Student Loans: Legislation to Clarify Co-signer Obligations

Mary Pilon

When a student dies, the bill for his student loans often lives on – to the painful surprise and dismay of his co-signers. New Senate legislation seeks to change that, by requiring lenders to make clear the obligations of co-signers in the event of death.
Introduced yesterday, the “Christopher Bryski Student Loan Protection Act,” sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), is the culmination of a multi-year battle fought by the Bryski family, profiled by the Journal in August. In July 2006, Christopher Bryski died at the age of 25, after an accident left him with a brain injury that put him in a persistent vegetative state for two years. Today, his parents continue to make monthly payments on the $44,500 in private student loans that Mr. Bryski took out to attend Rutgers University. The legislation introduced yesterday would require lenders to provide students and parents with more information about what happens to loans in the event of death.
A first round of student loan and financial reform legislation already passed this year but did not address what happens to private student loans in the event of a student death. Federal student loans can generally be discharged if a student dies or becomes permanently disabled. But private student lenders, such as Sallie Mae, Citibank and Wells Fargo, are not required to discharge loans in the event of death or disability, leaving co-signers, typically parents, on the hook for the balance. Two years ago, Christopher’s brother, Ryan Bryski, began talking to lawmakers about a bill. It’s an amendment to the Truth in Lending Act and the Higher Education Act of 1965.