As it stands, no matter how deep borrowers find themselves buried in student loan debt, they can’t discharge it in bankruptcy court – all because it doesn’t qualify as an “undue hardship.” This has become a contentious issue among lawmakers, especially as they face increasing pressure from consumer groups – including the mighty Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – to change the law.
And even though it’s possible to convince a judge to bend the rule in very special cases (e.g.: the borrower loses a limb or two in a freak car accident and can’t find work), they have to find a lawyer willing to take their case first.
“Most bankruptcy attorneys do not pursue a discharge of student loans because the undue hardship restriction is such a harsh standard,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org.
But that’s not to say they wouldn’t take on such cases if the law were to change. More than 80 per cent said the inability to discharge student debt is a “big problem” for their clients looking for a fresh start.
According to the survey, up to 25 per cent of clients seeking legal advice have amassed more than $100,000 in student loan debt.
“This could very well be the next debt bomb for the U.S. economy,” said William E. Brewer, Jr., NACBA president. “The amount of student borrowing crossed the $100 billion threshold for the first time in 2010 and total outstanding loans exceeded $1 trillion for the first time.”
You don’t have to stretch too far to wonder why most legal brains support allowing students to discharge loan debt: Just think how many billable hours they’d book.
But Joseph Orsolini of College Aid Planners, Inc says the bankruptcy issue isn’t all black and white.
“While letting students discharge their loans will certainly help the students pay off their college debt, it may have the unintended consequence of driving lenders away from making student loans which will negatively impact all students,” he notes.
Student loan debt has ballooned to $865 billion in the last decade and the cost of a college degree is only getting more expensive as states cut school budgets to ribbons.
While lawmakers deal with the debt fallout, students are finding their own ways to cope.
A student-led organisation from University of California pitched a proposal to create a tuition payment plan that would let students attend school for free.
After graduating, alums would contribute five per cent of their income to the school for the next 20 years.
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