for a lengthy period of time,” said Frank’s attorney, Eric George, “and it has been delayed through one tactic or another. Today, finally, the right thing happened.”

Avenatti was the managing partner of Eagan Avenatti since its founding in 2007.

He recently told a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge that his other firm, Avenatti & Associates, wholly owned by Avenatti, had acquired 100% of the equity in Eagan Avenatti, buying out his minority partner, Michael Eagan of San Francisco.

But Avenatti told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that he hadn’t owned Eagan Avenatti for months. He did not name the new owner.

“Any judgment issued against me will be deducted from the over $12 million that Jason Frank owes me and my law firm Avenatti & Associates as a result of his fraud,” Avenatti said by email.

No court has found Frank engaged in fraud, and Avenatti is not pursuing any court case alleging that he did. When Frank and two others left Eagan Avenatti to form their own firm, some clients went with them, angering Avenatti.

Frank alleges that Eagan Avenatti cheated him out of millions of dollars in compensation.

As part of its bankruptcy settlement, Eagan Avenatti agreed to pay Frank $4.85 million. Avenatti guaranteed that if the firm missed the deadlines for making the payment, which it did, he would personally be required to pay Frank.

To enforce the personal guarantee, Frank sued Avenatti, and on Monday he won the case.

In matters involving Daniels and President Trump, the adult-film actress is represented by Avenatti & Associates, which operates out of the same offices as Eagan Avenatti and uses the same attorneys. Daniels is trying to void a nondisclosure agreement that bars her from discussing her alleged affair with Trump.

In the Santa Ana trial, 520 Newport Center Drive LLC, an arm of the Irvine Co., alleged that Eagan Avenatti missed $213,254 in rent payments over the last four months for its ocean-view suite on the 14th floor of an office building at Fashion Island.

Nobody from Eagan Avenatti showed up for the trial.

Superior Court Judge Robert J. Moss ordered the firm to vacate the premises and pay the landlord the full amount of overdue rent. He also canceled the remaining three months of the lease. If the firm fails to move out, it could take a few weeks for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to enforce the eviction.

In court papers, the firm claimed it deducted the cost of needed repairs from its rent payments but did not receive proper credit.

The Irvine Co. denied that the offices needed any serious repairs. And the lease, signed by Avenatti, says the tenant “understands that it shall not make repairs at landlord’s expense or by rental offset.”

In July, Eagan Avenatti paid the monthly rent of $52,235, but the check bounced, according to the landlord.

1:45 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details on the court cases.

11:50 a.m.: This article was updated with background on Michael Avenatti exploring a run for president and the Stormy Daniels litigation against President Trump.

11:15 a.m.: This article was updated with comment from Michael Avenatti, background on Eagan Avenatti and the eviction judgment.

This article was originally published at 10:15 a.m.

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John Oliver buys and forgives $15m worth of medical debt

Watch out, Oprah Winfrey. John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, outdid TV’s biggest gift giver on Sunday when he forgave nearly $15m worth of medical debt on his show.

Oliver explained on Sunday.

Watch the full segment

“Debt-buying is a grimy business and badly needs more oversight, because as it stands any idiot can get into it. And I can prove that to you because I am an idiot and we started a debt-buying company,” said Oliver. “And it was disturbingly easy.”

Last Week Tonight spent about $50 to create a debt-acquisition company in Mississippi. The corporation’s name is Central Asset Recovery Professionals Inc – also known as Carp. According to Oliver, soon after its creation, Carp was offered a portfolio of medical debt worth $14,922,261.76 at a cost of “less than half a cent on a dollar, which is less than $60,000”.

In terms of TV giveaways the cost is far less than Oprah Winfrey’s most famous handout. In 2004, she gave all 276 members of her studio audience a Pontiac G6 sedan. “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!” Winfrey told the audience, at a cost nearly $8m.

RIP Medical Debt charity and decided to forgive that debt.

“Thanks to this 5 June airing of the HBO comedy series, Last Week Tonight show with John Oliver, there are a lot more of us now privy to this collection industry practice and the debt treadmill it creates,” said Craig Antico, co-founder of RIP Medical Debt. “In a painfully hilarious (debt as funny? Somehow, yes) piece, John Oliver triumphantly out-Oprah’s Oprah in giving away valuable gifts.”

As Antico points out this type of debt-buying for charity was pioneered by Rolling Jubilee, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In 2013, Rolling Jubilee spent $400,000 to purchase $14,734,569.87 worth of personal debt – about $13.5m of it was medical debt – before abolishing it.

said at the time.

A year later, in September 2014, Rolling Jubilee announced that it had bought another $3.8m worth of student debt belonging to more than 2,700 Everest College students. The debt had cost the activists about $100,000.

“The Rolling Jubilee doesn’t actually solve the problem. The Rolling Jubilee is a tactic and a valuable one because it exposes how debt operates,” Thomas Gokey, one of the organizers, said. “It punches a hole through the morality of debt, through this idea that you owe X amount of dollars that the 1% says you owe. In reality, that debt is worth significantly less. The 1% is selling it to each other at bargain-based prices. You don’t actually owe that.”

Rolling Jubilee, which hopes to inspire debtors to get together and exert their collective power, has raised more than $700,000 and abolished $31,982,455.76 worth of debt.


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U.S. cruises toward record-breaking debt on Trump’s watch

Congress’ recent tax and spending laws — along with ballooning costs of government programs have jacked up federal spending in President Donald Trump’s first term. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

U.S. cruises toward record-breaking debt on Trump’s watch

The nation’s fiscal outlook looks ever bleaker, thanks in part to deficit spending during President Donald Trump’s first term, Congress’ nonpartisan budget scorekeeper projected Tuesday.

Within 16 years, the federal deficit is expected to be the largest in history, outpacing even the fiscal shortfalls that followed World War II, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

Congress’ recent tax and spending laws — along with ballooning costs of programs like Social Security and Medicare — are also driving up the amount the government pays in interest on money borrowed to make up for the gap in cash coming in and going out.

Indeed, those interest payments will exceed the cost of all Social Security spending within decades, CBO predicts. Interest costs would also be higher than discretionary spending, which amounts to all federal dollars Congress controls.

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