Showing posts with label Mike Meru. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mike Meru. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

You should die before you pay off your student loans: Estate planning for elderly student-loan debtors

Steve Rhode posted an essay yesterday titled "Make Sure You Die Before Your Parent Plus and Federal Student Loans Are Forgiven." As Mr. Rhode explained, the federal government cancels all unpaid student loans owed by debtors who die before their loans are repaid. The cancelled debt is not a burden on the deceased debtor's estate.

On the other hand, people in 20- and 25-year income-based repayment plans (IBRPs) who receive loan forgiveness when they complete their repayment terms, will owe federal taxes on the amount of their forgiven loans. Why? Because the IRS considers a forgiven loan to be taxable income. If that tax bill comes due and the student-loan borrower can't pay it before dying, the unpaid tax becomes a claim on the decedent's estate.

"So," Mr. Rhode advises, "if you are older it may make more sense and cost less money overall if you extend out the repayment term past when you estimate you will die. When you pass, the student loan can pass with you."

Steve Rhode is absolutely right. You may think this is a technical detail of the student-loan program that only concerns a few people. But you would be wrong.

More than 7 million people are in IBRPs, and the number grows with each passing month. Nearly all these people will not have payed off their student loans before their repayment terms come to an end due to accruing interest. That means nearly all 7 million will receive tax bills when their accumulated student-loan debt is forgiven.

And these tax bills could be enormous. Remember Mike Meru, who borrowed $600,000 to go to dental school and is paying it back in an IBRP? The Wall Street Journal estimated that his debt would grow to $2 million by the time he completes his income-based repayment plan due to accruing, compound interest. That $2 million will be forgiven but it will also be taxable income for Dr. Meru.

It is true the IRS will not assess a forgiven-loan tax on people who are insolvent when their student loans are forgiven. But that's no comfort. How many people want to pay on student loans for 25 years and be insolvent on the day their loans are forgiven?

Of course there is a simple solution to this problem: Congress can pass legislation that would remove the tax liability  of people who complete IBRPs and have their student loans forgiven. In fact, this fix could probably be achieved through a federal regulation without Congressional action.

Alternatively, bankruptcy courts could simply discharge student-loan debt held by overburdened student-loan borrowers.  Some federal bankruptcy courts have concluded that IBRPs are not a feasible alternative to bankruptcy relief. They have countenanced the tax consequences of IBRPs, and some have recognized the enormous mental stress that debtors experience when they are burdened by student loans that can never be repaid. For example, the bankruptcy courts in the Fern case, the Martin case, and the Abney case have taken this sensible and compassionate view.

Perhaps Congress will do the right thing and fix this problem. After all, the Democrats will control the House of Representatives in January. If they were to present a bill to remove the tax consequences of forgiven student loans, what Republican would oppose it?

We shall see. In the Metz case, Judge Robert E. Nugent referred to an IBRP as a "pay-as-she-earns time bomb," and he is certainly correct. What a tragedy if this nasty time bomb goes off for millions of IBRP participants, when it could be so easily defused.

References

Abney v. U.S. Department of Education540 B.R. 681 (Bankr. W.D. Mo. 2015).

Fern v. FedLoan Servicing, 553 B.R. 362 (Bankr. N.D. Iowa 2016), aff'd, 563 B.R. 1 (8th Cir. B.A.P. 2017).

Fern v. FedLoan Servicing, 563 B.R. 1 (8th Cir. B.A.P. 2017).

Vicky Jo Metz v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 589 B.R. 750 (D. Kan. 2018).

Martin v. Great Lakes Higher Education Group and Educational Credit Management Corporation (In re Martin), 584 B.R. 886 (Bankr. N.D. Iowa 2018).

Josh Mitchell. Mike Meru Has $1 Million in Student Loans. How did That Happen? Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2018.

Steve Rhode, Make Sure You Die Before Your Parent Plus and Federal Student Loans Are Forgiven. Get Out of Debt Guy (blog), December 17, 2018.



Sunday, July 15, 2018

Student loan rates are going up--compounding misery for suffering college borrowers

James Carville, who was once President Bill Clinton's political strategist, famously remarked: "It's the economy, stupid!"

But Carville's one-liner needs updating. For student-loan debtors, "It's the interest, stupid!"

And student-loan interest rates are going up. For undergraduate student loans, the rate has risen to 5.05 percent, a 13 percent increase over current rates.

For graduate students, the rate rose to 6.60 percent, up from the last year's rate of 6.0 percent.

And rates for Parent PLUS loans are going up as well. As of July 1, the interest rate on Parent PLUS loans is 7.6 percent.

A Forbes article suggests the increase is no big deal. An undergraduate who takes out $10,000 in federal loans this year will only pay $349 more over ten years than under last year's interest rate. That's less than three bucks a month.

But let's think again. Interest rates on student loans are pretty damn high; why should they go higher? Students taking out federal loans to finance their college education pay a higher interest rate than they would for a car loan or even a house loan. And remember, the current interest rate on a 10-year government bond is only 2.85 percent. So how does the federal government get away with loaning money to students' parents at an interest rate of 7.6 percent?

Here's the real problem with interest rates on student loans: the interest compounds on outstanding loans until the loans are paid off. For some student debtors, interest on their student loans compounds while they are in school, which means they will owe more money than they borrowed by the time they graduate.

Even more concerning, millions of borrowers don't find good jobs after they graduate and are unable to immediately start making their monthly loan payments. This forces them to apply for economic hardship deferments, which are notoriously easy to get. But borrowers whose loans stay in deferment for two, three, four years or more will see their loan balances go up markedly.

And the story is the same for people who enroll in 20- or 25-year income-contingent repayment plans (ICRPs). Almost all these folks are making monthly payments so low they are not paying down accrued interest. Consequentially, their loans are negatively amortizing, which means ICRP participants are seeing their loan balances get larger with each passing month, even though they are making regular monthly payments.

Remember Mark Meru, the dentist who borrowed $600,000 to go to dentistry school and now owes a million dollars? He's in an income-based repayment plan that set his monthly payment at less than $1,600.   But interest is accruing at the rate of almost $4,000 a month. By the time he finishes his 25-year repayment plan, Dr. Meru will owe $2 million!

Albert Einstein observed that compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. People who understand that earn it; and people who don't understand, pay it.

Apparently, millions of college-educated Americans don't understand compound interest. Otherwise, they never would have allowed themselves to get into debt so deep due to student loans that they will never pay off.

"It's the interest, knuckleheads!"


References

Zack Friedman. Student Loan Rates Will Rise 13% This Summer. Forbes.com, May 22, 2018.

Josh Mitchell. Mike Meru Has $1 Million in Student Loans. How did That Happen? Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2018.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Mike Meru racked up $1 million in student loans to go to dental school. Will he ever pay it back?

Perhaps you read Josh Mitchell's story in the Wall Street Journal about Mike Meru, who took out $600,000 in student loans to go to dental school at University of Southern California. Due to fees and accrued interest, Meru now owes $1 million.

How did that work out for Dr. Meru? Not too bad actually. He's now working as a dentist making $225,000 a year. He entered an income-based repayment plan (IBR), which set his monthly payments at only $1,590 a month. If he makes regular payments for 25 years, the unpaid balance on his loans will be forgiven.

But as WSJ's  Josh Mitchell pointed out, Dr. Meru's payments don't cover accruing interest, which means his student-loan debt continues to grow at the rate of almost $4,000 a month. By the time, Dr. Meru completes his 25-year payment obligations, he will owe $2 million. Although this huge sum will be forgiven, the IRS considers forgiven debt as taxable income. Dr. Meru can expect a tax bill for about $700,000.

The student-loan program's many apologists will say Dr. Meru's case is an anomaly because most people borrow far less to get their postsecondary education. In fact, only about 100 people owe $1 million dollars or more. But 2.5 million college borrowers owe at least $100,000; and even people who borrow far less are in deep trouble if they drop out of school before graduating or don't land a good job that allows them to service their loans.

Here are the lessons I draw from Dr. Meru's case:

First, income-based repayment programs are insane because student debtors make payments based on their income, not the amount they owe. Dr. Meru's payments are set at $1,590 a month regardless of whether he borrowed $100,000, $200,000 or $600,000.  Thus, IBRs operate as a perverse incentive for students to borrow as much as they can, because borrowing more money doesn't raise the amount of their monthly payments.

Second, IBRs allow professional schools to raise tuition year after year without restraint because students simply borrow more money to cover the increased cost. USC told Mr. Meru that dental school would cost him about $400,000, but USC increased its tuition at least twice while Meru was in school; and Meru wound up borrowing $600,000 to finish his degree--far more than he had planned for.

Does USC feel bad about putting its graduates into so much debt? Apparently not. Avishai Sadan, USC's dental school dean, said this: "These are choices. We're not coercing. . . You know exactly what you're getting into." By the way, Dr. Sadan got his dentistry degree in Israel: and I'll bet it cost him a lot less than $600,000.

And here's the third lesson I draw from Dr. Meru's story. The student loan program is destroying the integrity of professional education.  As I've explained in recent essays, the federal student loan program has allowed second- and third-tier law schools to jack up tuition rates, causing graduates to leave school with enormous debt and little prospect of landing good jobs.

A medical-school education now costs so much that graduates are forced to choose the most lucrative sectors of the medical field in order to pay off their student loans. That is why more and more general practitioners are foreign born and received their medical training overseas, where people don't have to borrow a bunch of money to get an education.

Dr. Avishai Sadan, Dean of USC's School of Dentistry
"You know exactly what you're getting into."
References

Josh Mitchell. Mike Meru Has $1 Million in Student Loans. How did That Happen? Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2018.