Student Loans and Possibility of Discharge

I have previously written about dischargeability of student loans in bankruptcy. For most people filing bankruptcy does not result in a discharge of a student loan under the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (“BAPCPA”) amendments. The code, as amended, does not provide for the discharge of a student loan in a bankruptcy. In order for the student loan to be discharged, the debtor must brings a lawsuit, known as adversarial proceeding, and ask bankruptcy judge to make a determination that the continued existence of the student loan will create an “undue hardship” on the debtor. Under the applicable prior decisions, “undue hardship” is the most difficult part, that is the debtor must convince the bankruptcy court judge that in this case under the circumstances applicable to this debtor, the debtor will not be able to make any significant payments on the student loans owed. The high burden of proof makes these lawsuits extremely difficult.

However, under appropriate circumstances, it may be possible to determine what position the Department of Education may take on student loan dischargeability. The Department of Education recently issued a guidance letter on whether a student loan dischargeability lawsuit will be litigated or whether the Department of Education will recommend agreeing to the discharge.

The Department of Education seems to be focusing on a number of factors such as debtor’s efforts in trying to repay the loans, physical or mental disability leading to inability to work, likelihood of significant future income and factors beyond debtor’s control that led to the filing of bankruptcy.

Private student loan lenders have no such policy and it will be up to the individual creditor/lender to determine if their attorney will defend such a lawsuit vigorously or agree to settlement before a trial or go to trial.

It is never easy to obtain discharge of student loans in bankruptcy and all potential alternatives should be explored. Another option may be Income-Based Repayment (“IBR”). This program was designed to make sure that graduates who aren’t earning a significant income after graduation aren’t spending all their income on repaying their student loans and may result in a significant payment reduction and potential loan cancellation.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or 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 Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Unpaid College Tuition Can Be Discharged In Bankruptcy

Generally, pursuant to Section 523(a)(8) of the Bankruptcy Code student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, unless the debtor is facing truly remarkable circumstances. However, unpaid college tuition is not treated the same way and can be discharged in bankruptcy.

In a recent case, D’Youville College v. Girdlestone (AP 14-1018 W.D.N.Y. 2015), Bankruptcy Judge Carl L. Bucki held that unpaid college tuition is treated differently than unpaid  student loans and that the changes in the bankruptcy code in 2005 did not alter the results of the earlier Second Circuit cases. In D’Youville, the debtor attended the college only for a semester and had agreed to pay tuition but did not sign a promissory note.

In Girdlestone, Judge Bucki followed the holding in Cazenovia College v. Renshaw (In re Renshaw), 222 F.3d 82 (2d Cir. 2000), which held that the mere obligation to pay tuition does not constitute a loan that is non-dischargeable under the Bankruptcy Code.

D’Youville College argued that under the amendments to 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8) that Congress adopted in 2005, unpaid tuition should be treated the same was as student loans. In 2005 the Bankruptcy Code provisions related to student loans were changed, and even private student loans, not guaranteed by the government or provided by a school receiving government funding, were no longer dischargeable in bankruptcy. Section 523(a)(8)(B) of the Bankruptcy Code now states that the debtor will not receive a discharge of “any other educational loan that is a qualified education loan, as defined in section 221(d)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, incurred by a debtor who is an individual.” According to Internal Revenue Code §221(d)(1), a “qualified education loan” means “any indebtedness” that a taxpayer incurs to pay certain qualified higher education expenses.

Judge Bucki held that “under the Bankruptcy Code, nondischargeability extends not to any such “qualified education loan,” but only to “any other educational loan that is a qualified education loan.” Further, according to Cazenovia College, “to constitute a loan there must be (i) a contract, whereby (ii) one party transfers a defined quantity of money, goods, or services, to another, and (iii) the other party agrees to pay for the sum or items transferred at a later date.” 222 F.3d at 88. When a student unilaterally does not pay tuition, the student may be indebted to the school, but that indebtedness does not make the transaction a loan. Based on the above, Judge Bucki held that because Cazenovia College would deny this status to the claim of D’Youville College, D’Youville’s claim is not excepted from discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8).

Since it is very difficult to discharge student loans, the above decision represents a rare positive result for the debtor. However, most college graduates do not deal with the same issues because most colleges require payment before students can graduate and a significant number of students take out student loans as opposed to owing money directly to their school.

If you are contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, New York, 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 Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Student Loans and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

On March 23, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in United Student Aid Funds v. Espinosa, No. 08-1134 (2010), which affirmed the 9th Circuit’s holding that a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy debtor can obtain a discharge of a student loan by including it in a Chapter 13 plan.  The loan can be discharged if the creditor fails to object after notice and opportunity to do so, and the bankruptcy court enters an order confirming the Chapter 13 plan.

In a typical bankruptcy, whether Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, a student loan is not discharged unless the bankruptcy court makes a determination that the student loan would be an undue hardship on the debtor. Under Bankruptcy Rules, the court is required to make such a determination in an adversary proceeding, which is a lawsuit within the bankruptcy case.  In United Student Aid Funds, the debtor did not bring an adversary proceeding.  Rather, the debtor put in his plan that only the principal amount of the student loan would be paid through the plan, but that accrued interest would be discharged.  The student loan lender did receive a copy of the plan, and even filed a Proof of Claim.  However, the lender did not object to confirmation of the Chapter 13 plan.

Subsequently, the bankruptcy court entered an order confirming the plan as proposed.  After confirmation, the Chapter 13 trustee sent a notice to the lender, saying that the Proof of Claim amount differed from the amount stated in the Chapter 13 plan, and that if the lender disputes the amount in the plan, it should notify the trustee within 30 days.  After the debtor completed his plan payment, several years later, the student loan lender tried to collect the remaining amount due.

The debtor filed a motion seeking enforcement of his bankruptcy discharge.  The lender filed a motion seeking to declare the order confirming the Chapter 13 plan void.  Ultimately, this was the issue that the Supreme Court resolved. That is, the student loan lender argued that the bankruptcy court order confirming the Chapter 13 plan void because the lender was denied due process regarding the required statutory finding of undue hardship, which did not happen in this case.

The Supreme Court, in looking only at Bankruptcy Rule 60(b)(4), which permits a court to relieve a party for a final order or judgment, found that the lender was not denied due process, since the lender did receive the plan, filed a claim, and received the notice from the chapter 13 trustee.  The Court agreed that the confirmation of the plan without an undue hardship determination was legal error, however, the legal error does not void the order.  The Court noted that Rule 60(b)(4) strikes a balance between the need for finality of judgments, and the right of parties to have a full and fair opportunity to raise issues and the lender had ample notice and opportunity to contest the debtor’s actions.

What is to be learned from United Student Aid Funds?  Bankruptcy lawyers are well aware of the fact that lenders can make errors in dealing with both Chapter 7 Bankruptcies and Chapter 13 Bankruptcies.  However, in most chapter 13 bankruptcies, here in Rochester, New York, and elsewhere, the student loans are paid pro rata through the plan.  Thus, the bankruptcy lawyers are unlikely to follow the debtor’s approach to the student loans in United Student Aid Funds, since it is likely to be rejected by the bankruptcy court.  It appears that the bankruptcy court in that case ignored its obligation to make sure that the debtor followed the Bankruptcy Code in his Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.  At the same time , there is little harm in trying to discharge some or all of the student loan debt, since if the above approach is followed, and the bankruptcy court or the bankruptcy trustee object, the plan can be amended to comply with the law, but if the bankruptcy court rubberstamps the plan and the lender fails to object in a timely manner, the debtor may get a discharge.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or 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 Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

New Student Loan Program and Debt Relief

I have recently learned about a new program that will be good news to the hundreds of thousands of recent college graduates with significant student debt. A new program called Income-Based Repayment (“IBR”) may help you control your student loan debt.

IBR is a program introduced by the government in 2007; however, its full effects didn’t start until July 1, 2009 This program was designed to make sure that graduates who aren’t earning a significant income after graduation aren’t spending all their income on repaying their student loans.

IBR can help with individuals who meet the following criteria:

  • Have loans (to students, not their parents) from either the Direct or Guaranteed (FFEL) loan programs or (most) government-funded loans
  • Have enough debt to qualify. Specifically, you must have debt that would require you to spend more than 15 percent of your income in excess of 150% of the poverty level to pay off your loans in ten years – calculator available here

Interest Rates for Adjusted Loans

While the IBR program may make your monthly payments more affordable, it could also mean that your monthly payments don’t cover your full interest rates. This means that:

  • For federally subsidized loans, the government would pay the remaining interest for the first three years
  • For non-subsidized loans, the unpaid interest would be tacked onto the principal amount you owe

The second option may mean you end up paying more in the long term, but if your earnings increase over the years, this likely won’t be a significant problem. Plus, the IBR program has the unique provision that any amount still due after 25 years is forgiven.

What is Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

It’s the other loan forgiveness program taking full effect this month, and it’s designed to help those who work in certain so-called public service jobs, including those for the government and nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations.

If your job qualifies under this program, your loans may be forgiven in full after 10 years of work (during which time you make normal loan payments). And, if your salary qualifies you for IBR loan payments while you’re working, you can still use that program to make payments more affordable.

To find out whether your employment situation may qualify you for help with student loans, visit IBR’s website. While student loans are not dischargeable in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, unless you are in a hardship situation, and have to be paid during the Chapter 13 bankruptcy, IBR may be that last piece of the puzzle on your road to a financial fresh start.

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.

Student Loans Guaranteed By Parent and Bankruptcy

Recently I have been seeing a lot of debtors who have guaranteed their children’s student loans. When I am asked whether I can do something about those loans in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, my usual answer is no.  The reason for this is that the government guaranteed student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, except in extreme hardship situations, regardless of whether the borrower is the student or the parent who guaranteed the loan. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the student to default on the loan.  In those situations, the full weight of the loan will have to be carried by the parent who guaranteed the loan.  If the parent is already having difficulties paying his/her bills, this may be the final straw to push the debtor into bankruptcy.

When the debtor tells about this situation, I, as a bankruptcy lawyer cannot offer much help. Since the bankruptcy court here in Rochester has taken a position that in Chapter 13 bankruptcy the student loans will be paid, along with other unsecured creditors, pro rata, even a five year repayment plan might not reduce the loan significantly.  In Chapter 7, the student loan would not be dischargeable.

As much as it pains me to say it, it is a bad idea for a parent to cosign a government guaranteed student loan. Further, parents guaranteeing the loans of their children face having student loans risk as they approach retirement. If the repayment of the loan is deferred by the student, this will keep the parents exposed to the debt until it is repaid, sometimes decades later. It entwines the two generations financially long after the student is an adult.  If the parent is approaching retirement, it is not likely that the parent would have the money to pay off student loans.

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.

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.

Chapter 13 and Payment of Student Loans Under the Plan

Unless the bankruptcy debtor can satisfy the daunting legal standard of “undue hardship,” student loans are not dischargeable in a bankruptcy case.  However, the mere fact that student loans will not be discharged does not mean you should give up on the bankruptcy process.  For a chapter 13 debtor, the question might be, how should the chapter 13 payment plan propose to treat the student loan debt?

Some attorneys try to distribute more of the debtor’s income to student loan debts than to other debts by simply inserting a provision into the chapter 13 plan which says that the debtor will continue to pay the student loan out of his or her own pocket, rather than have the chapter 13 trustee pay toward the student loan.  This would have the important advantage of paying more (usually) toward the student loan than would be paid if the trustee made the payments from the plan.

The presumptive authority for paying a student loan “outside the plan” is contained in the bankruptcy law’s section 1322(b)(5).  This section permits the maintaining of payments on any debt where the last regularly scheduled payment is due after the final chapter 13 plan payment is due.  Section 1322(b) reads as follows:

(b) Subject to subsections (a) and (c) of this section, the plan may–

  1. designate a class or classes of unsecured claims, as provided in  section 1121 of this title, but may not discriminate unfairly against any class so designated; however, such plan may treat claims for a consumer debt of the debtor if an individual is liable on such consumer debt with the debtor differently than other unsecured claims;
  2. modify the rights of holders of secured claims, other than a claim secured only by a security interest in real property that is the debtor’s principal residence, or of holders of unsecured claims, or leave unaffected the rights of holders of any class of claims;
  3. provide for the curing or waiving of any default;
  4. provide for payments on any unsecured claim to be made concurrently with payments on any secured claim or any other unsecured claim;
  5. notwithstanding paragraph (2) of this subsection, provide for the curing of any default within a reasonable time and maintenance of payments while the case is pending on any unsecured claim or secured claim on which the last payment is due after the date on which the final payment under the plan is due;

Section 1322(b) allows the chapter 13 debtor to continue making student loan payments directly to the creditor, much the same as the debtor would continue paying his mortgage payments, assuming that the bankruptcy trustee agrees with this interpretation and the bankruptcy court confirms it.  However, here in Rochester, the Chapter 13 trustee disagrees with this interpretation of the statute and, instead, takes a position that the student loans should be paid pro-rata as other unsecured creditors.  The trustee’s position is based on the argument that making full student loan payments, while in Chapter 13, treats student loan lenders  better than other unsecured creditors and, in fact, does so at their expense.  While Judge Ninfo has not written on this issue, I think that he would agree with the trustee’s position.  Thus, it is critical to discuss these issues with a bankruptcy lawyer prior to the filing.

If you are dealing with debt problems in Rochester, New York; 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.