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Student Loans

Produced by Attorney Mariah Jennings-Rampsi for MassLegalHelp
Reviewed December 2019

If you are struggling to pay student loans you have options

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Changing the terms of your Repayment

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The way you repay your loan can change the amount you need to pay each month.

Sometimes the lender gives you equal monthly payments:

For example
 
$5,000 Use the total amount you owe,
$750 Add the interest you owe, and
36 months Divide by the number of months you have to pay it back.
$159.72 per month  

Other times, you can choose lower payments at the beginning of your pay-back period and higher payments later.

Your lender may offer other ways to repay your loan. Get in touch with them to find out the best plan for you.

Federal loans

If you have a federal student loan you can use a repayment plan to change how you repay your loan.

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  • Income based repayment plans change your payment to a percentage of your income.
  • You may be eligible to get them to forgive part of your loan so you do not have to repay all the money.

Private lender

If your student loan is with a private lender ask them about the repayment plans they offer.

  • Call the lender to ask about your options.
  • File a chapter 13 bankruptcy case. A bankruptcy can force the lender to give you 5 years to repay your loan. This could lower your payments if you were supposed to repay the loan in less than 5 years.

Learn more about repayment options at the Federal Trade Commissions Student Loans page.

Refinance

Refinancing means you get a new loan to pay off your current loan. With a new loan you may be able to:

  • Lower your interest rate.
  • Get more time to pay off the loan. Make the repayment period longer. If you get more time to pay back your loan, you lower your payments. But you will pay more interest long-term.
  • Make the repayment period shorter so you pay less interest. Your monthly payment will probably go up. But you will pay off the loan faster.

Most of the time you can refinance with your current lender. Call them and ask about it.

You can also use this student loan refinance calculator to check out other lenders.

Discharge or Forgiveness

The Department of Education has programs to discharge or forgive all or part of your loans. You do not have to file bankruptcy to get this kind of “discharge.”

Forgiving your loans can be a “taxable event.” This means the amount forgiven may count as income and you may owe taxes on it. Talk to a tax lawyer to learn more. Money forgiven or discharged in bankruptcy is not a “taxable event.”

Learn about the federal programs that discharge or forgive your loans because of:

Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a federal program that lets people get rid of their loans or repay them in a way they can afford. These 2 options are called “discharging” and “restructuring.”

Discharge in bankruptcy

Usually you cannot use bankruptcy to get rid of student loans.

But, if you can show the bankruptcy judge that repaying your loan causes an “undue hardship” on you and your family, you may be able to discharge them.1

The bankruptcy judge looks at:

  • How much money:
    • you earn now,
    • you have already earned,
    • you expect to earn in the future, and
    • you and your family need to live.

The judge also looks at other circumstances that make it hard to pay your student loans. 2

The judge decides, if you can:

  • make payments on your loans now and in the future and
  • still keep you and your family at “a reasonable, minimal standard of living.”

If the judge decides you cannot make payments and keep your family at this level, then you can get rid of your loans.

For example, A man who collected Social Security Disability Income discharged his student loans. He suffered from epilepsy, depression, suicidal idealization, ADHD and other medical issues. He lived with his mother. They had a combined monthly income of $2,265. His social worker testified he was not able to keep a job because of his medical issues.3

A 64 year old woman who had $82,0000 in student loan debt discharged her student loans. She showed the court she had tried many different ways to get a job, but could not get one. She could not get a license in her field. At the time of the case she was getting only Social Security income.

You may be able to get a free lawyer to help you discharge your student loan debt. Learn more at the Student Loan Bankruptcy Assistance Project.

Restructuring your loan in bankruptcy

You can also use bankruptcy to force the lender to give you 5 years to pay back your loan. If your repayment period is less than 5 years, bankruptcy will lower your payments by giving you more time to pay off the debt. Talk to a bankruptcy lawyer to find out more. You may be able to get a free lawyer.

Debt relief companies are sometimes a scam. If you are already working with a company, see if they are on the Federal Trade Commission's list of Banned Debt Relief Companies and People. If the company you work with is on the list, get in touch with your local legal aid program right away!

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a toolkit to help you know your options if you are struggling to pay your student loans. See the Federal Trade Commission's information about Student Loan Debt Relief.

Endnotes

1 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(8)(A)(i) .

2 In Re Bronsdon, 435 B.R. 791 (1st Cir. BAP 2010). .

3 Smith v US Board of Education, Adv. 16-1079 (part of In Re Smith, Case No. 16‐10998‐FJB)(April, 4 2018).

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