Matthew A. Bruckner of Howard, Brook Gotberg of Missouri, Dalié Jiménez of Irvine and Harvard's Center on the Legal Profession, and Chrystin D. Ondersma of Rutgers have written No-Contest Discharge for Uncollectable Student Loans, forthcoming in the University of Colorado Law Review (2020). Here is the abstract:
Over 44 million Americans owe more than 1.4 trillion dollars in student loan debt. This debt is uniquely difficult to shed in bankruptcy; even attempting to do so usually requires costly and contentious litigation with the Department of Education, and initial success may be followed by years of appeals by the Department of Education. As a result, very few student loan borrowers even attempt to discharge their student loan debt in bankruptcy.
In this Article, we call on the Department of Education to develop a set of nine easily calculable and verifiable circumstances in which it will not contest a debtor’s attempt to discharge her student loan debt. Nearly every category of “no-contest” discharge represents a circumstance where the debtor would clearly suffer an undue hardship if forced to continue to attempt repayment, such that the Department of Education should conserve taxpayer dollars by consenting to discharge. Specifically, we urge the Department of Education to allow a “no-contest” discharge when the debtor’s income is less than 150% of the federal poverty level and:
(1) household income has been at or below the federal poverty level for the last four years;
(2) the debtor receives disability benefits under the Social Security Act;
(3) the debtor receives disability benefits because of military service;
(4) the debtor’s income is derived solely from retirement benefits;
(5) the debtor is a caregiver of an adult or child as defined in the Lifetime Respite Care Act;
(6) the debtor is a family caregiver of an eligible veteran;
(7) the debtor did not receive a degree from the institution or the institution closed;
(8) the debtor owes less than $5,000; or
(9) the debtor has been repaying their student loans for more than 25 years.
Our proposal will not solve every problem, but it would go a long way towards resolving many of the grosser inequities currently associated with student loans and their treatment in bankruptcy.