New Jersey Student Loan Agency to Staff: Don’t Tell Borrowers About Help Unless They Ask

Wow!

It’s yet another obstacle for borrowers from the country’s largest state-based college loan program.

Some restaurants have secret menus, special items that you can only get if you know to ask. New Jersey’s student loan program has secret options, too — borrowers may be able to get help from the agency, but only if they know to ask.

New Jersey has the largest state-based student loan program in the country, with particularly stringent terms that can lead to financial ruin, as ProPublica and the New York Times recently detailed. The agency overseeing the program says it has a policy to help some families if the children who were supposed to benefit from the loans die.

But internal emails show that staffers at the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, or HESAA, have been instructed not to tell families that they may qualify for help unless they explicitly ask.

“Families of deceased borrowers (or surviving cosigners) must inquire if HESAA has a policy on loan forgiveness,” a supervising staffer wrote in an email to employees in May 2016. “We should not be volunteering this information.”

Similar instructions were sent out three years earlier. “Only advise the cosigner/coborrower about loan forgiveness when asked,” wrote the same staffer in a 2013 email about what to do when borrowers die. A senior supervisor was cc’ed on both emails.

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