The Wall Street Journal recently reported that bankruptcy judges have been showing much more leniency in student loan debt cases.
Earlier this year, the Department of Education was reviewing student loan bankruptcy laws, with some people speculating the restrictions might be loosened. So far, there have been no updates on that news, but in the meantime, bankruptcy judges are showing more leniencies in cases involving student loan debt, a recent Wall Street Journal report found. Many judges are either encouraging lawyers to offer pro bono services and others are trying to make the repayment terms easier.
The interview with over 50 current and prior bankruptcy court judges show that judges are sympathetic to cases involving student loan debt. This can cause a ripple effect in which the lenders are more willing to negotiate with borrowers who have past due balances.
There are many reasons why judges are more sympathetic to the struggles of student loan borrowers, according to the report. Some are influenced by the plight of their own children who are trying to repay student loans. Others are influenced by the experiences of their law clerks; lawyers carry an average of $119,000 in student loan debt.
Law professor Terry Maroney told The Wall Street Journal that most judges are just looking for “solutions that will allow them to sleep at night.” These solutions can look very different depending on the judge and the individual’s unique circumstances.
Some judges simply eliminate the interest on a loan to help lighten the load for borrowers. A man in Boston was able to have $50,000 in interest canceled due to health problems that rendered him unable to work.
Another judge in Topeka, Kan., agreed to cancel over $230,000 in interest on a couple’s student loans. Without the interest, they owed a combined total of $78,000, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Although canceling student loan debt outright is uncommon, it does happen from time to time. An Alabama judge canceled $112,000 in student loan debt owed by a high school teacher. Another judge canceled a single mom’s $30,000 student loan debt. However, both cases were overturned in appeals at a later date.
Federal student loan debt is one of the hardest types of debt to have discharged in bankruptcy. To do so, borrowers must prove that they face “undue hardship,” which basically means they are unable to pay back their loans.
The difficulty is that it is up to the court to decide whether or not a borrower meets the standards for undue hardship. And borrowers must prove that they made an honest effort to pay back their loans. The factors most courts look at are outlined on the Federal Student Aid office’s website.
Borrowers who want to discharge their student loans through bankruptcy should speak to a lawyer first. Their lawyer can explain the next steps in the process and file the necessary paperwork.
Of course, filing for bankruptcy should always be considered a last resort if possible. Borrowers should consider contacting their lender first and ask about the possibility of deferment or other hardship programs.