The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday fined the National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts and their debt collector, Transworld Systems of Fort Washington, a combined $21.6 million in connection with illegal student-loan debt-collection lawsuits.

The two companies sued consumers for private student-loan debt the companies could not prove was owed or was too old to sue over in lawsuits relying on the filing of false or misleading legal documents, the CFPB said in a statement. The proposed judgment requires an independent audit of all 800,000 student loans in National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts' portfolio; prohibits attempts to collect, report negative credit information, or file lawsuits on any unverified or invalid loan; and requires the National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts to pay at least $19.1 million. The fine includes initial redress to harmed consumers, funds to the Treasury, and a civil penalty.

Under a separate consent order, Transworld Systems was ordered to pay a $2.5 million civil penalty.

The National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts are 15 Delaware statutory trusts that own more than 800,000 private student loans. Between 2001 and 2007, the trusts purchased and securitized the loans, then sold notes secured by the loans to investors. The trusts have no employees, instead using service providers to interact with consumers about their loans.

Transworld Systems is a nationwide debt collector whose employees complete, sign, and notarize sworn legal documents for collections lawsuits brought on behalf of the trusts. Transworld hires a national network of law firms to file and prosecute collections lawsuits on behalf of the trusts in courts across the country.