Among the commission’s recommendations:
ALLOW PRIVATE STUDENT LOANS TO BE ERASED
Federal student loans are backed by taxpayer money, so it makes sense that they’re harder to discharge than credit card debt or medical bills. But Congress extended the same status to private student loans in 2005. Unlike federal student loans, private student loans are underwritten — which means the lenders assess borrowers’ ability to repay, charge interest rates that reflect the risk of default and often require co-signers to guarantee repayment. Shielding private student loans in bankruptcy court may protect lender profits, but it’s hard to make the case that doing so is somehow in the taxpayers’ best interest. The commission recommends Congress change the law to allow private student loans, as well as loans taken out by parents and other relatives for their children, to be more easily erased.
THE SEVEN-YEAR STANDARD SHOULD BE RESTORED
In 1976, Congress decided that overwhelmed borrowers could get their student loans wiped out in bankruptcy once five years had passed since the first payment was due. Debtors could get relief earlier if repayment represented an “undue hardship.” In 1990, Congress lengthened the waiting period to seven years. In 1998, however, Congress removed the time element entirely. Now borrowers are held to the strict standards the courts had developed under previous laws.
The commission recommends returning to the seven-year standard, noting that if borrowers were still struggling at that point, their circumstances were unlikely to improve enough to repay a significant portion of their loans. Getting rid of the debt, on the other hand, could allow people to buy homes, start families, launch businesses and otherwise engage in productive activity that contributes to the tax base.
CALL OFF THE DOGS
The commission decried “costly and inefficient litigation,” noting that the Education Department and ECMC regularly fight discharges regardless of the costs or benefits.
Instead, the commission recommended the department adopt clearly defined rules that would prevent student loan collectors from opposing discharges for people collecting disability benefits from Social Security or Veterans Affairs, or whose incomes were less than 175 percent of federal poverty levels.