(NEW YORK) — Three years after her son’s death, a 61-year-old Michigan woman is still on the hook for his student loans — and a Change.org petition she started now has nearly 200,000 signatures demanding the companies forgive the loans and change their policies.
Jermaine Edwards went to college to study music production, and his mother, Ella Edwards, agreed to cosign his student loans to help him attend school. However, Jermaine died of natural causes in 2009 at age 24, leaving his mother responsible for the loans.
“That’s when American Education Services (AES) and National Collegiate Trust (NCT) turned my son’s dream into a nightmare for me and the two year old son he left behind,” Edwards wrote in the petition.
Jermain had three student loans when he died, two federal and one private. The two federal government loans were forgiven within a month of his death. However, the private loan company is refusing to forgive the loan.
“He was paying the loan bills when he died, but the balance is still over $10,000, and if I’m ever a couple days late on a payment, the calls keep coming until I pay,” Ella told ABC News.
Ella wrote in the petition that she was so depressed after her son’s death that she could barely get out of bed, and has since been under doctors’ care. She requested an early retirement, but is now back working. The money is still not enough to cover the bills.
“I am 61 years old and I have been trying to work to make Jermaine’s loan payments…but I simply don’t have the money,” Ella wrote. “To make matters worse, Jermaine left behind a young son whose mother doesn’t have many resources. Therefore, she relies on me to help support Jermaine’s son.”
The petition directed to the institutions includes a letter calling for forgiveness of the loan.
“I’m horrified at your institution’s practice of hounding a dead student’s family for repayment of student loans he’ll never get a chance to use,” the letter reads. “I’m calling on you to do the only humane thing — let this still-grieving mother mourn the loss of her only son in peace. I stand with the Ella Edwards family and decent people everywhere in demanding that you discharge Jermaine Edwards’ student loan debt today.”
Ella told ABC she decided to start the petition to demand a change in the laws surrounding student loans, and to warn other parents what they might be getting into if they take out a private loan.
“I suffer every day, and I started the petition because I don’t want any other mom to suffer like I am,” she said, through tears. “People need to be aware these private loan people will come after you like a shark. I would advise people never to get a private loan until the law changes.”
The loan companies have not returned calls for comment from ABC News.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Kathryn Vasel, CNN
Debra Goldschmidt, CNN
Selena Larson, CNN