A little pressure can go a long way.
After his death, the Bryski family asked lenders to forgive the Rutgers sports physiology student’s debt. The Key loans were co-signed by Bryski’s father, who has paid more than $20,000 of the $50,000 debt to date, never missing a payment — even after the passing of his son.
Ryan Briski, Christopher’s older brother, said all other lenders, including Wells Fargo, Sallie Mae, Discover and Citi Financial, discharged Christopher’s debts after he died.
Key Bank was the one holdout.
“It’s really unfortunate it took this much to get a bank to respond to a grieving family,” said Ryan Bryski, 34.
Bryski said the family first approached Key Bank when Christopher was in a coma in 2004. The bank deferred the loans, Ryan Bryski said, but after Christopher died, the bank said the family was still on the hook.
But the family kept up the pressure.
In 2010, New Jersey legislators introduced the Christopher Bryski Student Loan Protection Act, which would require lenders to explain a co-signer’s obligations should the borrower die. It would not require lenders to forgive the loans. The legislation was reintroduced this year, but Ryan Bryski said it’s been watered down significantly and is too late to help his family. Yet, the family planned to keep up the fight.
The Bryskis took the issue to the court of public opinion on Friday, when Ryan Bryski started an online petition with Change.org, hoping to pressure Key Bank to forgive the debt. More than 80,000 people signed the petition by the time Key Bank changed its position.
“Going forward, we will evaluate any similar situation involving a deceased student with outstanding loans – and we sincerely hope there are none – on a case-by-case basis,” Key Bank spokesman David Reavis said.
Change.org said the Bryski story is a powerful example of what regular people can accomplish with people-powered campaigns online.
“In under a week, Ryan Bryski was able to use Change.org to take on a major financial institution and win real change both for his family and for Key Bank customers in similar circumstances,” said William Winters of Change.org.
Ryan Bryski said he’s glad Key Bank is considering a policy change.
“[Key Bank] said they realize they’re not in step with other institutions and they’ve already begun to review their policies,” Ryan Bryski said.
Bryski said he wants families of college students to understand the consequences of student loans.
“It’s a morbid issue, but these loans should come with proper financial planning, having some type of life insurance or some kind of debt protection,” he said. “If you have no spouse, your debt dies with you. My brother died with $200 to his name, but they kept coming after him because my father co-signed the loan. You have to protect yourself.”