Showing posts with label Brenda Butler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brenda Butler. Show all posts

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone article on student debt crisis: You should read it

If you believe in social justice and basic human decency, you must read Matt Taibbi's article on the student-loan crisis that appeared this month in Rolling Stone.

Writing in the tradition of great American investigative journalism, Taibbi deconstructs "the great college loan swindle" that is destroying the lives of millions. Taibbi illustrates his theme by telling the story of two swindled student debtors: Scott Nailor and Veronica Martish.

Scott Nailor, a thirty-seven year-old school teacher, has contemplated suicide because he is chained to college loans he will never pay off. Nailor borrowed $35,000 to get a degree from the University of Southern Maine, which qualified him for a job as a school teacher.

This debt, which might seem modest to some people, was barely manageable on Nailor's salary as a school teacher, which initially paid just $18,000. He and his wife consolidated their student debt, which had grown to $50,000. Then the couple declared bankruptcy, but they did not discharge their student loans.

Today, Taibbi wrote, Nailor makes monthly payments of $471 a month on student-loan debt that has grown to $100,000.  None of his payments go to paying down principle. "I will never be able to pay it off," Nailor told Taibbi. "My only escape from this is to die."

And Taibbi also tells the story of Veronica Martish, a 68-year-old veteran from the Vietnam War. In 1989, she borrowed $8,000 to take courses at Quinebaug Valley Community College. Due to family problems, Martish fell behind on her loan payments and entered a loan rehabilitation program. By this time, her $8,000 had grown to $27,000 due to fees and interest tacked on by one of the federal government's debt collectors.

Martish told Taibbi that she had paid a total of $63,000 on her $8,000 student loan, but has yet to pay off the principle. By the time she dies, Martish estimates her loan balance will have grown to $200,000. "Nothing ever comes off the loan," she explained. "It's all interest and fees."

These stories may seem incredible to you, but in fact they are all too common. In fact, the bankruptcy courts have chronicled similar experiences when student-loan debtors stagger into bankruptcy court. Remember Brenda Butler, who paid $15,000 on $14,000 in student loans? Twenty years after graduating from college, she owed $32,000--twice what she borrowed. A bankruptcy judge refused to wipe out her student loans. She should stay in a long-term repayment plan, the judge advised--a plan that will not end until 42 years after Butler graduated from college.

And how about Alan and Catherine Murray, the Kansas couple who borrowed $77,000 to pay for undergraduate and graduate degrees? They made $54,000 in loan payments--about 70 percent of the principle.  Yet 20 years after finishing their studies, their accumulated student-loan debt had ballooned to $311,000--more than four times what they borrowed.

Millions of people have seen their student loans grow exponentially due to fees and unpaid interest. When that happens, a debtor's only option is to sign up for an income-driven repayment plan (IDR) that can last from 20 to 25 years. But these plans generally set monthly payments so low that the payments don't reduce the principal on the debt.  College debtors on IDRs see their loan balances grow larger and larger with each passing month even when they faithfully make their loan payments.

This was the situation Scott Nailor found himself in. No wonder he contemplated suicide.

And it gets worse. When all those millions of people in IDRs make their last monthly payment, the remaining balance on their loans will be forgiven; but the IRS considers the forgiven amount to be taxable income.

Does anyone in Congress give a damn? I don't think so. And Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whose family has profited from the debt-collection industry, certainly doesn't give a damn.

And so America descends into an era of shocking exploitation perpetrated by colleges, the federal government, and the debt-collection industry.

I will end this reflection by quoting a paragraph from Taibbi's searing essay:
It's a multiparty affair, what shakedown artists call a "big store scheme," like in the movie The Sting: a complex deception requiring a big cast to string the mark along every step of the way. In higher education, every party you meet, from the moment you first set foot on campus, is in on the game.
Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos: the "big store" scheme


References

Butler v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, No. 14-71585, Adv. No. 14-07069 (Bankr. C.D. Ill. Jan. 27, 2016).

Murray v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, CASE NO. 14-22253, CHAPTER 7, ADV. NO. 15-6099 (Bankr. D. Kan. Dec. 8, 2016), aff'd, No. 16-2838 (D. Kan. Sept. 22, 2017).

Matt Taibbi. (2017, October). The Great College Loan Swindle. Rolling Stone.



Monday, February 20, 2017

Hillary Clinton had a good idea for addressing the student loan crisis: The Trump administration should implement her plan

Although many people have forgotten, Hillary Clinton introduced a sensible plan for addressing the student loan crisis while she was campaigning for the Presidency. She proposed a 90-day moratorium on student-loan payments to give college debtors an opportunity to refinance their loans at a lower interest rate.

This is a good idea. Forty-three million people have outstanding student loans, and many borrowed at high interest rates--much higher than today's rates.

For example, in the Murray bankruptcy case, decided last year, a married couple in their late forties consolidated their student loans at an interest rate of 9 percent.  At the time of consolidation, the Murrays owed $77,000; and they paid back 70 percent of that amount. Nevertheless, there were periods when the Murrays did not make payments due to financial stress; and they now owe $311,000, with the growth largely due to their loan's high interest rate.

Likewise, Brenda Butler, whose bankruptcy case was also decided last year, borrowed $14,000 and paid back $15,000. Like the Murrays, Ms. Butler's loans were in deferment from time to time. By the time she entered bankruptcy--almost 20 years after graduating from college--she owed $33,000, more than double what she borrowed. Again, the growing loan balance was largely due to accrued interest.

As Senator Elizabeth Warren has pointed out, millions of student-loan debtors took out student loans at interest rates far above the federal government's current cost of borrowing money.  Therefore, if these people were permitted to refinance their loans at a lower interest rate, as Hillary Clinton proposed last year, their student-loan debt would be a lot easier to manage.

As I said, Hillary Clinton's idea is a good one, but I would like to propose an amendment.  In addition to allowing college borrowers to refinance their loans at lower interest rates, the government should forgive all the default penalties that have been assessed against student-loan  defaulters.

Currently there are 8 million people in default on their student loans, and most of them had a 25 percent penalty attached to the amount they borrowed plus accumulated interest. I have a friend whose daughter borrowed $5,000 to attend college, made loan payments for awhile and then defaulted. How much does she owe now? $12,000!

Are there any downsides to Hillary Clinton's proposal as I have amended it? Yes, the student-loan collectors who have gotten rich chasing down student-loan defaulters would make less money.

But there are no downsides for the government. Why? Because millions of student-loan defaulters and millions more in income-driven repayment plans will never pay off their student loans.  The income-driven repayment plans are nothing more than a fraud on the public that allows the government to claim that people in these plans are not in default.

But in actuality they are in default. Educational Credit Management Corporation, for example, wanted to put the Murrays into an income-drive repayment plan that would cost them around $900 a month. The bankruptcy judge, to his credit, rejected that idea, pointing out that the Murrays' debt was accruing interest at the rate of $2,000 a month. Even if the Murrays made regular payments for 25 years, their debt would balloon from $311,000 to about half a million dollars.

So here's my suggestion. Senator Elizabeth Warren should dust off Hillary Clinton's moratorium idea and propose it to the Trump administration, adding a proviso that default penalties would also be waived.

Donald Trump is not everyone's cup of tea, but I believe he comprehends the world of finance.  He will understand that the government is running a shell game, telling the public that the student loan program is under control when in fact it is a train wreck.

If Republicans, Democrats, and President Trump would adopt Hillary Clinton's amended plan, they would provide immense relief to millions of Americans who are being buried alive by their student loans.

Wouldn't that be a lovely outcome?



References

Butler v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, No. 14-71585, Adv. No. 14-07069 (Bankr. C.D. Ill. Jan. 27, 2016).

Anne Gearan and Abby Phillip. Clinton to propose 3-month hiatus for repayment of  student loansWashington Post, July 5, 2016. Accessible at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/07/05/clinton-to-propose-3-month-hiatus-for-repayment-of-student-loans/?hpid=hp_special-topic-chain_clinton-loans-11pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

Murray v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, Case No. 14-22253, ADV. No. 15-6099, 2016 Banrk. LEXIS 4229 (Bankr. D. Kansas, December 8, 2016).

Ruth Tam. Warren: Profits from student loans are 'obscene.' Washington Post, July 17, 2013.




Sunday, January 29, 2017

Alan and Catherine Murray are Poster Children for the Student Loan Crisis: Income-Driven Repayment Plans for Distressed Student-Loan Debtors are Insane

In a recent post, I wrote about Alan and Catherine Murray, who won a partial discharge of their student-loan debt in a bankruptcy case decided in December 2016.  Educational Credit Management (ECMC), the creditor in their case, is appealing the decision. We should all hope ECMC loses the appeal, because the Murrays are the poster children for the student-loan crisis.

Alan and Catherine Murray: Poster Children for the Student-Loan Crisis

Alan and Catherine Murray, a married couple in their late forties, took out 31 federal student loans to get bachelor's degrees and master's degrees in the early 1990s. In all, they borrowed about $77,000, not an unreasonable amount, given the fact that they used the loans to get a total of four degrees.

In 1996, the Murrays consolidated all those loans, a sensible thing to do; and they began making payments on the consolidated loans at 9 percent interest.  Over the years they made payments totally $58,000--or 70 percent of what they borrowed.

Nevertheless, during some periods, the Murrays obtained economic hardship deferments on their loans, which allowed them to skip some payments. Interest continued to accrue, however; and by 2014, when the Murrays filed for bankruptcy, their $77,000 debt had ballooned to $311,000!

Fortunately for the Murrays, Judge Dale Somers, a Kansas bankruptcy judge, granted them a partial discharge of their massive debt. Judge Somers ruled that the Murrays had managed their student loans in good faith, but they would never be able to pay back the $311,000 they owed. Very sensibly, he reduced their debt to $77,000, which is the amount they borrowed, and canceled all the accumulated interest.

 Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), the Murrays' student-loan creditor, appealed Judge Somers' ruling. The Murrays should have been placed in an income-driven repayment plan (IDR), ECMC argued, which would have required them to pay about $1,000 a month for a period of 20 years.

Obviously, ECMC's argument is insane. As Judge Somers pointed out, interest was accruing on the Murrays' debt at the rate of almost $2,000 a month. Thus ECMC's proposed payment schedule would have resulted in the Murrays' debt growing by a thousand dollars a month even if they faithfully made their loan payments. By the end of their 20-year payment term, their total debt would have grown to at least two thirds of a million dollars.

The Murrays' case is not atypical: Billions of dollars in student loans are negatively amortizing

You might think the Murray case is an anomaly, but it is not. Millions of people took out student loans, made payments in good faith, and wound up owing two, three, or even four times what they borrowed. In other words, millions of student loans are negatively amortizing--they are growing larger, not smaller, during the repayment period.

For example, Brenda Butler, whose bankruptcy case was decided last year, borrowed $14,000 to get a bachelor's degree in English from Chapman University, which she obtained in 1995. Like the Murrays, she made good faith efforts to pay off her loans, but she was unemployed from time to time and could not always make her loan payments.

By the time Butler filed for bankruptcy in 2014, her debt had doubled to $32,000, even though she had made payments totally $15,000--a little more than the amount she borrowed.

Unfortunately for Ms. Butler, her bankruptcy judge was not as compassionate as the Murrays' judge. The judge ruled that Butler should stay on a 25-year repayment plant, which would terminate in 2037, 42 years after she graduated from Chapman University.

Here is sad reality. Millions of people are seeing their total student-loan indebtedness go up--not down--after they begin repayment. According to the Brookings Institution,  more than half of the 2012 cohort of student-loan borrowers saw their total indebtedness go up two years after beginning the repayment phase.  Among students who attended for-profit colleges, three out of four saw their loan balances grow larger two years into repayment.

An analysis by Inside Higher Ed concluded that less that half of college borrowers (47 percent) had made any progress on paying off their student loans 5 years into repayment. In the for-profit sector, only about a third (35 percent) had paid anything down on their student loans  over a 5-year period.

And the Wall Street Journal reported recently that half the students at more than a thousand colleges and schools had not reduced their loan balances by one dime seven years after their repayment obligations began.

The Federal Student Loan Program is a Train Wreck

Awhile back, Senator Elizabeth Warren accused the federal government of making "obscene" profits on student loans because the interest rates were higher than the government's cost of borrowing money. Warren's charge might have been true if people were paying back their loans, but they are not.

Eight million people are in default and millions more are seeing their student-loan balances grow larger with each passing month.  The Murrays are the poster children for this tragedy because they handled their loans in good faith and still wound up owing four times what they borrowed.

In short, the federal student loan program is a train wreck. Judge Somers' solution for the Murrays was to wipe out the accrued interest on their debt and to simply require them to pay back the principle. This is the only sensible way to deal with the massive problem of negative amortization.



References

Butler v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, No. 14-71585, Adv. No. 14-07069 (Bankr. C.D. Ill. Jan. 27, 2016).

Paul Fain. Feds' data error inflated loan repayment rates on the College Scoreboard. Inside Higher Ed, January 16, 2017.

Andrea Fuller. Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than BelievedWall Street Journal, January 18, 2017.

Adam Looney & Constantine Yannelis, A crisis in student loans? How changes in the characteristics of borrowers and in the institutions they attended contributed to rising default ratesWashington, DC: Brookings Institution (2015).

Murray v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, Case No. 14-22253, ADV. No. 15-6099, 2016 Banrk. LEXIS 4229 (Bankr. D. Kansas, December 8, 2016).

Ruth Tam. Warren: Profits from student loans are 'obscene.' Washington Post, July 17, 2013.



Friday, August 12, 2016

Restaurant chains can file for bankruptcy if they borrow too much money--but the bankruptcy courts are virtually closed to distressed student-loan debtors

A least four large restaurant chains have filed for bankruptcy this year--a sign perhaps that the economy is slipping back into recession. Companies that own Logan's Road House, Fox & Hound, and Johnny Carino's are among the casualties.

Craig Weichmann, an investment consultant who specializes in restaurants, said the bankrupt restaurant chains were burdened by high debt loads and lagging same-store sales.  Restaurant chains took advantage of low interest rates to borrow a lot of money, but older restaurants are losing customers to new chains. Now the old chains can't manage their debt.

But, hey, bankruptcy can be a good thing for businesses that borrow too much money.  “In [the] old days, filing for bankruptcy was the end of the world," Weichmann explained.  "In reality, there comes a time when filing for bankruptcy permits a group to come out sustainable and healthy.” In fact, Weichman said, a lot of companies come out of bankruptcy "with a new life.”

Is this a great country or what? Business owners who borrow money recklessly while paying themselves fat salaries can stiff their creditors by filing for bankruptcy without changing their lifestyles at all.

In fact, restaurant owners can file for bankruptcy repeatedly. John Carino's owners filed for bankruptcy a second time only three months after emerging from an earlier bankruptcy.    According to the Austin Business Journal, the company owed $19 million to its creditors and roughly $905,000 in back wages, vacation time and bonuses to its employees, plus back taxes and lease obligations."

Yes, America is truly a great country--unless you are a student-loan debtor.

Although some bankruptcy respond humanely when destitute student-loan debtors file for bankruptcy, other courts give them a chilly reception. Even college borrowers who received no benefit from their college experiences and can't land a decent job often find it very difficult to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy.

Remember Brenda Butler, whose bankruptcy case was decided earlier this year? She borrowed a modest amount of money to get a degree from Chapman College (a reputable institution), and she made good faith efforts to pay off her loans for almost 20 years. But a bankruptcy court in Illinois refused to discharge her student loan debt, which had more than doubled in size since she graduated, and forced to her to remain in an income-based repayment plan that obligates her to make loan payments until 2037!

Poor Ms. Butler. Instead of going to college, she should have borrowed money to start a restaurant.

References

Butler v. Educational Credit Management Corporation (In re Butler), Adv. No. 124-07069, 2016 WL 360697 (Bankr. C.D. Ill. Jan. 27, 2016). Available at  http://www.leagle.com/decision/In%20BCO%2020160127751/IN%20RE%20BUTLER

Korri Kezar. Why a Dallas restaurant company's bankruptcy is part of a trend. WFAA.com. August 10, 2016. Available at http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/dallas-county/why-a-dallas-restaurant-companys-bankruptcy-is-part-of-a-trend/293988701?utm_campaign=Daily%2BBankruptcy%2B%26%2BRestructuring%2BNews%2Bfrom%2BChapter11Dockets.com&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Daily_Bankruptcy_%26_Restructuring_News_from_Chapter11Dockets.com_24

Michael Theis. Italian restaurant chain again files for bankruptcy. Austin Business Journal, July 27, 2016. Available at http://www.bizjournals.com/austin/news/2016/07/27/italian-restaurant-chain-files-again-for.html

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Obama expands income-repayment plans: Sharecropper Nation

The Obama administration announced yesterday that it wants to enroll 2 million more people in income-based repayment plans (IBRPs) within the next year.

I'm sure President Obama will reach that goal.  About 4.8 million people are in IBRPs now, up from just 3.9 million last summer.  It is virtually certain that 7 million people will be 20-year or 25-year repayment plans by the end of 2017.

But this is insane! Putting people in long-term income-based repayment plans basically makes them sharecroppers, forcing them to pay a percentage of their income to the government over the majority of their working lives.

Many people in IBRPs didn't even complete the education programs that dragged them into debt. How can that be good for our economy--to have millions of people making monthly payments  for two decades or more for educational experiences that are worthless to them?

And let's not forget that most people don't sign up for these long-term repayment plans immediately after they finish their studies. Generally, they initially try to make loan payments under the standard 10-year repayment plan. It is only when they fall behind on their payments or default that they sign up for an IBRP.

Brenda Butler, who recently lost a court battle to discharge her student loans in bankruptcy, is a case in point. Butler graduated from Chapman University in 1995 and tried to keep current on her student loans for almost 20 years. Eventually, she signed up for a 25-year repayment plan and filed for bankruptcy.  Although the judge ruled that Butler had acted in good faith, she denied Butler a discharge.  Butler is now in a 25-year repayment plan that will not be completed until 2037--42 years after Butler graduated from college!

President Obama and Secretary of Education John King tout IBRPs as beneficial to college-loan borrowers. As Secretary King put it in a conference call to reporters, "The goal is to get all of the folks who would benefit from income-based repayment into one of the plans that make sense for them."

But of course, these long-term repayment plans are nothing more than a cynical scheme by our government to sweep the student-loan catastrophe under the rug. Virtually everyone in these plans is making payments that are so low that the payments don't cover accruing interest. In other words, most people in these plans will be seeing their loan balances go up, not down, as the years go by.

In short, most people in IBRPs are not paying down their student loans at all; they're basically just paying a 20-year penalty for making poor educational choices when they were young. For all practical purposes, people in IBRPs--soon to be 7 million people--have defaulted on their loans; and we can add that 7 million to the 10 million who officially defaulted or are delinquent in their loan payments.

So if you borrowed too much money to go to college and didn't find a good job, this is your likely future: You will eventually join an IRBP and become a sharecropper.

Image result for sharecroppers wpa
Sharecroppers

References

Josh Mitchell. White House to Push Student Borrowers to Get Into Debt-Relief Plans. Wall Street Journal, Apri 28, 2016.  Accessible at http://www.wsj.com/articles/white-house-to-pushes-student-borrowers-to-get-into-debt-relief-plans-1461816062

Michael Stratford. Obama Admin Sets New Income-Based Repayment Goal. Inside Higher Ed, April 28, 2016. https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/04/28/obama-admin-sets-new-income-based-repayment-goal?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=c63d1912bd-DNU20160428&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-c63d1912bd-198565653

U.S. Department of Education. Income-Driven Repayment plan Enrollment Jumps, Delinquency Rates Drop in New Student Loan Data, August 20, 2015. Accessible at http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/income-driven-repayment-plan-enrollment-jumps-delinquency-rates-drop-new-student-loan-data

Why Student Debtors Go Unrescued. New York Times, October 7, 2015. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/07/opinion/why-student-debtors-go-unrescued.html?_r=0

Thursday, April 7, 2016

4.6 million student debtors are in long-term repayment plans, default rates are up, and President Obama's "best friend" is buying University of Phoenix: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold."

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
 Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


The Second Coming
William Butler Yeats

As William Butler Yeats put it, "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." Everywhere, we see signs that the federal student-loan program is on the verge of collapse. And when the loan program collapses, so will American higher education.

Here are some portents of the coming disaster:

Student borrowers are enrolling in long-term repayment plans in record numbers

First, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced that 4.6 million student debtors are enrolled in Income-Driven Repayment plans (IDRs) to pay off their college loans. This is a 48 percent increase since December 2014 and a 140 percent increase since December 2013. 

People in IDRs are obligated to pay on their student loans for 20 or even 25 years, and most are making payments so small that that their loan balances are going up, not down, due to unpaid accumulating interest. In other words, most people in IDRs will never pay off their college loans.

Yet lenient income-based plans are President Obama's chief strategy for addressing the student-loan crisis. As the DOE blog put it,"President Obama has fought hard to make college more affordable and to help borrowers keep their student loan payments manageable." And thanks to those efforts, DOE continues, students in the new IDRs never have to pay more than 10 percent of their monthly income on your federal student loans."   Indeed, borrowers who are  "temporarily unemployed" don't have to pay anything. "After all, as DOE cheerily pointed out, "10 percent of zero dollars is zero dollars."

But of course, 20-year and 25-year repayment plans are crazy, especially when we consider that most people don't sign up for these plans until their backs are against the wall. Remember Brenda Butler, who entered a 25-year repayment plan 20 years after graduating from college? She won't be finished with her student loans until 2037, 42 years after acquiring her degree!

The Feds are garnishing wages and Social Security Checks; and default rates are rising

Meanwhile, the government garnished $176 million in wages from student-loan defaulters during the last three months of 2015. And the government garnishes Social Security checks of 155,000 elderly student-loan defaulters. 

And despite governmental assurances to the contrary, student-loan default rates are rising. According to a recent analysis by Jason Deslisle, 20 percent of all borrowers with loans due are in default. A Brookings Institution report noted that almost half of  a recent cohort of student borrowers who attended for-profit colleges defaulted within 5 years

And let's not forget the nine million people in the repayment phase of their loans who aren't making payments because they've obtained economic hardship deferments or some other deferment from making loan payments.  Those folks are counted as defaulters, but in reality, most of them will never pay back their loans. 

Law schools are in trouble

And then there are the law schools, some of which are in real trouble. Over the last few years, law schools began behaving like pirates, raising tuition rates to insane levels even as the market for lawyers imploded. Now they are seeing  a 20 percent decline in enrollment applications; and many have lowered their admission standards just to get warm bodies in their classrooms. A typical law student now graduates with $140,000 in debt; and many have almost no prospect of getting jobs in the legal field.

The for-profit college sector: The barbarian are at the gates

Finally, in the private sector, the barbarians are at the gates. Corinthian College, which had 350,000 students or former students as of last year, filed for bankruptcy; and thousands of its victims have filed claims to have their student loans forgiven. The Department of Education brokered a sale of some Corinthian campuses to a company affiliated with Educational Credit Management Corporation, the rapacious college-loan debt collector, just to maintain some semblance of order in the chaos of the Corinthian collapse.

Apollo Education Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, is in real trouble. Enrollments at UP dropped from a a peak of 475,000 in 2010 to less than half that number in 2015. Apollo's stock, which once sold for more than $80 a share, is now trading below 8 bucks.

Apollo is in negotiations to sell out to a group of private equity firms, including Visteria Group. Visteria was founded by Martin Nesbitt, described as President Obama's "best friend." In fact, Nesbitt was treasurer for both of Obama presidential campaigns; and he heads the Obama Foundation that is planning the Obama Presidential Library. 

If the deal goes through, Tony Miller, former Deputy Secretary of Education in the Obama administration and Martin Nesbitt's business partner, will become Apollo Education Group's new Board Chairman.  Very cozy!

"The ceremony of innocence is drowned."

To borrow a phrase from Yeats, "The ceremony of innocence is drowned" in American higher education.  Colleges and universities were once honored as the guardians of our civilization's ideals, the places where young people came to grow and learn, and to develop the civic and moral values that are indispensable to maintaining a healthy and vibrant society.

No more.  Arrogant college presidents, greedy profiteers, and mindless bureaucrats now control our once beloved universities. The best of these characters "lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." 

All of this craziness is paid for by federal student-loan money. And millions of college-loan borrowers are strangling in debt they can never pay off. This cannot go on forever.

President Obama and Martin Nesbitt



Anthony W. Miller official portrait.jpg
Tony Miller, former Deputy Secretary of Education
and soon-to-be Board Chairman of Apollo Education Group
References

Jillian Berman. Americans just had $17 million in wages garnished by the government due to unpaid student loans. Marketwatch.com, March 22, 2016. Accessible at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-government-just-garnished-176-million-in-wages-because-of-unpaid-student-loans-2016-03-21

Ronald J. Hansen. Apollo Education, parent company of University of Phoenix, to go prvate at $1.1 billion deal. Arizona Republic, February 9, 2016. Accessible at http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/2016/02/08/apollo-education-to-go-private-in-11b-deal/79998782/

Jason Delisle. @usedgov latest data out today shows student loan defaults just hit another record high, 20% of those w/ loans due. Mhttps://twitter.com/delislealleges/status/710539989256429568

Matt Sessa. Student Aid Posts Updated Reports to FSA Data Center. Department of Education, March 17, 2016. Accessible at https://www.nasfaa.org/news-item/7943/3-17_Federal_Student_Aid_Posts_Updated_Reports_to_FSA_Data_Center

Dan Primack. Obama's 'best friend' raises millions for private equity fund. Fortune Magazine, August 11, 2014. Accessible at http://fortune.com/2014/08/11/obamas-best-friend-raises-millions-for-private-equity-fund/

Patricia Cohen and Chad Bray. University of Phoenix Owner, Apollo Education Group, To Be Taken Private. New York Times, February 9, 2016. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/business/dealbook/apollo-education-group-university-of-phoenix-owner-to-be-taken-private.html?

No, You Won't Be Arrested for Falling Behind On Your Student Loans. US. Department of Eduation Official Bog, April, 2016. Accessible at http://blog.ed.gov/2016/04/no-you-wont-be-arrested-for-falling-behind-on-your-student-loans/

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Brenda Butler,"poster child" for the student-loan crisis, will be done with her student loans in 2037--42 years after she graduated from college

    You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
    Another day older and deeper in debt
    Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
    I owe my soul to the company store
Tennessee Ernie Ford

If the student-loan crisis had a poster child, it might well be Brenda Butler, who lost her bankruptcy case last week in Illinois. Butler borrowed about $14,000 to get a degree in English and creative writing from Chapman University, which she received in 1995. Over the next 20 years, she made loan payments totally $15,000--more than the amount she borrowed.

Unfortunately, she was unable to make payments from time to time, and her debt grew due to accrued interest and penalties. When she filed for bankruptcy in 2014, Butler's debt had grown to almost $33,000, more than twice what she borrowed!

Did Butler get rich in the 21 years that passed since she graduated from college? No, she didn't. When she filed for bankruptcy she owned no real property and drove a 2001 Saturn that had logged 147,000 miles. According to the bankruptcy court, Butler never made more than about $35,000 a year, and her monthly income at the time of her bankruptcy filing was only $1,879, about $300 less than her expenses.

In spite of her bleak financial situation and an employment history of relatively low wages, a bankruptcy judge refused to discharge Ms. Butler's student loans. In fact, in applying the three-prong Brunner test, the court ruled that she failed to meet two of the prongs.

First, the court concluded that Butler was able to maintain a minimum standard of living, in spite of the fact that she was living on unemployment benefits at the time of her hearing and these benefits were about to run out. Indeed, the court admitted that Butler "had virtually no resources to support herself."

Nevertheless, in the court's view, Butler would likely find employment soon, which would enable her to maintain a minimum standard of living and make payments under an income-base repayment plan. Thus, Butler failed the first prong of the Brunner test.

Brunner's second prong required Butler to show that additional circumstances existed that prevented her from paying on her student loans in the future. Here again, the judge ruled against her. The judge found Butler to be "capable and intelligent with no health problems or other impediments to being gainfully employed." The court acknowledged that Butler had "an unfortunate employment history through no apparent fault of her own," but she could show no exceptional circumstances that would indicate that she could not pay back her student loans in the coming years.

Interestingly, the judge ruled in Butler's favor regarding one prong of the Brunner test. In the judge's view, Butler had met her burden of showing she had made good faith efforts to pay back her loans. As the judge acknowledged, Butler had made payments totally more than the original principal on her loans, and she had made diligent efforts to improve her financial status. "This is not a case of a recent graduate trying to escape student loan debts before beginning a lucrative career," the judge admitted. On the contrary, Butler had made "substantial, though futile, efforts to pay down her student loan debt."

So why did Butler lose her case? This is the bankruptcy judge's summary:
[Butler's] financial situation is unfortunate, but more than that is required for a finding of undue hardship under the demanding Brunner test. [Butler] has shown good faith in her efforts to remain employed and pay down her student loan debt. But as a healthy, intelligent, relatively young worker with a proven ability to secure productive employment, [she] is unable to prove that her student loan obligations prevent her from maintaining a minimum standard of living, now or in the foreseeable future. Thus. . ., [Butler's] student loan debt will not be discharged.
The Butler decision is particularly unfortunate because her situation is not untypical. Like a lot of people, she obtained a liberal arts degree from a private college that never led to a well-paying job. In spite of good faith efforts to pay back her loans, she was dragged down by exorbitant penalties and accruing interest, like thousands of other Americans.

And here is the final outcome. Brenda Butler will continue in a long-term income-based repayment plan that will not conclude until 2037--42 years after she graduated from college! 

Surely this is not what Brenda Butler envisioned when she enrolled at Chapman University in 1991 with bright hopes for a future as a writer.  And surely this is not what Congress envisioned when it passed the Higher Education Act more than 50 years ago.

And that is why Brenda Butler would make a good poster child for the student-loan crisis. A good person, who went to college in good faith and made good faith efforts to pay back her student loans, will be burdened with student-loan debt--mostly penalties and interest--until she reaches retirement age.

References

Butler v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, No. 14-71585, Adv. No. 14-07069 (Bankr. C.D. Ill. Jan. 27, 2016).