January 16, 2020
By Zack Friedman, Forbes
Can you now discharge your student loans in bankruptcy?
Here’s what you need to know.
Student Loans: Bankruptcy
A Navy veteran will have $220,000 of his student loans discharged, even though he is not unemployable, not disabled or wasn’t defrauded. A U.S. bankruptcy judge in New York, Cecilia G. Morris, ruled that Kevin J. Rosenberg will not have to repay his student loan debt because it will impose an undue financial hardship.
According the Wall Street Journal, Rosenberg borrowed $116,500 of student loans between 1993 and 2004 to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona and a law degree from Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University. He filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2018 and asked the court last June to discharge his student loan debt, which had grown to $221,400, including interest. At the time of filing, Rosenberg’s annual salary was $37,600, and after living and debt expenses, his monthly net loss was $1,500.
Traditionally, unlike mortgages or credit card debt, student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. There are exceptions, however, namely if certain conditions regarding financial hardship are met.
The Brunner Test: Financial Hardship
Those conditions are reflected in the Brunner test, which is the legal test in all circuit courts, except the 8th circuit and 1st circuit. The 8th circuit uses a totality of circumstances, which is similar to Brunner, while the 1st circuit has yet to declare a standard.
In plain English, the Brunner standard says:
- the borrower has extenuating circumstances creating a hardship;
- those circumstances are likely to continue for a term of the loan; and
- the borrower has made good faith attempts to repay the loan. (The borrower does not actually have to make payments, but merely attempt to make payments – such as try to find a workable payment plan.)
There are variances across federal districts, but that’s the basic framework. To discharge student loans through bankruptcy, an Adversary Proceeding (a lawsuit within bankruptcy court) must be filed, where a debtor claims that paying the student loan would create an undue hardship for the debtor.
So, Can You Now Discharge Student Loans In Bankruptcy?
This is only one legal ruling. That said, federal judges and Democrat and Republican members of Congress are open to changing the law to make it easier for borrowers to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy. While these tactics may be welcomed by some student loan borrowers, critics may question whether judges should actively try to circumvent the existing law (suggesting that Congress, and not judges, should make the law.
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