The federal bankruptcy code states that a debtor may obtain a discharge of a government-sponsored student loan only if repaying the loan would impose an “undue hardship” on the debtor and his dependents. Most bankruptcy courts interpret “undue hardship” as meaning that the debtor cannot repay the loan and maintain a minimal standard of living. As a result of this very high bar, it is rare that a student loan is discharged during bankruptcy.
Consequently, many bankruptcy debtors are caught in a student loan trap of being unable to pay on the student loan and the interest continues to accrue. While discharging the student loan may not be possible, there are options for dealing with a student loan during and after bankruptcy.
First, the student loan lender or collection agency is strictly forbidden from engaging in any collection action during the bankruptcy. This protection (known as the “automatic stay”) may last from a few months during a Chapter 7 to several years during a Chapter 13 repayment plan. Interest may continue to accrue and will be tacked-on at the end of the bankruptcy case.
Second, if the student loan was not defaulted prior to the bankruptcy filing (meaning no payment for more than 270 days), the account will usually be re-aged and is considered current upon the conclusion of the bankruptcy case. This is a good time to negotiate with the lender for a payment plan you can afford. If the student loan was defaulted prior to the bankruptcy, the lender may offer a loan rehabilitation program.
Finally, your student loan lender has many repayment options after your bankruptcy case ends, including the Income Based Repayment Plan which limits your loan repayment to 15% of your income and offers loan forgiveness after 25 years of repayment (or 10 years for public service employees).
If you are struggling with student loan debt, speak to the experienced bankruptcy attorneys at Haines and Krieger and discuss your options. Your attorney can explain the many ways for dealing with student loan debt and can help you decide on a course of action that is best for you and your family. Contact us for a free consultation.