Your Family Still Might Have to Cover Your Tuition Costs Even If You Die

Why It Matters:

  • College loans from private lenders can haunt cosigners for the rest of their lives.
  • In one case, when a 27-year-old woman with $100,000 in student loans died, her family was pressured to pay.
  • America has approximately $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loan debt.
  • If a person cosigns a private lender loan, that person could get stuck with the bill if the primary borrower dies.

Everplans tkc.profilePicture Written by: Everplans
Oct. 09, 2017

4 Min readClock Icon

You might think all your debts will die with you and not burden your family or loved ones − and in most cases, you’d be right. Upon death, debts can either be deducted from your estate or be forgiven. But if anyone else is associated with that debt, primarily as a cosigner on a loan, that person is now in the lender’s crosshairs.

Does a dead person still require a college degree?

In 2009, 27-year-old Lisa Mason died of liver failure, leaving three young children and $100,000 in student loans behind. Her parents had cosigned the loans, which made perfect sense at the time: You expect your college-educated child to pay off a student loan in her lifetime; you don’t expect your child to die before turning 30.

Her parents, who were now serving as legal guardians to their three grandchildren, couldn’t keep up with the payments, and in four years the debt grew to $200,000. The story hit the news, briefly bringing the issue to the collective forefront.

The controversy and confusion surrounding student loans has become a sensitive subject. A person can declare bankruptcy and have the majority of debts discharged. But while a lender can take your car, your house, or your possessions, how can they repossess a college education?

Not all student loans are created equal

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates there’s more than $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, with more than 8 million Americans in default.

Federal loans offer relief in the form of “Death Discharge.” While it might have an unpleasant sounding name, the government offers what most private lenders don’t: Student loan debt forgiveness for all involved upon death. Getting a federal loan isn’t a guarantee, which is why many must turn to private lenders.

Requiring a cosigner for a private student loan is completely understandable. Lenders need some way of recouping their money if the primary person responsible doesn’t pay. But how important is a college education to a dead person? If you’re the cosigner, you’re now on the hook regardless of the circumstances.

The kindness of others

It’s easy to become discouraged, frustrated, and cynical about the notion of debt after death. We’ve seen a few negative comments suggesting that people who cosign loans for their children should be responsible for the debt no matter what. Those are the rules! Well, if that’s the case, here’s something much worse for a parent than the thought of future debt: Burying your child.

We’ve also seen people vehemently question exorbitant tuition costs, predatory lenders, whether a college education is even worth it, and why the government isn’t doing anything to protect people. Amid all the outrage, here are some things you can do if you find yourself in this horrible situation:

Some private lenders do forgive debts if the borrower dies.

Make sure this isn’t the case before you spend lots of time and energy worrying about a debt you might not have to pay back. Ideally, you’d want to make sure this is the case for any loan you might cosign. While death shouldn’t be the first thing on your mind when your baby is about to go to college, as a grown adult, it’s something you sadly have to consider.

Talk to the lenders and find a sympathetic ear.

While it can be a very long and agonizing process, lenders have families too. They’re also numb to every excuse in the book as to why someone can’t pay, so you just need to find the right person who understands your situation, and make your case.

Make a big noise.

Social media and crowdfunding have changed the world in so many ways. People are always looking for causes to support. If your story gains traction on social media − and then mainstream media like it did for the Masons − it can be a life-changer. The extensive media coverage led to reduced interest on the loan and a successful GoFundMe campaign.

Consider buying life insurance.

No, not for you, though you could. Consider buying a term life insurance policy for the borrower for whom you cosigned the loan. If the borrower dies before the loan is repaid, the funds can be used to help pay off any outstanding debt — and a college-aged person may be less expensive to insure than an older adult.

Things to Consider:

  • Think twice before having someone cosign a big loan for you (or being a cosigner for someone else).
  • If you find yourself in this situation, try to find a sympathetic ear to forgive, or greatly minimize, the debt.
  • Take your cause to social media or a fundraising site to garner support and put pressure on the lender.

This article is provided by Everplans − a life and legacy planning company dedicated to transforming the way people get their families organized. For more information, visit: everplans.com

Neither Transamerica nor its agents or representatives may provide tax, investment, or legal advice. Anyone to whom this material is promoted, marketed, or recommended should consult with and rely on their own independent tax and legal advisors and financial professional regarding their particular situation and the concepts presented herein.

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