According to an April 2014 report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), nearly 90 percent of student loans in recent years were co-signed – often by a parent or grandparent. Borrowers and co-signers are often unaware that the surviving borrower or co-signer could be liable for the full payment upon the death or permanent disability of the borrower or co-signer.
The Katbi family of Delphos found that when their son Andrew was tragically killed last year in a car accident weeks before graduation, a loan co-signed by his mother was going to be difficult to take care of.
Andrew’s sister, Olivia Katbi, joined U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown in a conference call Wednesday to tell her family’s story and support legislation proposed by Brown to require student lenders to clearly disclose their policies on payment of a student loan in the event of a students or co-signers death or disability before the borrower takes out a loan.
“Andrew was a law student at Duke and had taken out several loans to pay for school,” Olivia began. “When he was killed, my parents sent his death certificate to all three and two were forgiven but the one through Sallie Mae was not.”
Although the company’s policy states that they do not collect on a loan following the death of the borrower, the company’s collection agents aggressively pursued the family, demanding payment from Andrew’s mother who co-signed the loan.
Olivia described the correspondence with Sally Mae as a “complete nightmare.”
“Even though they had his death certificate they would almost daily leave message on the answering machine for Andrew,” Olivia said. “That was so hurtful for us. When my parents would call, they would be on hold for hours and when they would get someone to talk to, they had to repeatedly tell their story. It was heartbreaking. It took them nine months to talk to upper management.”
The treatment of the family made Olivia angry and she launched a Twitter campaign against Sallie Mae that took on a life of its own.
“There were so many people out there who had problems with Sallie Mae and their lack of customer service and overall dissatisfaction with the process,” Olivia said. “We finally shamed them into settling the loan and leaving my parents alone.”
Brown says his proposed legislation will make the student loan process clear and concise.
“The student loan system is a difficult one to navigate,” Brown said. “Often loans are sold without the borrowers knowledge and when they start receiving email from someone they don’t recognize they can be ignore and then the next notice they get is that their loan has defaulted. We need a clarity in disclosure.”
Brown also wants to explore the refinancing of school loan’s.
“We have young people who have student loans with a higher interest rate than their home or vehicle loans,” Brown said. “Borrowers and their families have few options. We relief on the federal loans side as well as the private.”
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