Sallie Mae said Thursday that it will still charge a quarterly $50 fee to student loan borrowers in forbearance, but that the charges will be applied to the borrowers' accounts once they "resume a track record of on-time payments," a spokeswoman said. The lender charges the fee when private student loans have gone into forbearance, continuing to accumulate capitalized interest although borrowers do not have to make payments. An online petition  criticizing the fee as an "unemployment tax" had accumulated 77,000 signatures as of Thursday, building pressure on Sallie Mae to alter its policy.
In an e-mail message, Martha Holler, senior vice president for corporate marketing and communications, said that after "giving it careful consideration for some time," Sallie Mae will apply the "good-faith payment to the customers’ balance after they resume a track record of on-time payments," retroactive to forbearances granted as of Jan. 1. The former student who started the petition, Stef Gray, said in a statement of her own that the change did not go far enough. "At the end of the day, Sallie Mae is still asking unemployed college grads to fork over money they don’t have," she said. "Sallie Mae needs to drop this unfair fee for good.”