New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, senior member of the Senate Banking Committee, has cosponsored legislation that provides better financial protections for those taking out student loans and their co-signers in the event of injury or death. The Christopher Byrski Student Loan Protection Act is named for a Rutgers University student who died in 2006 after suffering a traumatic brain injury that kept him in a coma for two years. At the time of his death, Byrski owed tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to a private lender, which his family was obligated to pay since his father had co-signed the loan. The Byrski family had been unaware of their obligation in the event of a tragedy.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), more than 90 percent of students seeking educational loans have another family member or other person as a co-signer of the loan. Co-signers can be released from a loan once the student borrower meets a minimum number of payments and passes a credit check. However, the process is cumbersome and involved, and less than 1 percent of co-signers actually get released from the loan obligation. Additionally, lenders automatically require immediate repayment of the loan if a student borrower or co-signer dies, becomes disabled, or files for bankruptcy, even if payments are up-to-date and continue to be made.
“[T]here is absolutely no reason for a lender to put the loan into default because tragedy strikes. Lenders also shouldn’t be able to use hidden tricks and confusing paperwork to stop the fair release of co-signers from a loan. This law is designed to stop these practices and ensure fairness for students and their families,” said Senator Menendez in a statement on his Web site.
The Christopher Byrski Student Loan Protection Act was originally proposed by the Bryski family in 2009 and introduced to Congress by the late Representative John Adler and the late Senator Frank Lautenberg. The bill was passed by the House but not by the Senate. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Al Franken (D-Minn) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) cosponsored the current legislation on August 5, 2015.
Once passed into law, the Christopher Byrski Student Loan Protection Act will be renamed Christopher’s Law. The Act is supported by many educational and lending organizations such as National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NAFSAA), and the American Council on Education (ACE), among others.