Bank surprises single mom by paying off $150K in student loans

Jasmin Ford, 30, of Chicago, describes how the surprise will change her life.

A 30-year-old nurse and single mother with around $150,000 in student loan debt received a life-changing surprise Wednesday.

Jasmin Ford was surprised with the news that Fifth Third Bank would pay off all of her student loans.

“I still can’t find the words,” Ford said Thursday. “I’m off work again today and I’m just sort of pacing around and restless because I know my life is going to change.”

Ford, a Chicago native, was the first in her family to graduate from college. She received her bachelor’s degree in 2011 and then became a nurse three years later after going back to school for her nursing degree.

Ford finished her Master’s degree in nursing in 2015. With no family assistance, she said she had to take out student loans to cover necessities like food and rent in addition to tuition.

“I could not foresee when I’d be able to pay it off,” Ford said of her debt. “I just knew this was going to be a part of my life as long as I was alive unless there was some significant change, which -- wow.”

(MORE: Student debt crisis: This 28-year-old mom is 'drowning' in $80,000 of debt)

Ford said she now envisions being able to use her nursing career to give back even more and "pay it forward."

“I just imagine being able to spend more time physically with my family, not having to hustle, having mental freedom and with that, some spiritual freedom,” she said. “I can open myself to more experiences, opportunities and just be able to sit and be with my thoughts and be able to pursue what it is I came to do.”

Ford said life will also change for her son, Caleb, who will turn 2 in February. While struggling to pay back her debt, Ford worked nearly every day of the week at two jobs.

“His life will be totally different,” she said. “I’m so happy and so proud that I’m able to offer that to him more than anything else because he deserves it.”

Ford was surprised by Fifth Third Bank after being chosen to participate in a documentary the Ohio-based bank was producing on the student loan debt. She thought the film crew was coming back to her home Wednesday to shoot some additional video.

“The documentary in itself was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “I’m a South Side of Chicago nurse and I have a kid, that in itself is not that exciting, and I got to be in a documentary and I met some amazing people on the way.”

Mike Crawford, senior digital product manager at Fifth Third Bank, said it was Ford’s perseverance to become a nurse and her commitment to giving back to her community that made her stand out.

"Her story was just so compelling and she’s such a passionate person who’s focused on changing the world and giving back, we just felt like we had to do this for her," Crawford said. "She’s one of those people that we expect to be a ripple in the pond. If you make a difference for her, you make a difference for the community."

Fifth Third Bank decided to look at the issue of student debt after seeing it was a major issue for millennials, according to Crawford.

About two in three college seniors who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges in 2017 had student loan debt, according to the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit organization that works to make higher education more available and affordable.

(MORE: 'I thought college was exclusive to certain types of people': Students surprised with $40K scholarships live on 'GMA')

Crawford said Fifth Third Bank decided to use voices like Ford's in a documentary on student debt in order to humanize the issue.

"It's such an emotional challenge and such an anxiety-ridden experience for people," said Crawford, who added that he and his wife are still paying off student loans.

In the coming year, Fifth Third Bank plans to pay off student debt for two more people. The bank will pay off loans of up to $39,000 for two users of Fifth Third Momentum, the bank's student loan initiative that rounds up a customer's debit card purchases and applies it to their student loan balance.