public shaming student loans

Publicly Shaming Lenders into doing the Right Thing

Michael Lux Best Of, Blog, Student Loans 0 Comments

It is no secret that student loan lenders are not charities, but in fact, they are in business to make money.  Over the years the law has progressively become more and more lender friendly.  As a result, many borrowers and their cosigners have found themselves in ridiculous positions.

One of the more notable absurdities happens to parents of kids who die far too young.  Some lenders, though not all, require parents who co-signed on loans to continue making payment — even though their child died!

[Further Reading: Getting your co-signer released from your student loans… even if your lender says no]

Much too often, grieving parents und up with financial heartache in addition to the overwhelming sadness of losing a child.  While these parents haven’t had much luck in court, or with the legislature, they seem to be finding some success in the court of public opinion.

Here are three recent examples:

  • The parents of a deceased Duke law student got a break from Sallie Mae when their daughter started tweeting about how Sallie Mae was treating their family.  The full terms were never made public, but it appears as if the parties reached some sort of agreement on the remaining debt.
  • After 6 years of trying to get Key Bank to do the right thing, a petition received over 80,000 signatures and got one father released from his deceased son’s student loans.  Key Bank atoned by saying that they would now review each of these circumstances on a case by case basis, rather than outright denials.
  • This past week, a minister who lost his 27 year old daughter and was left with her three children and six figures of student loan debt, experienced some success.  He was featured in a CNN Money story that went viral, and though the debt was not entirely forgiven, balances were reduced and interest rates were lowered.
[Further Reading: Should I have life insurance because of my student loans?]

The fact is that most people, and even companies, don’t like to be called cruel or heartless.  These words cut especially deep when they are the undeniable truth.  Then again, maybe these companies just think that negative press is bad for business.

Regardless of the motive, public stories of outrageous lender behavior seem to get better results.  The lesson here: if you are on the wrong end of a raw deal, tell your story.  The internet, and especially social media, provides a great megaphone to tell your story.

If you are thinking about going this route with your personal student loan nightmare, there are a few lessons to be learned based upon the successes of others.

  1. Be Blunt – People have a short attention span, so figure out how to describe what makes your situation especially terrible in a sentence or two.
  2. Be Honest – Stick to facts you can back up and don’t make up any facts to help your story.  Lenders have PR professionals who are experts and if they can change the story, they will.
  3. Avoid the pity party – There are over one trillion dollars in student loan debt in the United States.  If you want your story to stick out, make it about your family or the cause you are fighting for.
  4. Be persistent – The old saying is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  Your lender won’t care if you just vent in a brief facebook post or email.  Be loud and show no signs of stopping.
  5. Keep focused – For this to work, your cause must be a righteous one.  If you want your lenders to back down and you want strangers to take up your cause, keep your attention on doing the right thing.

It is sad that so many people experience student loan nightmares, and it is even more depressing that the best option for success may be publicly shaming your lender into doing the right thing.  Unfortunately, it is the reality of the world we live in.