David and Rose Prior were devastated when their son Andrew, 23, was killed by a hit and run drunk driver in November 2010. The Bishop Grimes graduate had just finished his education at Northeastern University. He was working as a sign language interpreter in Boston when his life was tragically cut short.
To make matters worse, the Priors are getting no sympathy from two private student loan companies, American Education Services (AES) in Pennsylvania and Education Investment Finance Corporation (EIFC) in New York. Both companies are threatening to take away the Prior's home and car if they don't pay an outstanding student loan for their deceased son.
"That was four months after Andy had died and we're getting sometimes two calls a day," says Prior.
However, the Priors have a new soldier on their side, Senator Chuck Schumer.
"If you want to walk all over this brave, Syracuse family, you're going to have to go through me first," says Schumer.
At a press conference Wednesday, Schumer demanded the loan companies do right by the Priors and immediately forgive the debt.
It's common practice for federal student loans to be forgiven or discharged when the loan holder dies. However, that practice is not required of private loan holders. In Andrew's case, his federal loan servicer and two other private loan companies did absolve the debt.
Major private student loan providers such as Sallie Mae and Wells Fargo have established programs to follow this practice. Both Sallie Mae and Wells Fargo forgive any unpaid balance in the event of a primary borrower's death. This precedent allows for compassion to enter the financial marketplace and Schumer says that AES and EIFC should follow suit.
"Do the right thing. We shouldn't have had to be here. They should have done it immediately. Now maybe they'll be shamed into doing it. But if they don't, we're going to pursue every legal means to make sure they never do this again to the Priors or any other family," says Schumer.
Since Schumer got involved, the companies say they're looking into the matter and the Priors hope they can focus on healing after an unimaginable loss.