Award-winning musician Reggie Harris found himself singing the blues after he agreed to co-sign a college loan for his nephew.
“I’m saddled with this loan that is not mine, and as a musician, I have other debts that I have to pay for,” said Harris.
Harris says after nearly two decades of payments, he still owes $14,000. He’s among the roughly 44 million people who make up the trillion dollars of U.S. student loan debt.
Harris’ close friend and film director Michael Camoin is working on a docu-series called “Scared to Debt” that brings awareness to issues within the student loan financing.
“I think the whole issue of lending money for college is a runaway train,” said Camoin.
One example is student loan servicer Navient, who recently came under fire for predatory lending practices. As a result of a multi-state settlement, they’ve had to cancel $1.7 billion in student loan debt and are paying another $95 million in restitution to borrowers.
While working on the "Scared to Debt" documentary, Camoin met one of the whistleblowers responsible for bringing Navient to court.
“Without Jon Oberg we would not be hearing about these settlements now,” said Camoin.
“It was the loan that they were given … this addiction to student loans, easy money,” said Oberg.
According to one state lawsuit, Navient, formerly known as Sallie Mae, partnered with for-profit colleges to approve high-interest loans to students, which in turn boosted college enrollment.
“They misled the people saying 'you will get a huge salary with our education' and you will be able to pay that loan off right away," said Oberg.
Camoin also discovered that lending giants like Navient have been cutting ties with the U.S. government. This allows them to transfer millions of federally backed accounts while continuing to collect billions from their existing private loans.
“The only guarantee is for the banks. ... There’s nobody there to protect the borrowers,” said Camoin.
“I hope that this documentary will empower them enough and others to reform this lending system and make it fair."