One of the more common questions asked by student loan borrowers has to do with what happens to the obligation if the borrower dies before the loan is paid in full. Does the loan die with that person, or will their loved ones be held responsible for paying it off after the borrower’s death?
According to the U.S. Department of Education, if the borrower of a federal student loan dies, the loan is automatically canceled, and the debt is discharged by the government. Unfortunately, private student loans do not offer the same liability protections. Whether or not your private student loans will be discharged when you die depends upon your student loan contract. It is important to check the terms regarding death and disability discharge in your student loan contract.
Some private loans, including Sallie Mae’s Smart Option Student Loan or New York HESC’s NYHELPs loans, do offer death and disability forgiveness in the event the borrower dies or becomes permanently disabled. However, not all lenders are so generous.
If the student loan borrower is married, many believe that the spouse of the deceased remains liable for the debt. With traditional student loans, if the spouse is not listed as a joint account holder or a co-signer, the spouse is not legally liable for the debt. If the spouse did co-sign for the loan, he or she may still be liable for the student loan just as he or she would with any other co-signor obligation.
If the borrower lives in a community property state with his or her spouse, and the borrower dies, the spouse will be considered liable for the debt, regardless of whether the spouse’s name was ever on the original student loan unless the state has exceptions in its own laws. The states that are community property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
The state of Alaska is unique in that married couples can choose to opt into a community property situation, but it is not required. For the other states that are not community property states, so long as the debt was never co-signed or jointly in the name of the deceased borrower, the surviving spouse will not be held responsible for the debt.
One important issue that should be addressed involves the tax implications of the student loan debt of the deceased being forgiven. Even if a student loan is cancelled or discharged due to a death or disability, the deceased’s estate may owe taxes on the amount that is forgiven before the estate can be closed. Therefore, while the surviving spouse or loved ones of the deceased may be in the clear when it comes to the actual debt itself, they may still owe something when it comes to taxes on the amount that was forgiven.
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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.