Student Loans and Bankruptcy: Fixing a Broken System

May 30, 2018 Posted by kingcade

Student loan borrowers have continuously run into roadblocks when it comes to their student loan debt being discharged in bankruptcy cases. Many students graduate with well over six figures in student loan debt, causing them financial hardship for years.

The Department of Education recently solicited comments and input on what loan holders should consider when making a determination on whether to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. As a result, the Department ended up receiving over 400 comments in response to this request.

Currently borrowers have to prove that paying the student loan debt would constitute an “undue hardship” to the borrower. Traditionally, this standard has been a very hard one to meet. For student loans issued by the government, borrowers have had to jump a rather high hurdle to show this undue hardship. In addition, no set standard has been issued for determining what an undue hardship is, resulting in different courts applying different standards.

Only Congress can modify how the law handles discharging student loan debt in bankruptcy cases, but the Department of Education does have some say in making a recommendation on how these cases are handled. An official memo from the Department may go a long way in providing guidance for judges when evaluating these cases.

One possible change is clear criteria will be given to help determine what an undue hardship is. One recommendation has been establishing whether a student loan borrower is near the poverty line, has been determined to be unemployable due to a disability or whether the person is a caretaker for someone who is disabled or chronically ill.

Another recommendation was to make the standard more lenient to allow for more borrowers to be able to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. Congress has never given a clear definition for what undue hardship consists of, but many courts have used the “Brunner” test to determine what this means.

The Brunner test requires that the borrower show that he or she has made a good faith effort in repaying the debt, that the financial circumstance is such that the person cannot have a reasonable standard of living if he or she has to repay the debt, and this financial situation is likely to continue in the future. The problem is this standard is not easy to meet with each court viewing it differently. It has been recommended that courts use a more lenient standard called the totality of the circumstances test, which looks broadly at the debtor’s financial situation to determine if paying the loan(s) back constitutes a hardship.

Other comments suggested that the Department and loan issuers also consider whether the borrower finished college and whether he or she was victim of fraudulent conduct before making an ultimate determination on whether the debt should be discharged. This recommendation follows the issues that have followed students who have attended for-profit colleges who have been accused of enticing students to attend their schools with inflated job placement figures and graduation rates.

The strict standards that have been used in not allowing borrowers to have their student loan obligations discharged have kept many from pursuing bankruptcy when they arguably need this relief the most.

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For borrowers who are struggling with student loan debt, relief options are available.  Many student loan borrowers are unaware that they have rights and repayment options available to them, such as postponement of loan payments, reduction of payments or even a complete discharge of the debt. There are ways to file for bankruptcy with student loan debt.  It is important you contact an experienced Miami bankruptcy attorney who can advise you of all your options. As an experienced CPA as well as a proven bankruptcy lawyer, Timothy Kingcade knows how to help clients take full advantage of the bankruptcy laws to protect their assets and get successful results. Since 1996 Kingcade Garcia McMaken has been helping people from all walks of life build a better tomorrow. Our attorneys help thousands of people every year take advantage of their rights under bankruptcy protection to restart, rebuild and recover. The day you hire our firm, we will contact your creditors to stop the harassment. You can also find useful consumer information on the Kingcade Garcia McMaken website at www.miamibankruptcy.com.