In 1998, Guy DiFrancesco enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program at Luzerne County Community College. He transferred to Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and obtained a degree in political science in 2005. Later, DiFrancesco enrolled at East Stroudsburg University, where he earned a master’s degree in American politics in 2008.
Continuing his studies, DiFrancesco enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Marywood University, and he began another program at King’s College, where he sought a teaching degree. He dropped out of both programs in order to provide around-the-clock care for his mother, who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2010.
According to a Pennsylvania bankruptcy court, DiFrancesco’s last job was at an auto parts company, which he left in 2009 or 2010. He financed his college and university studies by taking out student loans. By the time he filed for bankruptcy in 2019, DiFrancesco’s accumulated student debt had grown to $200,000, which constituted 99 percent of his total indebtedness.
DiFrancesco attempted to clear all this debt in bankruptcy, but Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Judge Robert Opel II was unsympathetic. In Judge Opel’s view, DiFrancesco had not made good faith efforts to repay his loans and thus they were nondischargeable.
It was uncontested, Judge Opel observed, that DiFrancesco had not made a single payment on his student loans. Furthermore, he had not maximized his earning potential. Indeed, according to Judge Opel, DiFrancesco had not sought employment of any kind.
Judge Opel conceded that DiFrancesco’s mother’s stroke and her need for 24/7 care were beyond DiFrancesco’s control. Nevertheless, “his decision to not actively seek any form of employment since 2010 was well within his reasonable control.” After all, the judge pointed out, DiFrancesco was “a healthy, forty-year-old man with no disability who holds a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and credits toward a Ph.D.” Even taking his mother’s incapacity into account, Judge Opel wrote, “this fails to establish that [DiFrancesco] could not have found any employment opportunities in the last ten years” (p. 168).
Perhaps Guy DiFrancesco is not the most sympathetic person to seek bankruptcy relief from massive student debt. Nevertheless, Judge Opel acknowledged that DiFrancesco and his mother lived on Social Security benefits totally only $15,000 a year. This paltry sum was the sole source of income to pay food, utilities, and roughly $4,000 a year in property taxes. Clearly, DiFrancesco and his mother lived at or below the poverty level. Is it good public policy to refuse bankruptcy relief to a man who is his mother’s full-time caregiver and is too poor even to own a car?
But there is a more basic question that needs to be answered, which is this: What is the friggin’ point of hanging $200,000 in debt on a man who hasn’t worked since 2010 and is totally responsible for caring for his incapacitated mother?
Will Mr. DiFrancesco ever pay back this debt? No, he will not. Even if he signs up for a long-term, income-based repayment plan and makes token monthly payments on his student loans for 25 years, his debt will grow larger every month due to accumulating interest.
DiFrancesco v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 607 B.R. 463 (Bankr. M.D. Pa 2019).