Although student loan debt can almost never be discharged trough bankruptcy, a new program which went into effect on July 1, 2009 called Income-Based Repayment (IBR) may provide some relief for those who cannot afford high monthly federal student loan payments.
The U.S. Bankruptcy code at 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(8) specifically deems student loan obligations as “nondischargeable debt” (i.e., debt that cannot be discharged through a bankruptcy filing) absent a showing of “undue hardship”, which, as contemplated by the code, is a nearly impossible standard to prove.
Fortunately, the IBR program may provide some relief. IBR cannot be used to obtain an outright discharge of student loan debt, but it can help borrowers keep their loan payments affordable with payment caps based on income and family size; often capping IBR loan payments at less than 10 percent of their income household income. IBR will also forgive remaining debt, if any, after 25 years of qualifying payments.
IBR is available to federal student loan borrowers in both the Direct and Guaranteed (or FFEL) loan programs, and covers most types of federal loans made directly to students, but not those made to a student’s parent.
The IBR program requires that participants be qualified based on income, and to be eligible, it would take more than 15 percent of your income above 150% of federal poverty level to pay off your loans on a standard 10-year payment plan. IBR uses a sliding scale to determine your adjusted federal loan repayment amounts. If you earn below 150% of the federal poverty level for your family size, your required loan payment will be $0. If you earn more, your loan payment will be capped at 15 percent of your income above that amount. In most cases, that figure works out to less than 10 percent of your total income. A useful calculator to determine your eligibility is available here.
In some situations, your reduced payment under IBR may not cover the interest on your loans. If so, the government will pay that interest on your Subsidized Stafford Loans for your first three years in IBR. After three years and for other loan types, the interest will be added to the total amount you owe. While your debt may grow if your IBR calculated payments are calculated to be lower than the monthly interest, anything you still owe after 25 years of qualifying payments will be forgiven.
While student loan debt remains essentially nondischargeable, the IBR program can be used obtain meaningful relief from individuals seeking to reduce student loan payments to qualified participants.
If you are struggling with student loan debt, mortgage debt, credit card and consumer loan debt, the IBR program can be one part of a comprehensive legal strategy to address and resolve financial problems.