Sallie Mae employees enjoy free trip to Maui amid $1.6T student loan crisis
More than 100 Sallie Mae employees soaked up the Hawaiian sun on a five-day, all-expense paid trip courtesy of their bosses — a jaunt that didn’t sit well with some borrowers, who struggle to pay back the lender, and others, a combined $1.6 trillion in student debt, a new report said.
Company executives and sales team members gathered in August at the Fairmont resort on Wailea Beach in Maui to celebrate a record year — $5 billion in student loans to 374,000 borrowers, NBC Nightly News reported.
The lending company didn’t pay the way for employees’ families — but some attended regardless, according to the report.
“We said, ‘Hey, look, Maui is a pretty nice spot,’” Ray Quinlan, CEO of Sallie Mae, told the network on the grounds of the Fairmont Hotel. “And so if you wanted to stay a few days or want to bring family, that’s up to you.”
Quinlan told the outlet that the celebratory visit was not an “incentive trip.”
“We’ve had good years, we’ve had bad years,” the CEO said, calling the trip “recognition of the hard work” done by the sales team.
“This is a sales get-together for all of our salespeople,” he continued, adding that Sallie Mae employees have been taking similar trips since the company’s founding in the 1970s.
But since then, the lender has started to offer private loans. The company split in two in 2014 — Sallie Mae Bank now provides private loans, and its newly formed offshoot Navient services and collects loans, including those issued by Sallie Mae.
That arrangement did not work out well for borrowers like Paige McDaniel, who told NBC she ultimately needed to declare bankruptcy after she was forced to pay $1,500 a month for the $120,000 loan she took out to pay for graduate school.
“When I told them that, you know, I couldn’t afford that, could we make some payment arrangements, they essentially said, ‘So sorry, we’ll put a lien on your house and garnish your wages if you don’t make those payments,’” McDaniel, who hired an attorney to sue Navient, told the network.
As interest collected, McDaniel now owes $304,000.
“There’s no way anybody can ever dig themselves out from underneath that,” she added. “They just don’t see that there are families on the other side of this.”
McDaniel was not a Sally Mae customer and did not sue the lender, according to the company.
Sallie Mae told NBC it’s not liable in McDaniel’s suit, pointing out that it wasn’t making loans when McDaniel took one out.
“We believe Navient — a separate and independent company from Sallie Mae — is responsible for all liabilities that are at issue,” the company said in a statement issued to the network.
In a statement, Sallie Mae said that 98% of its borrowers successfully manage their loans, less than 2% default each year and a typical customer pays off their loans in seven years.
The vast majority — or 92% — of the $1.6 trillion in nationwide student debt is from federal student loans, and only 1.4% are private loans owned by Sallie Mae, according to the lender.