How Do You Pay Back Student Loans…From The Other Side?
December 3, 2012

A grieving mother is charged with paying back her deceased 24 year old son’s private student loans, which she generously cosigned. She isn’t the first parent to find herself in this position and unfortunately she surely won’t be the last. But Ella Edwards has decided not to take her situation lying down. In the past three years since Jermaine’s passing, Ms. Edwards has transitioned from being so beset by grief that she couldn’t function to starting a Change.org petition in an effort to get her son’s First Marblehead Corporation loan forgiven. At first uncertain of her own strength, Ella Edwards has been steadily gaining confidence thanks to thousands of people who have shown support by signing their names to her petition. Now Ms. Edwards carries on in the hope of sparing other parents the experience she has been forced to endure.

Jermaine Edwards’ passing was an inexplicable tragedy. The cause of death remains unknown and he left behind a two year old son. Ms. Edwards reports that Jermaine held three student loans at the time of his death, two federal and one private. Both federal direct loans were forgiven within a month of her son’s death, but the private student loan company has shown little compassion for her situation.

Jermaine was Ella Edwards’ only child and following his death she was too severely depressed to function. At 61 years of age, she sought an early retirement, forgoing the significant increase in benefits she would have received if her health had permitted her to continue working for a few more years. On top of the need to deal with the loss of her son, Ms. Edwards has been continuously hounded by First Marblehead; the corporation has responded to her plea in a decidedly corporate manner: they told Ms. Edwards they were “very sympathetic” towards her situation but that they were “regrettably not in a position to write off” her loan. Ms. Edwards understandably believes that only one of these statements can be true.

In the wake of growing support for her Change.org petition, however, First Marblehead might be starting to change its tune. The petition currently has 202,300 supporters and Ella Edwards has recently received word from First Marblehead that they have “elevated [her] inquiry” for review.

Ella Edwards is fighting so that other bereaved parents don’t have to go through these same trials. Many parents are unaware of what they’re really agreeing to when they co-sign their child’s student loan. Like Ms. Edwards, they simply love their child and want to support their efforts to make a good life for themselves. Private student loan companies have no problem keeping students and parents uninformed; all these companies want is another person to sign their life away, regardless of the consequences.

Our thoughts and support are with Ms. Edwards. It is hoped that she maintains the strength to take care of herself, because her courage is much needed in this effort to effect change. There is a lot of evidence telling us that eating right supports cognitive function and Ms. Edwards brain is precious as she, in her own words, maintains “the energy and commitment to fight this fight as long as necessary.”

She isn’t the first and she won’t be the last. Fortunately there are student advocacy groups that can help borrowers in this or similar situations. Student loans can feel oppressive if the debt isn’t optimized to its fullest, but you find comfort in those with the expertise to manage student debt.