A death within a family is devastating. Grieving family members deserve time to mourn their loss. But some parents who have co-signed a private student loan for their child have instead found themselves facing harassment from student loan servicers.
After Delphos, Ohio native Andrew Katbi was killed in a tragic car crash just weeks before graduating from law school, his family experienced this mistreatment firsthand.
Upon learning of Andrew’s death, two of his student loan servicers forgave his debt, but one, despite having a policy that stated it would forgive loans in the case of death, aggressively pursued Andrew’s mother, who had co-signed for the loans. It took the efforts of Andrew’s sister, Olivia, who began a social media campaign to raise awareness about this practice, to make the servicer abide by its own policy.
It is my hope that all student loan servicers will choose to forgive debt in the case of death but, if they won’t, borrowers and co-signers deserve to know before they sign. Most borrowers and co-signers are unaware that they could be liable for the full value of student loans, even if the borrower or co-signer passes away. To ensure that families can make informed decisions when taking out private student loans, I am joining my Senate colleagues to introduce legislation that would require private student lenders to clearly outline their policy on repayment in the event that a borrower or co-signer dies or becomes severely disabled. In a situation like the Katbis’, these clear disclosures would help borrowers and regulators hold servicers accountable.
Last week I chaired a hearing in the Senate on the need to improve student loan servicing. There’s nearly $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt in the United States. That’s more than the United States’ credit card debt or auto loans. With nearly seven million borrowers in default, student loan servicers need to work to modify eligible borrowers’ loans and enroll them in income-based repayment plans. Earlier this month, President Obama issued an executive order that will ensure that five million borrowers pay no more than 10 percent of their income each month on student loan payments. That’s a good start, but we must do more to ensure that borrowers have reasonable, affordable repayment plans. What we’re seeing instead are practices such as allocating borrowers’ payments so they’ll have more late fees, making it difficult for service members to activate their military benefits, and limiting access to loan modification programs. We need strong oversight to ensure that student loan servicers aren’t taking advantage of borrowers.
Grieving families shouldn’t face the added burden of debt collection calls. Congress must take action to protect student loan borrowers and hold servicers accountable for their actions.