For Steve and Darnelle Mason, the unbearable loss of their daughter was followed by a financial hit: $200,000 in student loan debt left behind after their daughter Lisa died of liver failure five years ago at age 27.
But after the family from East Highland, California was profiled by CNNMoney in July, there came an outpouring of community support for the couple and their three grandchildren, who the Masons took in after their daughter’s passing.
Now, more than 210,000 people have signed the family’s Change.org petition. The petition’s intention is to get lawmakers to require private student loan debt to be forgiven when the primary borrower dies.
Like many parents across the country do for their children, the Masons had co-signed Lisa’s loans for nursing school. But the money had been borrowed from a private lender, and not the federal government. Federally subsidized loans provide repayment options that take into consideration many factors, including family income.
“Extreme situations like ours should qualify for either loan forgiveness by the lending institutions due to extreme financial hardship … or they should be able to be discharged in bankruptcy, just like every other type of debt,” writes the Masons on their change.org page. “Most of these private student loans are guaranteed to be paid to the lender by the federal government.”
Nonetheless, the outpouring that touched the Mason family has made it possible to wipe out the $200,000 loan debt.
CNNMoney reports that the Masons have received $41,000 through a campaign on GoFundMe, and two of their student loan providers have forgiven more than $60,000 in debt.
After a lawsuit over their daughter’s death was settled, the family’s lawyer said he has decided to waive $100,000 in legal fees to help the family pay off the rest.
Money leftover from the settlement will go directly to the Masons’ grandkids, ages 9, 12 and 14.
“We are just overwhelmed at the response,” Darnelle told CNNMoney. “We can only hope that this wave [that the story] began will turn into a tsunami for all those other families that suffer as we do.”