Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Can bankruptcy help with my student loans?
As described in this infographic, student loan debt is exempt from many of the protections that consumers have available when it comes to other debts. If that seems unfair to you, then you're not alone. A few of our fellow legal bloggers have written some compelling posts on the necessity of changing the law on bankruptcy when it comes to student loans, and even the president has weighed in in favor of making a change.
However, until the law is changed, the current status is bleak for most. While a Chapter 13 plan can help you structure the payments and potentially stop wage garnishments, it will not reduce the overall debt, and at the end of the plan you may be back in the same position. In a Chapter 7, student loans are considered a non-dischargeable debt unless you can show "undue hardship." In the Brunner case, the U.S. Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit admits that that their is little help in the statute for defining what constitutes an "undue hardship."
The Court in that case required a three-part test to show undue hardship:
"(1) that the debtor cannot maintain, based on current income and expenses, a "minimal" standard of living for herself and her dependents if forced to repay the loans;
(2) that additional circumstances exist indicating that this state of affairs is likely to persist for a significant portion of the repayment period of the student loans; and
(3) that the debtor has made good faith efforts to repay the loans."
Essentially this means that to discharge the debt you have to show that you can't pay the loan now, you tried to pay the loan, and it is not likely you will be able to pay the loan before you die. Many believe this test limits the benefits of the "undue hardship" clause to the elderly or terminally ill.
For most, the best option may not be bankruptcy at all, at least not to deal with student loan debt. Until and unless the law changes, the Income Based Repayment Plan available through the Department of Education is the only option for reducing the burden of student loans when a partial financial hardship exists.
If you still think this is unfair, tell congress that you want it changed.