County Board President Toni Preckwinkle with Joyce Foundation Senior Program Officer Sameer Gadkaree, Summer CEO Will Sealy and Summer Head of Partner Impact Ella Saunders-Crivello,

A new program to offer free advice and support for student loan borrowers in Cook County was announced today.

The program, funded by the Joyce Foundation, will give county residents free access to the services of Summer, a New York-based Certified B Corporation

In announcing the program County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said, “This new partnership represents another critical step as we continue to find ways to ease the financial pain caused by the pandemic.

“I’m grateful to the Joyce Foundation and Summer for coming together to engage our one million student loan borrowers in Cook County and help chart the most affordable path forward for each of them.”

Summer helps student loan borrowers navigate and reduce their debt with innovative tools combined with a team of student loan experts. With Summer, borrowers can find, compare, and enroll in loan assistance and forgiveness programs.

Residents with student loan debt will now have access to Summer’s platform to enroll in state and federal savings programs that reduce loan payments and qualify for loan forgiveness. Residents who have been financially impacted by COVID-19, including those who have filed for unemployment or had hours cut due to the pandemic, are especially encouraged to enroll.

Any Cook County resident with student loan debt is eligible to enroll. Participants in Illinois who have enrolled with Summer so far have saved on average $154 monthly and $46,890 on the lifetime of their loan.

“Despite the government freeze on certain types of student loan payments, one in three borrowers still have at least some student loans due today,” said Will Sealy, Summer’s CEO and co-founder. “That’s where we can help. We’ve already worked with thousands of Illinois-based borrowers to reduce payments, save money, and find a better payment plan that works for their unique situation. We’re thrilled to be partnering with Cook County to help borrowers become debt free.”

Borrowers who have experienced a significant reduction in income could be eligible for payments as low as $0 by enrolling in a federal Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan.

With the average borrower paying approximately $300/month on student loans, an IDR plan can result in an annual savings of $3,600 for those who are unemployed.

Similar to online tax software, Summer’s online platform can help Cook County residents check their eligibility across IDR plans and receive assistance with the entire application process, if eligible.

“Far too many student loan borrowers are held back by their debt, especially people of color,” said Sameer Gadkaree of the Joyce Foundation. “We believe this partnership will help borrowers navigate complex federal policies and assist them in saving them money while also helping to reduce the inequities that exist in our communities.”

Sixty-one percent of Illinois students graduate with student loans at an average debt size of $29,666, however, student debt is not equitably distributed by race and ethnicity. A recent report by the Brookings Institution found that upon graduation, Black college graduates owe $7,400 more on average than their white peers. After graduation, this debt disparity more than triples to $25,000 within a few years.

“This partnership provides solutions to issues that extend far beyond financial stability — student loan debt is a racial equity issue as well,” said President Preckwinkle. “Once again our Black and Brown communities have continued to carry a disproportionate share of the burden. This is unacceptable and we’re committed to taking action. We urge our neighbors to learn more about the options available for financial relief.”

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