We are told to work hard and to play by rules – go to school, get good grades, go to college, get a good job – in order to receive future opportunities. But what is often left out of this societal expectation is the financial burden many suffer long after graduation. In fact, 761,000 Coloradans struggle with student debt, facing an average of $25,000 in loans for their higher education.
To raise awareness on this pressing issue, the Bell Policy Center co-hosted a student debt panel discussion with New Era Colorado, Young Invincibles, and the American Federation of Teachers-Colorado, partner organizations from the Fair Lending for a Thriving Colorado coalition. Sharing their unique perspectives, the panel included Representative Faith Winter, attorney Karen Cody-Hopkins, and Ezekiel Gorrocino from the Center for Responsible Lending.
Attendees learned about student loan servicers and the predatory practices they use to entrench borrowers in debt. Currently unregulated, these servicers can get away with faulty, malicious practices, leading the panelists to highlight key ways to fight back. Attorney Cody-Hopkin’s biggest piece of advice for current student loan holders is to keep every envelope confirming loan repayments. Why? Cody-Hopkins has represented many clients who have paid off their student debt, but loan servicers come back, demanding they are still owed more. Without state licensing, there is nothing our Attorney General’s office can do to protect Coloradans in this appalling situation.
Not only are student loan servicers defrauding clients, they are also preventing clients from accessing basic information to help them pay off their loans. To better understand servicer’s disreputable management, Rep. Winter and her staff spent one afternoon calling their respective servicers to know their loan repayment history. Amongst the seven of them, it took between 47 minutes and over two weeks to answer this one simple question.
The concerns raised during this event are just part of what makes the student debt crisis just that -- a crisis -- but they play a significant role in the financial futures of student borrowers. With Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doing little to protect those seeking higher education, it's more important than ever to raise awareness on the predatory practices of student loan servicers and learn ways to protect an investment in opportunity. With student loan debt affecting major life choices, it's time we mobilize to find solutions. According to Rep. Winter, one way to do this is to share your personal story. Tell your friends, tell your elected officials, tell us. We want to hear from you. The more voices we can draw to this important issue, the better.
A big thank you to our panelists and the other hosts, as well as Coffee at the Point for welcoming us and our attendees! We are eager to keep this conversation going and look forward to finding answers that work for Coloradans.