When I talk about being a student loan lawyer, most people assume that my clients are all about 22 years old, fresh out college, dealing with crippling student loan debt. That’s actually not true at all. A large number of my clients are older folks who took out a particular type of federal loan called a Parent PLUS loan, for the benefit of their children. And many of them are struggling.Read More
Brace yourselves. Major student loan servicing changes are coming.
First, some quick background. Most federal student loans are either owned directly by the U.S. Department of Education via the “Direct” loan program, or are held by a private lender via the now-defunct “FFEL” program (also known as the “guaranteed” loan program). The vast majority of Direct and FFEL student loans are not handled by the lender, however. Instead, the lenders hire contractors – called student loan “servicers” – to manage the day to day operations of the loan accounts such as payment processing and application evaluation. These servicers generally do not own your student loans, even though you have to deal with them to do anything with your account. They are simply contractors working on behalf of the lender.
The U.S. Department of Education is moving forward with a major overhaul of its student loan servicing system that will transform every aspect of federal student loan repayment – from payment processing, to re-certification for income-driven repayment plans, to requests for deferments and forbearance.Read More
The U.S. Dept. of Education released a report this week on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program – and the details are rather stunning.
First, some background. To get student loans forgiven under the PSLF program, borrowers must make 120 “qualifying payments,” which are payments that (1) are made on Direct federal student loans, (2) under a qualifying repayment plan – which is either the 10-year Standard plan or an income-driven repayment plan, while (3) working full-time for a qualifying public service employer.
The program was not enacted until October 1, 2007, and it’s not retroactive to before that date. This means that the soonest anyone could have been eligible for loan forgiveness was October 1, 2017. Since so few people knew about the program during the first few years of its existence, not many people have qualified so far. However, nearly 12 months into the “eligibility era” (as I call it), we haven’t had much specific information about the number of people applying.
Until today. Read More
After years of working with student loan borrowers, I can safely say that one of my clients’ biggest fears is that lenders will garnish their wages – seizing money directly from their paychecks. This is particularly troubling for folks who are living paycheck to paycheck. Wage garnishment can represent a very real financial danger.
Is this a legitimate fear? Yes. Student loan wage garnishment can and does happen, all the time. But as with so many issues when it comes to student loan debt, it’s a bit more complicated than just a simple “yes” or “no” answer. A lender’s ability to garnish wages – and a borrower’s rights to limit or stop it – really depend on the type of student loan, its status, and the intersection of federal and state law.Read More
Private student loans and federal student loans don’t have a lot in common, and one of the key differences is the role of cosigners. The vast majority of federal student loans don’t have a cosigner (the exception to that rule are spousal consolidation loans – which haven’t been issued in over a decade – and certain federal PLUS loans in rare circumstances). For private loans, however, cosigners are ubiquitous, and often required.
A lot of my clients over the years have been cosigners, and some of them didn’t fully understand what they were getting into when they agreed to cosign a student loan for their friend or family member. If they had, they could have avoided years of stress and financial trouble. If you’re thinking about cosigning for someone else’s student loan, make sure you understand the potential consequences – before you sign your name on that contract. Read More
There is quite a lot going on right now when it comes to student loans. It seems that every month there’s a new bill or a new rule that could significantly impact student loan borrowers. But keeping track of it all can be a bit overwhelming.
First, a very brief overview of how law-making works. Our legal and political system is multi-layered and may seem complicated, but I’ll break it down for you:
- Legislation – or a proposal for a new law – must be passed by a law-making body like Congress (at the federal level) or a state legislature (at the state level). Congress, and most state legislatures, have two chambers – the House and the Senate – and legislation must pass both chambers, and be signed by the President (or a Governor) to become law.
- Regulations (also simply called rules) can be created by executive agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Education. Agencies have broad powers to issue new rules or regulations under existing statutes, which can dramatically impact programs that were already created by previous legislation. When agencies create new rules or regulations, they have to follow a formal process before they can go into effect, but they do not typically require approval by Congress (or an equivalent state legislature).
So, with the above in mind, here’s my overview of the most important developments during the last few weeks.Read More
“Income-driven repayment” (sometimes referred to as income-based repayment) is an umbrella term for student loan repayment plans that allow borrowers to make payments on their federal student loans based on their income. The plans – and there are several, including one called Income Based Repayment – use a formula tied to the borrower’s income and family size, resulting in a monthly payment that lasts for up to 12 months at a time. The borrower must then renew the plan before the end of that 12-month period by submitting new documentation of income. Any changes to income could result in changes to the monthly payment, but after making payments for many years (the repayment term depends on the specific plan), any remaining balance gets forgiven.
Income-driven repayment has enormous benefits to student loan borrowers, as it allows borrowers to have affordable monthly payments, even for large federal loan balances, and thus keep their federal loans in good standing. These plans also do not require full loan payoff, as there is a loan forgiveness “safety net” at the end of the repayment term.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses. There are some potentially serious drawbacks to income-driven repayment, and borrowers considering these plans should be aware of them.Read More
Will the recent news about the U.S. Supreme Court impact student loan borrowers?
This week’s announcement that Justice Anthony Kennedy would be retiring from the Court certainly sent shockwaves through the country. While generally a conservative justice, Kennedy has been widely seen as a swing vote and force of moderation in an increasingly polarized court. With the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees gone, and Republicans maintaining slim but firm control over the United States Senate, most people expect President Trump’s eventually nominee – who will likely be far more conservative than Kennedy – to be confirmed. This could cause a significant idealogical shift for the Court.
It’s difficult to know what this might mean for student loan borrowers. There haven’t been any major recent student loan-related Supreme Court decisions, nor have any new student loan cases been accepted yet by the Court for its next term. But with student loans increasingly becoming a major national issue, I think it’s inevitable that cases impacting student loan borrowers will find their way to the Court. Here’s my take on some of the most likely cases that would impact student loan borrowers during the next few years.Read More
There’s always a lot going on when it comes to student loan servicing, and it can be hard to keep track of everything. Here are some of the latest developments impacting student loan borrowers:
Great Lakes Higher Education and NelNet. Last year, Great Lakes and Nelnet – two of the largest student loan servicers in the country – announced that they would be merging (Nelnet purchased Great Lakes for $150 million). The merger should be completed this year, and in the meantime, I am already seeing some Great Lakes accounts being migrated over to Nelnet. If you are a Great Lakes customer, you will likely be switching over to Nelnet before the end of this year, so just be ready for that. Borrowers may have to re-establish their payment arrangements (such as auto-debit).Read More
A couple of months ago, Congress passed new legislation expanding eligibility requirements for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). That legislation gave the U.S. Dept. of Education 60 days to create formal notice and a procedure for evaluating applicants requesting forgiveness under this expanded program. We haven’t known what the procedure would be, and how or when borrowers could gain access to this program – until now. And, unfortunately, I think it’s going to be a mess.
First, a recap of PSLF. To get your student loans forgiven under the program, a borrower must make 120 “qualifying payments.” A “qualifying payment” is one that is made (1) on the right type of federal student loan, which is a Direct loan; (2) under the right type of repayment plan – which is either an income-driven repayment plan or the 10-year Standard plan; while (3) working in qualifying employment. Read More