Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, Student Loans and Hardship Discharge

Almost everyone who has student loans knows that student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.  So why would a debtor meet with a bankruptcy lawyer regarding student loans?  There are several good reasons to discuss your particular situation with a bankruptcy lawyer.

Sometimes a bankruptcy, either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, can eliminate or reduce other debt, freeing up income to make the student loan payments more affordable.  A Chapter 13 bankruptcy can pay some, if not all, of the student loan debt.  If a Chapter 13 payment plan does not pay the student loans in full, it may be possible to propose a plan that will pay enough to reduce principal and make the debt more manageable.  If you have a loan that will be forgiven, a Chapter 13 may help you deal with the payments until you have the opportunity to take advantage of debt forgiveness programs.

There are also provisions which allow a bankruptcy court to determine that the student loan debt creates an undue hardship.  Section 523(a)(8) of the bankruptcy code says that student loans cannot be discharged in either chapter 7 or chapter 13, unless repaying the student loans would be an undue hardship on you or your dependents. Unlike some other exceptions to dischargeability, this section contains no deadline for either you or the student loan creditor to bring the matter before the bankruptcy court. Although the courts have interpreted that provisions very narrowly, and it is very difficult to litigate these issues for various reasons, you and your bankruptcy lawyer may be in a position to take advantage of those provisions.

Here in Rochester, Judge Ninfo addressed dischargeability of student loans and the so-called “hardship discharge” in In re Martin, holding that in order to obtain a discharge, the debtor must meet the three-part test established in Brunner v. New York State Higher Education, 831 F.2d 395 (2nd Cir. 1987). This test has been summarized in In re Kraft, 161 B.R. 82 (Bankr. W.D.N.Y. 1993) as:

[A] Debtor seeking to discharge an education loan must show:

1. That the Debtor cannot maintain, based on current income and expenses, a “minimal” standard of living for herself (and any dependents) if forced to repay the loans;

2. That additional, exceptional circumstances exist, strongly suggestive of continuing inability to repay over an extended period of time, or indicating a likelihood that her current inability will extend for a significant portion of the loan repayment period; and

3. That the Debtor has made good faith efforts to repay the loans.

In Martin, the debtor received a hardship discharge based on the following set of facts: “(1) the Debtor did receive an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts from Monroe Community College in May, 1988; (2) since her graduation, the Debtor has been unemployed and for a number of years has been receiving Social Security Disability, Medicaid, food stamps and Section 8 housing assistance; (3) the Debtor is a counseling client of the University of the State of New York/Office of Vocational and Educat ion Services for Individuals with Disabilities (“VESID”) where she has been counseled to set a vocational goal of “homemaker;” (4) the Debtor is in individual therapy at the Steuben County Community Health Center; (5) the Debtor suffers from several ongoing medical problems, including degenerative arthritis in her knees, morbid obesity, chronic asthma, hypoactive thyroidism and fibromyalgia; (6) VESID reports that its evaluation revealed the Debtor suffers from chronic depressive feelings and has suicidal thoughts; (7) the Debtor has no present employment prospects because of her physical and psychological conditions; and (8) there exists no indication of any likely change in the Debtor’s state of affairs.”  Thus, a rather extreme set of circumstances must be present in order to receive a bankruptcy discharge.  At the same time, each case should be judged on its own merits and carefully evaluated by a bankruptcy lawyer to determine how the debtor could benefit by filing bankruptcy.

If you are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney.