September 12, 2013
Parent can’t pay old school debt
A federal law established to protect student records stands like a brick wall between an elderly Raytown woman and her daughter’s nearly 30-year-old student debt.
Mom says she just wants to do the right thing: Find out exactly what her daughter still owes for the education she got in the mid-1980s and pay off those pesky loans, one at a time and once and for all.
The problem is she doesn’t want her daughter to know what she’s up to. That’s why she asked that her name not be used in this column. She is sure her daughter, a 40-something minimalist who has been in and out of employment, would be upset, even angry about the idea of Mom paying her debt.
Mom, 82, says that at her age, “every day is precious. I probably should have been put on the shelf a few years ago, but I’m still here.” And she doesn’t want to risk falling out of favor with her daughter.
“I don’t want her to stop talking to me for the rest of my life. I don’t want to go out like that.”
She does want to rest easy knowing her daughter’s debt is paid. Mom came by some money after an ex-husband died. She already has given small amounts to other charitable causes.
But the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act won’t allow the parent of a child over age 18 to access student records without the student’s (or former student’s) permission.
Mom found out last year that her daughter still held nearly $40,000 in student loan debt — more than twice what she borrowed in the first place. The daughter is one of the 7 million American borrowers in default on $89 billion in student loans.
And Mom says the debt has kept her daughter from ever getting credit. Worse, unlike other borrowers, those in default on a federal student loan lose their tax refunds and can see their wages garnished without a court order.
Mom has written letters — longhand because she doesn’t have a computer — to her daughter’s former school and the company that is now servicing the loans. She has even written to the U.S. Department of Education begging for someone to just send her copies of the loans so she can know exactly what’s owed to whom.
She says she won’t just send payments to the feds or the collection company without first seeing the loan papers.
The collection company hasn’t answered her letters. Officials with the U.S. Department of Education sent her a letter listing the total amount due, but no loan documents. Meanwhile, interest accrues.
Mom, who has been following media reports on student loan debt and default rates, says she just can’t understand why no one will help her clear one name from the default rolls.
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