Marsha Wipperman, a devoted mother, took on substantial parent PLUS loans to ensure her son with autism could attend college, ultimately leading to a $77,000 debt. While she remains committed to her decision, she wishes there were more relief options available for parents in similar situations.
Dream of College
Marsha Wipperman wanted to provide her son with autism the best possible future.
After her son’s high school graduation, he wanted to pursue higher education, but this required a program tailored to his needs.
Fortunately, they found an ideal program at a private California university that focused on art and design, areas where her son excelled.
Although her son received some grants, they fell short of covering the entire tuition cost.
In response, Wipperman opted for federal student aid in her son’s name and took out a $77,000 parent PLUS loan.
A PLUS loan allows parents to borrow for their children’s education and can cover the full cost of attendance.
Wipperman told Business Insider, “I’m going to sign it. I’m going to pay it. Never in my mind was I not going to pay it, and I still would today. So I just signed away on my parents loans because that’s what a parent does.”
In 2017, her son successfully graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Given his autism diagnosis, he qualified for a total disability discharge, providing debt relief to borrowers who can prove they are permanently and totally disabled.
However, Marsha Wipperman now carries the burden of student loans she took out for her son. While she would make the same choice again to secure her son’s future, she wishes there were more options available to parents like her.
Three Bleak Options
According to Federal Student Aid’s guidelines, Wipperman’s debt balance can only be wiped out if she passes away, becomes permanently and totally disabled, or files for bankruptcy.
If her son’s loans could be discharged due to disability, Wipperman questions why a similar option isn’t extended to parents since parent loans are exclusively for students.
The PLUS loans that Wipperman took out for her son were essential in enabling him to attend college.
PLUS Loans Fine Print
Unlike federal direct loans, PLUS loans don’t have borrowing limits, allowing parents to accumulate substantial debt without safeguards to ensure they can manage the repayment.
Additionally, PLUS loans carry the highest interest rates among federal loans, potentially causing the balance to escalate if not paid off promptly.
Wipperman said, “I’ve done 100% what I needed to do at that time. I didn’t care how we were going to afford it. I worked four part-time jobs to make sure that he could go to that program. And I’ll make sure that his bills get paid. I can pay them until I die.”
Wipperman is not alone in this struggle; other parents have also assumed substantial debt to secure their children’s higher education.
Paying ‘Til Death
Some have taken on immense PLUS loans, such as one father who borrowed $550,000 for his five children, anticipating paying $3,000 a month for most of his life.
For these parents, the financial burden is non-negotiable when it comes to their children’s education.
While President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers includes PLUS loans, the plan faces legal challenges.
Despite the potential for balance reductions, parents like Wipperman remain focused on their immediate concerns, such as the total- and permanent disability (TPD) discharge process.
The Education Department has taken steps to reform the TPD discharge process for borrowers, particularly those with disabilities who have seen their loans reinstated.
A 2016 report found that 98% of reinstated disability discharges resulted from failure to submit required documentation.
Offering Relief to Parents
Now, Wipperman hopes this relief can be extended to parents who, like her, sought to support their children’s dreams.
She says, “I didn’t enter into loans or want to support my son through five years of classes and driving him every day because I’m crazy. I wanted him to succeed and was fully vested in his dream. That’s just what you have to do. That’s just part of being a parent of a disabled adult/child.”
However, some feel little empathy for Wipperman’s situation, with one social media user stating, “She made the loans, she needs to pay the debt. If he had student loans and got forgiveness, WHY did she take out more loans. We should not have to pay for her folly of not reading contracts. You borrowed it, YOU pay it back.”
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Vitalii Vodolazskyi