In one extreme case, student debt, and the constant creditor calls, were mentioned in a suicide note by the stepfather of a young law school graduate. The guilt has been crushing for the graduate.
Teresa Tosh, 56, a mother of five who works for the county government in Tulsa, Okla., had co-signed large graduate and law school loans for one of her sons, Jacob, who has a different last name. In total, he owes more than $200,000 on his federal loans, in addition to more than $100,000 on the private student loans his mother co-signed.
But like many recent law graduates, Jacob had trouble finding a job, and when he finally found one, an hour from home, the salary was nowhere near enough to cover loan payments. Creditor calls to both Jacob and to his mother became more and more frequent.
Jacob talked to the collectors when they called, and tried to work out payments as best he could. But shortly after one call ended, he and his mother said, the phone would ring again: another collection agent, in another part of the country. Ms. Tosh’s husband, George, a Vietnam veteran who worked from home, concluded that Jacob was lying about trying to work things out, deceiving Ms. Tosh, ruining her credit and leaving her holding the bag.
The household tension grew intense, and in July 2010, Mr. Tosh shot himself, leaving a note saying that he could no longer stand the incessant calls from Sallie Mae, one of the lenders.
“Jake has destroyed us. You can’t tell me that sally mae is getting paid when they keep calling all day, every day,” he said in a note to his wife. “I can’t even answer the phone in my own home no more. I can’t live like this no more.”
Ms. Tosh said she was “not naďve enough to think the Sallie Mae calls were the only reason” that her husband killed himself. “But they were adding a lot of stress,” she said. “They’d never stop calling.”
A few months after the suicide, Jacob moved to Dallas and got a document-review job. The pay is not enough to meet his loan payments — or even full interest — but his creditors agreed to let him make partial-interest-only payments for two years. While his balance continues to grow, that arrangement protected his mother from payment demands for two years.
“It’s made my life so much more stressful and guilt-filled because I know that it affects her,” Jacob said. “I barely have enough money to pay the bills, but if I miss by a day, they call her.”
Jacob pays about $1,200 a month toward the debt, more than he pays for rent. He and his mother are carefully rebuilding their relationship, after a period of great tension. Ms. Tosh traveled to Dallas for his birthday.
“She’s been really good about it,” Jacob said. “It’s always there, but she doesn’t bring it up.”