Wellwishers help pastor pay off $200,000 student loan debt passed on by late daughter

(Photo: Darren Deans)

Pastor Steve Mason and his wife, Darnelle, have renewed hope after an outpouring of support has substantially decreased a $200,000 debt owed to student loan lenders.

The Masons were left with $100,000 in student loans after their daughter passed away five years ago, and the debt has doubled due to interest fees and non-payment penalties. Now, they can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

The couple's daughter, Lisa, passed away at the age of 27 from liver failure. The Masons took charge of Lisa's three children and were transferred her private loan debt, which Steve was a co-signor of.

The loan payments soon fell behind, as Steve makes less than $75,000 per year as a pastor, and his wife makes even less in her position at the church.

"It's just impossible on a pastor's salary raising three kids to pay $2,000 a month on loans," Steve told CNN Money.

With $200,000 debt built up after five years, the Masons decided to go public with their story.

The family created a GoFundMe page last week to help pay back the lenders, and has raised over $16,000 so far.

Their story was also featured on an episode of CNN Money, whose producers contacted the Masons' lenders.

Navient Corporation lowered the interest rate to zero on three of their four loans, decreasing the total balance from $35,000 to $27,000. Also, a debt collection agency forgave the total balance of the loan they were collecting – a $15,000 blessing.

"We've been totally blown away," Steve said. "It's so encouraging to realize there's a lot of good people out there."

Mason also began a petition on Change.org to make student loans eligible for forgiveness in bankruptcy proceedings. That petition has nearly 5,500 signatures.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has also taken up the case, highlighting the Masons' struggle in a recent Senate Banking Committee hearing.

Pastor Mason said the support is more than encouraging.

"For the first time since our daughter's death, we have a little bit of hope," he shared.