Showing posts with label Vicky Jo Metz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vicky Jo Metz. Show all posts

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Income-Based Repayment Plans for Student Debtors: Is Betsy DeVos a Slave Trafficker?

To my astonishment, Betsy DeVos, President Trump's Secretary of Education, publicly admitted that the federal student-loan program is a disaster. In a speech she gave last November, DeVos acknowledged that only 1 out of 4 student debtors (24 percent) is making loan payments that cover both principal and interest and that 43 percent of all student loans are in "distress."

Unfortunately, DeVos's Department of Education and its contracted debt collectors are making this crisis worse.  Probably 20 million Americans would be eligible to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy if these loans were treated like any other consumer debt (credit cards, auto loans, etc.) But the Bankruptcy Code's "undue hardship" rule, interpreted harshly by many bankruptcy judges, has pushed millions of distressed student-loan debtors into lifetimes of servitude.

Every few months, however, a bankruptcy judge rules compassionately and sensibly and discharges some student loan debt. There is now a good-sized body of cases that have ruled in student debtors' favor.

You would think the Department of Education would encourage this trend, which would hasten relief to millions of destitute student borrowers. If DOE would endorse the Seventh Circuit's ruling in Krieger, the Eighth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel's decision in Fern, the Sixth Circuit's ruling in Barrett, the Tenth Circuit's ruling in Polleys, and the Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Court's ruling in Roth, we would be moving a big step forward toward granting debt relief to millions of honest but unfortunate student borrowers.

But that has not been what Betsy's DOE has done. DOE and its student-loan servicing companies (primarily Educational Credit Management Corporation) have fought bankruptcy relief in bankruptcy courts all over the United States.(The Roth, Myhre and Abney cases are particularly shocking).

And here's one current example. Vicky Jo Metz, a 59-year old woman, attempted to discharge her student loans in bankruptcy, and a sympathetic Kansas bankruptcy judge granted her a partial discharge. Metz had borrowed  $16,663  back in the early 1990s to attend community college but she was never able to pay off her student loans. In fact, she filed for bankruptcy relief more than once.

By the time she was in her late 50s, Metz's student -loan debt had grown to $67,000, because her loan balance continued to grow due to negative amortization.  Judge Robert Nugent concluded Metz could never pay back what she borrowed plus the accumulated interest, and he crafted a sensible and compassionate ruling. Judge Nugent forgave the accumulated interest on Metz's debt and ordered her to pay back the principal--$16,663.

That's a fair solution, and in my opinion, Judge Nugent's ruling was consistent with guidance from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Polleys decision. (Metz's Kansas bankruptcy court is in the Tenth Circuit.) The Polleys ruling had instructed lower courts not to interpret the Bankruptcy Code's "undue hardship" provision in a way that would nullify the central purpose of bankruptcy, which is to give an honest debtor a "fresh start."

ECMC, DOE's chief pugilist in the bankruptcy courts, appealed Judge Nugent's decision. Metz should be placed in a long-term income-based repayment plan, ECMC argued, a plan that would require Metz to make monthly payments on her debt for as long as 25 years.

Judge Nugent had rejected ECMC's arguments in his court, pointing out that Metz would be 84 years old when her payment obligations ended. Moreover, Judge Nugent noted, Metz's debt would continue to grow because Metz's payments would not be large enough to cover accumulating interest. Judge Nugent calculated that Metz would owe $157,000 when her payment obligations ended--9 times what she borrowed back in the 1990s!

ECMC's arguments in Vicky Jo Metz's case are either deeply cynical or insane. Basically, ECMC, DOE's hired gun in this dispute, is asking a federal court to sentence Vicky Jo Metz to a lifetime of servitude--paying on a student-loan debt, which will grow bigger with each passing month.

In effect then, the Department of Education and ECMC are slave traffickers, condemning millions of Americans to repayment programs which can stretch over their entire lives.

In my view, the federal courts are poised to craft more compassionate standards for discharging student loans in bankruptcy, which would allow decent people like Ms. Metz to clear away debt they will never repay.  Unfortunately Betsy DeVos's Department of Education and ECMC are doing every thing they can to persuade the federal judiciary not to rule compassionately.

After all, there's a lot of money in the slave trade.



Cases

Abney v. U.S. Dept. of Educ. Corp.  (In re Abney), 540 B.R. 681 (Bankr. W.D. Mo. 2015).

Barrett v. Educ. Credit Mgmt. Corp., (In re Barrett), 487 F.3d 353 (6th Cir. 2007).

Educ. Credit Mgmt. Corp. v. Polleys (In re Polleys), 356 F.3d 1302 (10th Cir. 2004).

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

 Krieger v. Educ. Credit Mgmt. Corp., 713 F.3d 882 (6th Cir. 2013).
Metz v. Educ. Credit Mgmt. Corp., 589 B.R. 750 (Bankr. D. Kan. 2018), on appeal

Murray v. Educ. Credit Mgmt. Corp. (In re Murray), 563 B.R. 52 (Bankr. Kan. 2016), aff’d, No. 16-2838, 2017 WL 4222980 (D. Kan. Sept. 9, 2017).

Myhre v. U.S. Dep’t of Educ. (In re Myhre), 503 B.R. 698; 2013 (Bankr. W.D. Wis. 2013).

Roth v. Educ. Educ. Mgmt. Corp. (In re Roth), 490 B.R. 908 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. 2013).

References

DeVos, Betsy, Secretary of Educ., Prepared Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to Federal Student Aid’s Training Conferences (Nov. 27, 2018). Available at https://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/prepared-remarks-us-secretary-education-betsy-devos-federal-student-aids-training-conferencet.



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.



Monday, December 17, 2018

Good News out of Kansas: A compassionate bankruptcy judge grants a 59-year-old debtor a partial discharge of her student loans

The Remarkable Case of Vicky Jo Metz

Twenty-seven years ago,Vicky Jo Metz, took out $16,613 in student loans to go to community college. Over time, she paid back 90 percent of what she borrowed--almost $15,000.

But interest accrued at the rate of 9 percent, and by the time Metz came to bankruptcy court in 2018, her debt had quadruped--that's right, quadrupled--to $67,277!

Educational Credit Management Corporation, the federal government's most ruthless student-loan debt collector, opposed discharging Metz's loans.  Put Ms. Metz in a 25-year income-based repayment plan, ECMC argued.

But Kansas Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Nugent rejected ECMC's heartless argument.  Ms. Metz is 59 years old, Judge Nugent pointed out. By the time she finishes a 25-year IBRP, she will be 84.

ECMC testified that Metz's monthly payments under a 25-year IBRP would only be $203. But, Judge Nugent observed, such a payment is about $300 a month less than the amount necessary to pay the accruing interest. Thus, after making minimal payments for 25 years, Metz would owe $152,277.88--nine times more than she borrowed.

Under the terms of an IBRP, Ms. Metz's loan balance would be forgiven after 25 years--the entire $152,000.  But the forgiven debt would be taxable to her as income. "That," Judge Nugent remarked with powerful understatement, "could generate considerable tax liability for a retired 84-year-old living on social security."

Judge Nugent sensibly concluded that Metz could not pay back the $67,000 she currently owed while maintaining a minimal standard of living. He also concluded that Metz's financial situation was unlikely to change. In fact, with very little retirement savings, Metz's income would probably go down because she would be living almost solely on Social Security in her retirement years.

Finally, Judge Nugent determined that Metz had made a good faith effort to repay her student loans. "She has paid more than $14,000 toward this loan," he noted, "not a dime of which has gone to principal."

In short, Judge Nugent summarized: "Ms. Metz will simply never be able to afford to make a significant monthly payment on her student loan." Furthermore, requiring Metz to pay the accumulated interest "would result in undue hardship to her now and in the future.

Nevertheless, Judge Nugent stated, Metz could pay back the $16,613 she originally borrowed. So this is what Judge Nugent ordered:
Rather than be yoked to a pay-as-she-earns time bomb, Ms. Metz should instead be required to pay the principal balance of the loan, $16,613.73. Doing that would not impose an undue hardship on her within the meaning of [the undue hardship standard in the Bankruptcy Code]. Therefore, that amount is excepted from her discharge in this case and the rest of her student loan is discharged. Ms. Metz should arrange to make a monthly payment that will amortize that debt over a reasonable 5 to 10-year period.
Why the Metz Case is Important

Vicky Jo Metz's case is important for two reasons. First, Judge Nugent rejected ECMC's argument, which it has made hundreds of times, that  a distressed student-loan debtor should be forced into an income-based repayment plan as an alternative to bankruptcy relief.  As Judge Nugent pointed out, an IBRP makes no sense at all when the debtor is older and the accumulated debt is already many times larger than the original amount borrowed.

Indeed ECMC's argument is either insane or sociopathic. Why put a 59-year old woman in a 25-year repayment plan with payments so low that the debt grows with each passing month?

Second, the Metz case is important because it is the second ruling by a a Kansas bankruptcy judge that has canceled accrued interest on student-loan debt. In Murray v. ECMC, decided in 2016, Alan and Catherine Murray, a married couple in their late forties, filed for bankruptcy in an effort to discharge $311,000 in student loans and accumulated interest.

The Murrays took out a total of $77,000 in student loans back in the 1990s, and they made monthly payments totally 70 percent of what they borrowed. But, much like Vicky Jo Metz, the Murrays saw their student-loan debt grow larger and larger over the years until their debt totaled $311,000--four times what they borrowed.

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.

Conclusion

Judge Nugent and Judge Somers have grasped the essence of the student-loan crisis. Millions of Americans are seeing their student-loan indebtedness double, triple and even quadruple as interest accrues and compounds. Vicky Jo Metz, the Murrays, and people in similar positions will never pay back their massive student-loan debt.

Putting these poor souls into 25-year income-based repayment plans denies them the fresh start that the bankruptcy courts were created to provide. Under the government's income-based repayment program, this debt will be forgiven after 25 years, but the Internal Revenue Service considers the amount of the forgiven debt to be taxable income.

This is nuts. Judge Somers and Judge Nugent demonstrated compassion and common sense when they canceled accumulated interest on massive student-loan debt owed by the Murrays and Ms. Metz. Let us hope other bankruptcy judges will begin following their example.

References

In re Murray, 563 B.R. 52, 60 (Bankr. D. Kan. 2016), aff'd sub nom. Educ. Credit Mgmt. Corp. v. Murray, No. 16-2838, 2017 WL 4222980 (D. Kan. Sept. 22, 2017).

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