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Erasing student loans in bankruptcy court

Mar 05, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

Help at financial crisisEducation debt typically isn’t erased in bankruptcy court. That doesn’t mean it can’t be.

Ask Michael Hedlund, an Oregon law school graduate who repeatedly failed the bar and then went to work as a juvenile counselor. A federal appeals court decided he didn’t have to pay $53,000 of the $85,000 in student loans he still owed.

Or Janet Rose Roth of Nevada, who was freed from over $95,000 in federal student loans even though she was employed for most of the time she owed the money and never made voluntary payments on the debt.

Or Carol Todd, who dropped out of the University of Baltimore School of Law and was allowed to erase nearly $340,000 in education debt. A bankruptcy judge ruled her Asperger’s syndrome made it impossible for her to hold a job that would allow her to repay the loans.

These three court decisions, all made within the past two years, challenge many misconceptions about who can and can’t get relief in bankruptcy court.

The cases have something else in common: the debtors didn’t, or couldn’t, pay for help. Roth represented herself in court while law firms represented Hedlund and Todd in their appeals pro bono, or without a fee.

My Reuters column this week (“Bankrupt? How to get student loans erased“) discusses how few borrowers actually try to get their loans discharged in bankruptcy, and whether cost is a factor. You can read it here, and get all my Reuters columns here.

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