South Carolina county official fired over student loans despite COVID-19 moratorium

ByRichard C. Sloan

Apr 6, 2022

ILast week, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office fired one of its officials for defaulting on student loans.

Chief Deputy Joyce Smith, 48, was fired on April 1 after being hired by County Sheriff Kristin Graziano in December 2020. Graziano says in a letter that the firing was necessary “because South Carolina prohibits my office (among other things) to employ people who are willfully defaulting on certain student loans.”

Graziano’s office drafted the employment standards in November 2020, just before he took office. Among them is the commitment of employees to “promptly pay all debts”.


According to Graziano, Smith “misunderstood the federal CARES Act student loan protections as an automatic, penalty-free deferral.” At that time, the CARES Act loan moratorium had been in effect for eight months, suspending all payments on Direct Loans, some Federal Perkins Loans, and some Federal Family Education Loans and bringing their rates down. interest at 0%. Only 5% student borrowers are not eligible for the program.

Smith’s loan was an FFEL, although it is unclear what type of loan Smith applied for, when she enrolled in classes, or what school she attended. Her former employer, the Charleston Police Department, seemed to have no problem with her loans, employing her for nearly 25 years, until she took a new position in the county.

“I approved your hiring on the grounds that, accepting your statements as true, your default was not voluntary,” Graziano wrote.

The sheriff’s office found in January 2022 that the loans, apparently operating outside the extended moratorium through August 31, had fallen into default and were affecting Smith’s credit rating. Graziano says she met with Smith to encourage compliance with payments and even shared resources that could help.

By March 17, it was clear to the sheriff that nothing had been paid on the loans as they remained in “collection account” status.

“I’m sorry it’s come to this, but you left me no other reasonable alternative,” Graziano wrote.


Smith’s last day will be April 8.