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All the Bankruptcy Attorneys I Contact Say It’s Not Possible to Discharge Student Loans

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Question:

Dear Steve,

I am a librarian with two masters degrees living in the Charlotte, NC area. I owe over $120K in student loans, both federal and private, as well as a large amount of unsecured debt thanks to living off credit trying to make student loan payments. I have had to default on my student loan payments in order to pay my other bills and rent. I have already done IBR, however, my federal loan payments are still almost as much as my rent and they will not work with me at all on the private loan amounts, which eat up almost as much as the federal student loans. I have contacted Damon Day for help and received no response.

How do I find a legitimate bankruptcy attorney that is willing to at least attempt to get my student loans discharged in bankruptcy? I am planning to declare bankruptcy, as I see it as the best solution for my financial struggle, however, the attorneys I have been contacting for consultations will not even consider attempting to include my student loans in the bankruptcy case.

Darcey

Answer:

Dear Darcey,

So to give everyone a different point of view on this type of question I’ve answered a lot I asked my friend Professor Richard Fossey to provide his point of view to assist you.

Here is what he wanted to share with you.

“Darcey, my name is Richard Fossey. I am a professor who has followed the student loan bankruptcy process for many years. A few bankruptcy courts have ruled more compassionately in favor of student loan debtors in recent years, but trying to discharge your loans in bankruptcy is still a heavy lift.

The courts seem to be influenced by a number of factors: age and health, children, good faith in making loan payments, etc. As you may have already found out, it is difficult for a student debtor to find a bankruptcy attorney. Debtors generally don’t have the money to hire an attorney, and often the bankruptcy attorneys know nothing about student loans. Many believe that it is impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. You may have already been told that.

Some people have filed adversary proceedings in bankruptcy court to discharge their student loans, acting as their own attorney. One law review article concluded that people filing without attorneys had a success rate comparable to the debtors who were represented by lawyers.

One question only you can answer: what do you have to lose? If you are insolvent and eligible to discharge your other debts in bankruptcy, you might decide–what the heck–and file an adversary proceeding in an effort to get your student loans discharged.
If you do that, you need to know that you will filing a lawsuit without an attorney and will be opposed by skilled lawyers. It sounds like you have both federal loans and private loans. If that is the case, then an attorney for the Department of Education or a loan guaranty company will represent the federal government and another lawyer will represent the private lenders.

The standard for discharging a student loan in bankruptcy is undue hardship, and most courts follow the so-called Brunner test. You will need to show 1) that you cannot pay your student loans and maintain a minimal standard of living, 2) that additional circumstances make it unlikely you will ever be able to pay your student loans, and 3) your have dealt with your student loans in good faith.

Good faith generally means that you made loan payments when you could or that you negotiated with your creditors in good faith, but the Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel ruled that one debtor met the good faith test even though she had never made a single voluntary loan payment because she had lived frugally and had tried to maximize her income.
If you file an adversary complaint without a lawyer you need to have the mental stamina to see it through. Some people’s litigation over student loans have stretched out for years. Also, you should get all your evidence and paperwork together before you file your adversary proceeding and you should have a good argument in place as to why you meet the Brunner test. You also need to be prepared for discovery requests from the creditors’ lawyers.

I am not a practicing lawyer and can’t give you legal advice. And a person’s decision to try to discharge student loans in bankruptcy is a person decision that involves the assessment of a lot of unique factors.

But I do think the public sentiment about the student loan crisis is changing and there are some indications that the bankruptcy courts are beginning to see that many people simply cannot pay off their loans. I would be happy to talk with you about this by phone. I wish you the best of luck. Richard Fossey”

So Darcey, there you go. Finding the right attorney is a tough job for people. They will run into far more “can’t be done” than “I can do it.” There is no other solution than to keep calling bankruptcy attorneys who are licensed in your state and ask if they have had experience in discharging student loans through an Adversary Proceeding.

Here are a couple of articles that will help inform you in the process:

How to Find a Great Bankruptcy Attorney

Federal Student Loans Discharged in Bankruptcy. A Look at the Surprising 2012 Data and Cases.

How to Really Discharge Your Student Loans in Bankruptcy. Many Can. But Never Try.

If you find a local bankruptcy attorney who is willing to tackle this, you can always ask them to contact me or Professor Fossey for help.

Alternatively, you might want to strongly consider setting up a consultation with my friend and debt coach, Damon Day. Damon and I discuss this topic very frequently and he can guide you through this process and has relationships with people who might be able to provide additional help.

Bottom line, for the right person who is willing to fight for relief there are options. People who are hoping most bankruptcy attorneys will tackle this, will be disappointed.

If you have any additional questions, post them in the comments below.


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