Category Archives: Student loans

Student Loans and the Coronavirus Relief Bills

More details coming soon — like after I’ve read all this stuff; but if you have federally held student loans (as opposed to federally guaranteed or private loans) the current relief bills just became your new best friend.  Ok, so we can complain all we want to about the HUMONGOUS tax breaks for real estate investors included in the bills, but these bills also give considerable benefits for both loans in good standing and loans in default.  More information coming soon.

Elaine

Loan Delinquencies — Times Are Changing

I was just reading an article about loan delinquencies.  These are national numbers released by the New York Federal Reserve.  Delinquency rates are loans that are at least 90 days past due, and the real surprise to me was the rate for student loans.

Nationally, 3.1% of mortgage loans are delinquent;

3.5% of auto loans are delinquent; and

11.3% of student loans are delinquent.

Really?  More than 1 in ten student loans is at least 90 days past due?  Washington, I think we have a problem.

Elaine

What Will I Have to Pay in a Chapter 13?

A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy is basically a modified payment plan where you can restructure certain kinds of secured debt, get current on secured debt on which you have fallen behind (like a house or a car) and pay some percentage of your general, unsecured debt (like medical bills and credit cards).

Let me begin by saying that SOME percentage of your unsecured debt means just that – SOME. I say that to clients in my office, and they almost universally translate the word some to mean all. They are not synonyms. The actual percentage paid by most Chapter 13 debtors is closer to zero percent than it is to 100%, and most of us can afford to pay 0%.

So, what does that actually mean?

There are two primary factors that determine how much money you will have to pay to make a Chapter 13 plan work. The first is determined by what is generally known as the Means Test. The Means Test is basically a worksheet where you start with your income and deduct your reasonable and necessary living expenses until you come up with an amount left over. If that figure is positive, then you will have to pay that amount each month for probably 60 months to your general unsecured creditors (the credit cards, medical bills, personal loans, that kind of debt). In other words, if you have $112 a month left over, you will have to pay $112 each month for (probably) 60 months plus 10% as a trustee fee, so $123 a month, over the life of your plan for the benefit of the general unsecured creditors. Most of my clients are paying a lot more than that on this kind of debt when they come to see me. So, for most people flunking the Means Test and having to pay something to their general, unsecured creditors is actually an improvement!

The other factor is the kind of debt that you have. If you want to keep the house and the car and you owe money on them, you are going to have to keep paying for them. This really shouldn’t be a surprise. The car, in the Western District of Oklahoma, will have to be paid through the plan; meaning that the plan payment you pay to the Trustee every month will include enough for him to make your car payment for you. If you are behind on the car at the time that you file the case, you can expect that you will catch up on it (and probably pay it off) over the life of the Chapter 13 plan.

Your house is a little different. If you are current on the house at the time that you file for bankruptcy (in this district), you may continue to pay the mortgage payment directly. However, that means completely current. So, if your mortgage payment is due on the first, and late on the 15th, That means it is due on the 1st. So, if you file bankruptcy on the 2nd, that payment had better already have been made. If you are behind on your mortgage payment, then it will be paid through the plan and the plan will include enough money to get you caught up an d current on it over the life of the plan.

If you owe other secured debt, debt that is secured by a lien on a specific piece of property, and you wish to keep the property, then that debt will have to be paid during the life of the plan. Debts that are given certain priority for payment in the Bankruptcy Code must be paid in full over the life of the plan. For most people that means recent taxes, and past due child support or alimony, these are things that have to be paid over the life of the plan. What most people expect to see listed here but isn’t is student loans. Student loans are a whole different problem in a Chapter 13 that will be addressed separately.

So, what this means is that most Chapter 13 plans pay for the house, the cars, the taxes, the child support (if any), fees to support the Trustee’s office and the Debtor’s attorneys fees. Then, there will be some amount added to be shared amongst the general, unsecured creditors who are usually everybody else. That amount is determined by the Means Test, and in many cases it is less than my clients have been paying on that debt before they filed.

Now, I don’t mean to kid you. A Chapter 13 plan is not a walk in the park. There are good reasons why only about 30% of all cases filed successfully complete. It isn’t, however, nearly as bad as clients expect it to be.

Often when clients come to see me their mortgage company is wanting a year of missed payments made up in six months or less. They are facing a wage garnishment that will take 25% of their gross income. The IRS is threatening to levy on their bank accounts. There is a repo guy out looking for their car, and the lender wants all the missed payments plus late fees, plus interest plus the repo guy’s fees by Tuesday. A Chapter 13 plan, even if it is expensive, can be a huge relief after the financial pressures most of my clients find themselves facing.

So don’t be afraid to investigate a possible Chapter 13 filing. It can do things for you that you can’t get done anywhere else, and, although, it won’t be cheap, it may be more affordable than any of your other options.

Elaine

Private Student Loans Do Have Some Limits

One of the nastier changes made to the Bankruptcy Code in 2005 was to make private student loans (i.e., not Federally insured) as non-dischargeable in a Bankruptcy as Federally insured student loans. That change did not, however, extend all student loan protections to private loans. So, private student loans are still subject to State law statutes of limitations.

A statute of limitation is the period of time within which a lawsuit must be brought or it may not be brought successfully. That statement is a little overly broad. In Oklahoma, although not in all States, a statute of limitation is an affirmative defense. That means that it must be raised by the defendant. If the defendant doesn’t raise it, the plaintiff can still win.

Anyway, back to the point. I got a call today from a woman who took out a private student loan some years ago. She filed a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy with another attorney in 2012. The student loan was obviously not discharged. She is now being sued on that loan by a local collection law firm. I checked the case on the Court’s online docket, and from the petition and attached documents I could tell that the first payment on the loan was due in May, 2009. No payments were made. The woman filed for Bankruptcy, and it was discharged 115 days later. If the bankruptcy did not toll the running of the statute, it ran last May. If it did, it ran 115 days later – sometime in September. The lawsuit was filed in December.

Unfortunately, it was in a different County. So, I have referred her to a lawyer closer to the action. Still, this one could be fun.

Elaine

Student Loans, Auto Default Clauses: or, Everything Old is New Again

I was recently discussing issues with student loans, and private student loans in particular, with a staffer for one of my Congressmen. The staffer said something along the lines of, but isn’t student loan debt good debt? My response? Student loans, especially private student loans, may be the worst kind of debt – even worse than credit cards. His expression was fun. He did keep his coffee off his tie, though. Points for that.

There are a lot of reasons I’m not just real gung ho on student loans – especially private student loans. One of those reasons has been getting some press this week. Here is a link to a NY Times article on auto default clauses in private student loans. There have been several others recently, but this was the first one I saw.

http://m.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/us-agency-urges-private-lenders-to-ease-automatic-default-rules-on-student-loans/2014/04/21/d06adeee-c97f-11e3-95f7-7ecdde72d2ea_story.html

Most private student loans require a co-signer, usually a parent or grandparent. Many of those loan documents also include language known as an auto default clause. An auto default clause means that the loan is deemed to be in default if a particular event happens – EVEN IF PAYMENTS ON THE LOAN ARE CURRENT. The current press is about auto default clauses that trigger an event of default if the co-signer files for bankruptcy or dies.

To be quite blunt:
Bad news – Dad is dead.
More bad news – your student loans are now being reported in default to the credit reporting agencies, even though you’ve never missed a payment.

There is a good argument that the an auto default triggered by a bankruptcy filing of the co-signer is unenforceable, and I foresee some interesting litigation on that issue. The death of the co-signer, though, is going to be valid unless some lawyer who is far more creative than I am comes up with something I haven’t thought of.

A lot of the NY Times article referenced above has to do with encouragement from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for lenders (or, more accurately the loan servicers) to find ways to avoid placing otherwise performing loans into default status. There are a number of problems with that encouragement. First of all, it is just that, encouragement. I am not aware of any authority the CFPB has to require anything. Second, the same problem is showing up here that we had getting loan modifications during the mortgage crisis. Most of these loans have been securitized. The entity that the borrower deals with (Sallie Mae, AES, etc.) isn’t actually the lender. They are the servicer, they just manage the loans on behalf of the ultimate investors, and they do so pursuant to the terms of a contract that limits their ability to modify the loans.

Part of the securitization process is taking a large body of loans, pooling them together and using their income stream to support payments to investors who invest in the large pool. To do that, the individual loans that go into a pool must share certain qualities; and one of the qualities that makes a pool of loans like this more attractive to investors is the presence of co-signers – or, having more than one person responsible for repaying the loans. So, encouragement from the CFBP is nice, but I don’t think I will hold my breath on seeing any real changes here.

Of course, the real victims are the college graduates who are making their loan payments and then find out that the interest rate on a car loan is going to be sky high or they can’t qualify for a mortgage; why? Because their student loans are in default – yea, the ones they are PAYING every month.

I’m sorry, but that sucks.

They took out those loans (for the most part) when they didn’t have a lot of experience with financial products. Their parents (or grandparents) signed. Their school told them to sign. So, they signed. Even if they read the fine print, they very well might not have realized with an automatic event of default means. Their school should have. Their parents (or grandparents) should have, and they might have; but they saw no other (or no better) way to pay for college.

There isn’t much I can do about people dying; but filing bankruptcies for people who might have co-signed student loans is part of my job. I’m currently thinking through some ideas with other attorneys to mitigate the consequences of a bankruptcy filing when the debtor has co-signed private student loans. Keep in touch.

Elaine

 

 

They Said I Can’t Bankrupt That

I get told this a lot. Someone calls and they have talked to a loan company, a debt collector, or the guy on the next bar stool at a local dive. What I hear is, “They said I can’t bankrupt that.” Well, of course not. Bankrupt is an adjective. To Bankrupt is not a verbal – of any kind. You can be described as bankrupt, but there is no such action as to bankrupt. The moral of this story is, of course, don’t take legal advice from anyone who speaks English this poorly. In fact, don’t take legal advise from non-lawyers – especially when they are trying to get you to pay them for a debt or if you aren’t sure just how many drinks they have already had.

Now, are there debts that cannot be discharged in a Bankruptcy? Sure, and some of them you will kind of know, and there are a few that will probably surprise you.  For instance, most people are pretty comfortable with the idea that you can’t discharge child support in a Bankruptcy.

However, most people probably don’t know that you can’t discharge a debt for willfully or recklessly failing to maintain the capital of a Federally insured financial institution. Don’t worry if you don’t understand what that means, it almost certainly doesn’t apply to you.

I will concede to being a bit silly (or snarky, your call) with that last example, but the fact is that there is a section of the Bankruptcy Code (11 U.S.C. §523) that lists all of the debts you cannot discharge (or get out of) in a Bankruptcy. In the copy of the Code I keep handy, that section is five pages long, and very little of those five pages apply to the vast majority of  people with more debt than they can pay.

In fact, no matter what you have heard about the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act there is no general exception from discharge for credit card debt. That’s right. Despite what that debt collector told you, absent certain general restrictions, a Bankruptcy filing will still discharge most, if not all, of your credit card debt – and your medical debt – and pay day loans – and even in many cases old income taxes. Really.

The exceptions to discharge that apply most commonly  are:

  • Child support;
  • Alimony;
  • Property division or other divorce related debt (in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy);
  • Student loans;
  • Debt incurred by fraud or shortly before a Bankruptcy filing; and
  • Recent taxes (rules are complicated).

Embezzlement? Well, that is a problem. Lying on a loan application or borrowing money with someone else’s identity, forging loan documents, taking the vacation of your lifetime in Paris paid for by Visa with the intention of filing for Bankruptcy before those bills come due?  These are all at least as non-dischargeable as you should think they are.

All silliness aside, here is what you need to remember. Most people who file for bankruptcy can discharge all, or virtually all, of their debt. There is a five-page laundry list of debts that cannot be discharged in a Bankruptcy, and for the most part, none of them are simple; and most of them are not all that common. The odds are very good that no one other than an experienced bankruptcy attorney can discuss any of them with you in any detail. Most people know just enough to be dangerous about Section 523, and that includes a large number of lawyers who don’t practice bankruptcy law on a regular basis.

If you have any questions about whether or not a debt is dischargeable, ask a lawyer who practices in the Bankruptcy Courts regularly. If anyone else tells you that something is not dischargeable, take that advice with a large helping of salt – especially if they think Bankrupt is a verb.

Elaine

 

Student Loan Stupidity

In 2005 Congress made a few changes to the bankruptcy code.   Some of those changes got a lot of attention.  Others did not.  One of the stealthier changes extended the same protections against discharge in Bankruptcy to private student loans that Federally insured student loans had had for years.  It is probably not a coincidence that the availability of private student loans skyrocketed shortly thereafter, and I don’t think anyone can say that this was really unexpected.

The unexpected part was that Congress had just created a scenario where those newly protected private student loans were going to be getting repaid at the expense of Federally insured student loans. 

Go ahead.  Read it again.  Yes, Congress really did pass a law that encouraged people to repay their private student loans instead of making payments on their federally insured student loans; and you used to wonder why we have a budget deficit.

Here is why.  If you legitimately do not make enough money to repay your student loans, you can put your federally insured student loans into some form of alternative payment system that is income based or income contingent.  In those cases, your payment can be as low as $0.  In many cases the payment will not keep up with the accruing interest, so even though the debtor is making payments, the principal balance is not declining.  Those loans are not getting paid, even if the debtor is keeping up with the accruing interest.  After a long enough number of years, the remaining balance on those loans will be forgiven.  That is an unfairly brief summary, but it covers the high points.

You can’t do that with your private student loans.  They don’t participate in the income based or income contingent repayment programs, and if the debtor doesn’t make the payments, they will proceed with the appropriate legal steps to begin garnishing the debtor’s  wages.  Well, if you can’t afford your loan payments, you really can’t afford to have your wages garnished.  So, the net result of all of this is that people with more student loan debt than they can pay wind up paying their private student loans (at least sometimes) and NOT paying their federally insured student loans.  There are days when I think that I want to know just who thought that was such a great idea.  Then, there is the rest of the time.

There are bills currently pending in Congress to change this.  They are Senate Bill 114 and House Resolution 532.  Last time I checked neither piece of legislation had so much as poked its nose out of committee.  In other words, the private student loan lobbyists are doing their jobs better than the rest of us.  So, if you have a mind to write your Congressmen and request intelligent, sensible governance; this wouldn’t be a bad issue to include.

Elaine