Visitors to Frank's website could get the mistaken impression that the company was affiliated with the federal government, the Department of Education said in 2017.
The Department argued that Frank's website was "likely to confuse consumers."
The parties settled in 2018 after the Department initiated a trademark violation action.
Years before JP Morgan Chase accused Charlie Javice of fraudulently inventing customers for her student financial aid platform Frank, the 30-year-old fintech founder settled with the federal government over claims that her company could be misleading students. The settlement documents, which were obtained by Insider, showed that Frank was forced to change the name of its website and disclose to consumers it was not affiliated with the federal government.
The Department of Education in 2017 accused Frank of violating its trademark on FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a form completed by aspiring college students and their families to determine eligibility for various grants and loans. The Department stated in a cease and desist letter that Frank could be misleading applicants looking for the government's official FAFSA website.
Frank had no official affiliation with the Department of Education, however, and was not recognized as a designated "FAFSA preparer," according to records viewed by Insider. Frank settled with the Department of Education in 2018.
Javice and Frank have come under scrutiny after the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that financial giant JP Morgan Chase, which acquired Frank in 2021, was suing Javice for inventing millions of fake customers to justify the bank's $175 million acquisition of the startup.
In another suit, filed in December in Delaware, Javice has accused JP Morgan of undermining Frank's value "by pursuing poorly conceived business plans." The bank fired her before it would have had to pay her $28 million as part of the acquisition, according to Javice's suit.
In an email, Javice's attorney, Alex Spiro, said the settlement was related to "a trademark dispute over a trade name. Nothing more." Spiro has previously denied JP Morgan's allegations.
Even before graduating from college in 2013, Javice had been hailed as a wunderkind by a financial sector eager to remake its image in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Her focus on building financial products for people traditionally overlooked by banks — poor people and students — earned her a spot on Forbes's 2019 "30 under 30" list. A Wharton business school video called her "The Voice of a Microfinance Generation."
In 2017, Frank's website was frankfafsa.com, the settlement said. On social media and elsewhere, Frank sometimes referred to the form as "Frank's FAFSA," according to the settlement. The domain name in particular "was confusingly similar" to the Department's website, fafsa.gov, "and, therefore, was likely to confuse consumers," according to the settlement.
Students and their families can fill out the FAFSA for free on fafsa.gov. Frank offered a free service, but also tried to upsell customers on more expensive packages. For $500, for instance, students and their families could pay Frank to negotiate with schools on their behalf for more financial aid.
The settlement required Frank to issue disclaimers that it was not affiliated with the Department of Education and move to a new website, withfrank.org.
Insider obtained the settlement through college financing expert Mark Kantrowitz, who said concerns about how Frank characterized its business had prompted him to file a public records request for information about the company with the Department of Education in 2018.
In numerous media interviews, including with Insider, Javice has cast herself as a mold-breaking entrepreneur.
"I built a business and raised funds out of college, turning down a finance job, even though I was told I would fail because I didn't have business experience," she told Insider in 2021. "My impatience to achieve my goals helped me see past that 'conventional wisdom' to take a risk that landed me where I am today."
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