According to a recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it is estimated that there are around 44 million individuals with student loan debt. The report showed that around $1.4 trillion is owed by total student loan borrowers. Of this amount, around 11 percent of that debt is past 90 days overdue. These figures show one common theme: student loan debt affects many Americans and not in the good way.
Student loan debt becomes an even bigger problem for those borrowers who are not able to keep up on their payments. It has traditionally been impossible for a borrower to have his or her student loans discharged in bankruptcy, which meant that these individuals were continued to be burdened by immense debt even after bankruptcy was over. It seems counter-intuitive since the purpose of bankruptcy is to get a financial fresh start, which has led to recent proposals to change the way student loans are handled in bankruptcy.
A recent bill, the HIGHER ED Act, H.R. 5549, introduced in April 2018 by Oregon Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio has proposed significant changes to how student loans are handled in bankruptcy. The legislation would broaden the legal definition of “undue hardship,” which is the standard used by bankruptcy courts to determine if a borrower is eligible for discharge of his or her student loan debt.
The “undue hardship” determination has never been truly defined, and bankruptcy courts have had to decide on what it means on a case-by-case basis, and this inconsistent application has led to inconsistent rulings across the board. Earlier in 2018, the U.S. Department of Education had issued a statement requesting public comments on whether the undue hardship definition needed to be modified. The Department had previously expressed concerns that the undue hardship test has kept borrowers from trying to see relief from their debts through bankruptcy.
In a recent study written by Jason Juliano at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, it was found that around 40 percent of borrowers who included their student loan debts in their initial bankruptcy filings ended up with some or all of their debt obligation discharged. That number does not seem too bad until it is compared with the 0.1 percent of filers who actually attempted to discharge their student loan debts. This number shows that people simply do not even feel it is worth trying to discharge their student loan debts.
When it comes to bankruptcy and student loan debt, there are some common misconceptions. One being, that student loans are never dischargeable in bankruptcy. In fact, there are ways to file for bankruptcy with student loan debt.
All of the federal courts of appeals, with the exception of the Boston 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and St. Louis 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have adopted what is commonly referred to as the Brunner test in defining undue hardship. The test goes through three factors when making this determination:
- If the borrower had to continue to pay back the loan, would he or she be able to maintain a minimal standard of living?
- Are the borrower’s financial difficulties expected to continue for the next several years, or are they temporary?
- Has the borrower made efforts to keep up with student loan payments before deciding to file for bankruptcy?
Under the Brunner Test, the borrower must be able to show that the debt has made it impossible for him or her to support themselves and their families and that the financial situation is not expected to change without the debt being discharged or lifted.
The Department of Education is taking the comments and data received this year and hopes to re-evaluate this criterion. The Department also hopes to change the weights given to each of the three factors and make the discharges more accessible to student loan borrowers who desperately need relief.
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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.