On the heels of more than 50,000 people signing an online petition asking Sallie Mae to stop charging fees for late student loan payments, the company has made the decision to update its forbearance policy for private education loans.
“We have been giving it careful consideration for some time, and will now apply the good-faith payment to the customers’ balance after they resume a track record of on-time payments,” Patricia Christel, spokesperson for Sallie Mae, said in an email to Credit Union Times. “The change will be retroactive to private loan forbearances granted on or after Jan. 1.”
Sallie Mae is linked to around 500 credit unions via its student loan referral program, Smart Option Student Loan.
The decision comes after the Change.org campaign leader presented a Sallie Mae representative with the petition in Washington earlier this week. Last week, the company said it was standing by the fee.
When customers ask for a concession to suspend required payments, Sallie Mae in turn asks for a good-faith deposit that acknowledges the importance of and commitment to resuming payments in the future, Christel said.
“The economy poses a significant challenge, but still only 4% of our private education loans are in forbearance,” Christel said. “Of those, the vast majority get back on track. Oftentimes people who initially ask to postpone their payments find other solutions because they realize that postponement of payments increases the amount of interest they will ultimately pay. Most loans are cosigned by parents and we actively encourage cosigners to help. In fact, last year more than 90% of loans originated were cosigned.”
Christel said the company tries to educate borrowers on more affordable repayment options before granting forbearance. “For our customers experiencing severe financial difficulty (those who are seriously past due), we encourage customers to first take advantage of a modified repayment plan at no cost. For those customers who request forbearance to stop making payments but keep their account in an approved status, the fee is $50 per loan – up to a maximum of $150 (time period is typically for three months),” she added.
“It’s worth noting that private education loan defaults have been declining – improved six quarters in a row,” Christel said. She added that on average young adults with a college degree are about two and a half times less likely to be unemployed than those who did not go to college. Citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, she said for December 2011, unemployment for people ages 20-24 who did not attend college was 20.1%, compared with 6.9% for college grads.