Showing posts with label bankruptcy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bankruptcy. Show all posts

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Student Loans, Bankruptcy, and Creditors' Lawyers: If Auschwitz Comes to the United States, Will Attorneys Handle the Paperwork?

I was a child when I learned about the Nazi concentration camps. I was a voracious reader when I was young, and I often wandered around our town library, browsing through the books. One day, I pulled a book off a shelf because I was intrigued by the title, and the pages fell open to a photo of one of the German concentration camps. It might have been Auschwitz, but I don't remember.

The photo showed dozens of naked and emaciated corpses piled in a heap, and that was all. I remember being viscerally shocked and frightened by what I saw, and I immediately realized that the dead people who appeared in the photo were the victims of human monsters.

I thought about that photo for weeks, and I finally comforted myself with the childish conviction that the death camps would never come to America--that Americans could never commit such savage acts.

Image result for auschwitz death camp
I hope I get off work in time to see my kid's soccer game

I was naive of course.  As I grew older, I realized there are plenty of Americans who will do anything they are directed to do--no matter how much pain they inflict on other human beings.

The people who operated the Nazi death camps were, after all, ordinary people.  They probably read their morning newspapers over breakfast and played with their children after work in the evenings. They labored for the Nazi death machine for a variety of mundane reasons--maybe they just needed a paycheck.

And this brings me to the lawyers who work for Educational Credit Management Corporation, perhaps the federal government's most aggressive debt collector against student-loan borrowers. ECMC's attorneys have gone into bankruptcy court time after time to oppose debt relief for distressed student-loan debtors.  In the Roth case, for example, ECMC's legal counsel opposed bankruptcy relief for Janet Roth, an elderly debtor with chronic health problems who was living on less than $800 a month. ECMC harried Ms. Roth all the way to the Ninth Circuit's Bankruptcy Appellate Panel.

In a letter dated July 7, 2015, Lynn Mahaffie, a Department of Education bureaucrat, issued a letter advising creditors like ECMC not to oppose bankruptcy relief for student debtors if the cost of fighting a bankruptcy discharge did not make the effort worthwhile.

But that letter was just bullshit. The Department of Education and its loan collectors almost always oppose bankruptcy relief for student-loan debtors--whether or not it is cost effective to do so.  For example, in Acosta-Conniff v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, an Alabama bankruptcy judge discharged Alexandra Acosta-Conniff's student loan debt. Conniff was a single mother of two children working as a school teacher, and the court reasoned quite sensibly that Conniff would not be able to pay off her student loans.

ECMC dispatched six attorneys to appeal the bankruptcy court's decision: David Edwin Rains, Kristofer David Sodergren, Rachel Lavender Webber, Robert Allen Morgan, Margaret Hammond Manuel, and David Chip Schwartz. Six attorneys--and Conniff didn't even have a lawyer!

Not surprisingly, ECMC won its appeal.  Six lawyers against a single mother of two who can't afford an attorney--it was hardly a fair fight.

Conniff has a lawyer now, and she is appealing the district court's unfavorable decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. ECMC has a platoon of lawyers to represent it before the Eleventh Circuit, and who knows how much that costs?

But ECMC apparently doesn't care how much the appeal will cost, and the Department of Education obviously doesn't care either. Otherwise it would direct its loan collectors not to harass insolvent student-loan debtors in the bankruptcy courts.

Now I am not comparing ECMC's lawyers to Nazi death-camp workers. Being a debt collector's attorney is not intrinsically evil; and any misery inflicted on a student-loan debtor in a bankruptcy court is trivial compared to the horrors of Auschwitz. I feel sure ECMC's lawyers are all decent people.

Nevertheless, I personally could not sleep at night if I were representing ECMC in the bankruptcy courts against people like Janet Roth or Alexandra Acosta-Conniff.  I would ask myself whether I am serving the interests of justice by helping ECMC deprive honest but unfortunate college-loan borrowers a fresh start in life.

But I don't imagine ECMC's attorneys ask themselves that question. And I doubt whether they have trouble sleeping at night. After all, the lawyers have their own student loans to pay off; and everyone has to make a living.


Note: A quick search in the Westlaw data base turned up 557 cases in which Educational Credit Management Corporation appeared as a named party.


References

Fossey, R. & Cloud, R. C. (2015). Tidings of comfort and joy: In an astonishingly compassionate decision, a bankruptcy judge discharged the student loans of an Alabama school teacher who acted as her own attorney. Teachers College Record Online, tcrecord.org. ID Number 18040. 

ECMC v. Acosta-Conniff, 550 BR 557 (M.D. Ala. 2016).

In re Roth, 490 B.R. 908 (9th Cir. BAP 2013).

Natalie Kitroeff. Loan Monitor Is Accused of Ruthless Tactics on Student Debt  New York Times, January 1, 2014.





Friday, August 12, 2016

Parents who take out PLUS student loans to pay for their children's college education: Don't be such a fool

I'm sorry, so sorry
That I was such a fool

I'm Sorry (1960)
Sung by Brenda Lee
Lyrics by Dub Allbritten & Ronnie Self

Most country and western songs are about regret: I'm sorry I cheated on my wife; I regret mouthing off to a biker in the honky-tonk, I wish I hadn't shot a man in Reno.

I don't know of any C & W song about student loans, but there should be. A recent survey reported that about 50 percent of student-loan debtors regretted how much they borrowed to go to college. More than a third said they would not have gone to college had they realized what it would cost them.

But the people who are really, really sorry are the parents who took out loans to pay for their children's college education.  If they co-sign a private loan for a child, they are on the hook for it even if their child dies.  And parents will find it is virtually impossible to discharge a co-signed student loan in bankruptcy, whether it is a private loan or a a federally subsidized loan.

In fact, I say this unequivocally: Parents should never borrow money to pay for their child's college education.

Yet our federal government peddles Parent Plus loans--student loans taken out by parents--as a good way to help finance a child's college costs. DOE recently posted a blog telling parents that "PLUS loans are an excellent option if you need money to pay your child's educational expenses," although it cautions that parents need to make sure they understand the loan terms before they take out a PLUS loan.

And what are those terms? DOE's blog posting says that the current interest rate is 6.31 percent and that monthly repayment begins immediately. Monthly PLUS loan payments are not postponed while the child is still in college.

DOE then summarizes various PLUS loan repayment plans, including an income-contingent plan (ICR) that allows parents to pay 20 percent of their discretionary income for 25 years.

Of course it is madness for parents to pay a fifth of their discretionary income for 25 years in order for their child to go to college. There are lots of college options that don't require that kind of sacrifice.

DOE assures parents that any unpaid balance on their PLUS loan will be forgiven after 25 years. But note that DOE doesn't tell parents that they could have a big tax bill for the amount of the loan that is forgiven.

And DOE didn't warn parents that they will find it almost impossible to discharge a PLUS loan in bankruptcy should they run into financial trouble due illness, job loss, or some other financial calamity.

DOE ends its deceptive blog on this cheery note. "Yes, there's lots to consider when it comes to taking out a Direct PLUS loan, but there are many benefits to getting one if you need help paying your child's education."

In fact, there's nothing to consider. If your children can't finance their college education without you going into debt, then they need to develop another plan.

My guess is that a lot of parents take out PLUS loans to help their kids go to some fancy East Coast private school, which is foolish.  If your children cannot afford to go to Harvard or Dartmouth or Amherst without putting you into debt, then they need to enroll at a nearby public university and take a part-time job at McDonald's.

Trust me. You and your children will be better off if you avoid all college options that force Mom and Pop to go into debt. Johnny Cash was sorry he shot that guy in Reno, but he was not any sorrier than you will be if you take out a loan to send your child to college.

Johnny Cash: He shot a man in Reno, but he's really, really sorry.
References

Jessica Dickler. Buyer's College buyer's remorse is real. CNBC News, April 7, 2016. Accessible at http://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/07/college-buyers-remorse-is-real.html

Jessica Dickler. College costs are out of control. CNBc News, July 16, 2016. Accessible at http://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/12/college-costs-are-out-of-control.html

Citizens Bank. Millennial College Graduates with Student Loans Now Spending Nearly One-Fifth of Their Annual Salaries on Student Loan Repayments. April 7, 2016. Accessible at http://investor.citizensbank.com/about-us/newsroom/latest-news/2016/2016-04-07-140336028.aspx

Lisa Rhodes. PLUS Loan Basics for Parents. Homeroom, August 8, 2016. Posted on the Official Blog Of the U.S. Department of Education. Available at http://blog.ed.gov/

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why the Obama administration launched its REPAYE plan: It had no choice

Late last year, the Obama administration's Department of Education launched its eighth student-loan repayment program, labeling it REPAYE.  Very similar to a previous Obama initiative titled PAYE, the REPAYE program allows college-loan borrowers to pay off their student loans over 20 years. The chief new feature of REPAYE is broader eligibility. Nearly every student-loan debtor will qualify to participate in the REPAY program.

Under both PAYE and REPAYE, college-loan debtors make monthly payments based on their income, not the amount they borrowed. Payment rates are established annually, based on the borrower's reported income for the previous year, with payments calculated to equal10 percent of the borrower's discretionary income.

In many ways, REPAYE is a good deal for overburdened student-loan debtors. Monthly payments will be lower than the standard 10-year repayment plan; and payments will be allowed to fluctuate as borrowers' income goes up or down. People who are unemployed or who live at the poverty level won't be required to make any payments at all.

All in all, the Obama administration's latest student-loan program is incredibly generous. In fact, most debtors on the REPAYE plan will be making monthly payments so low that they won't cover accruing interest on their loans. In other words, at the end of the 20-year repayment program, most debtors will still have large balances on their loans, which will be forgiven.  The forgiven amount will be absorbed by taxpayers.

Why did the Obama administration launch REPAYE, which could reasonably criticized as fiscally irresponsible? I will tell you why: it had no choice.

For years, the government has permitted overburdened student-loan debtors to enroll in economic hardship deferment programs and other forbearance plans that allowed borrowers to temporarily skip their monthly student-loan payments. Colleges encouraged this practice as a way to keep their short-term  student-loan default rates down--particularly the for-profit colleges, which needed to keep their default rates below 30 percent in order to continue receiving federal student-aid money.

For some people on these plans, however, the forbearances weren't temporary--they stretched out for years while interest accrued on their original debt. Thus for virtually everyone in a forbearance or deferment program, their loan balances were getting larger with each passing month due to accruing interest.

This phenomenon was documented in a recent Brookings Institution report written by Looney and Yanelis. These scholars found that loan balances were going up, not down, two years into the repayment period for more than half of student-loan borrowers in repayment.

In fact, for millions of people who have had their student loans in nonpayment status for any considerable period of time, it has become virtually impossible to to pay back their loans. This state of affairs drove many debtors into default, which caused their balances to grow even larger due to the penalties and fees that got tacked on to their debt.

President Obama and Arne Duncan could see that there were only two ways out of this morass. Either people must be allowed to file for bankruptcy to discharge their college-loan debt or their loans have to be refinanced to make the monthly payments lower. Since bankruptcy reform is politically impossible, Obama and Duncan chose to launch PAYE and REPAYE.

But there are enormous problems with the Obama administration's fix. First, most people entering PAYE and REPAYE are not enrolling immediately after graduating from college. Most struggle for a few years to make payments under the standard 10-year plan and then enter REPAYE because they can't service their loans. For these people, enrolling in a 20-year repayment plan extends their repayment period out over their entire working lives.

Butler v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, decided earlier this year, illustrates this problem. Beverly Butler struggled for almost 20 years to make payments on loans she took out to get her college degree, which she obtained in 1995. Eventually, she enrolled in a 25-year repayment plan that stretches out her loan repayment period until 2037--42 years after she graduated from college!

And of course the other big problem with PAYE and REPAYE is that most people in these programs are not paying back their loans at all; they are making token payments that don't cover accruing interest. In essence, these programs are designed to disguise the fact that for all practical purposes, people in long-term repayment programs have defaulted on their loans.

This is no small matter. Almost 5 million people are in income-based repayment plans now; and the Department of Education wants to enroll 2 million more by the end of next year. Without question, REPAYE is going to be the default option for most student-loan debtors in the years to come, which is what the Brookings Institution and other higher-education industry insiders want to happen.

In reality, the Obama administration has imposed a tax on most people who borrow money to attend college;  REPAYE participants will be obligated to pay a percentage of their incomes for a majority of their working lives in return for the privilege of going to college.

How ironic. Barack Obama, self-proclaimed friend of the disadvantaged, has established a huge sharecropper program for college goers. Ultimately of course, all Obama did was buy time for the college industry. In the long run, REPAYE can't sustain the status quo. At some time in the not too distant future, higher education as we now know it will collapse.

And the first cards to fall in this house of cards will be the for-profit colleges and the small private liberal arts colleges. Be patient. You don't have long to wait.

Enrollment at four-year for-profit colleges declined 9.3 percent from last year, and the University of Phoenix's enrollment has declined by half from its peak years. The private liberal arts colleges are behaving like a Texas fireworks stand (Buy One, Get One Free!!), discounting tuition for first-time freshman by 48 percent.

The end is near.

 References

Erin E. Arvedlund. A new way, REPAYE, to get out of college debt. Philadelphia Inquirer, March 29, 2016. http://articles.philly.com/2016-03-29/business/71877131_1_income-based-repayment-plan-loan-debt-standard-repayment-plan.

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 rates. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution (2015). Accessible at: http://www.brookings.edu/about/projects/bpea/papers/2015/looney-yannelis-student-loan-defaults

Rick Seltzer. Discount rates rise yet again at private colleges and universities. Inside Higher Ed, May 16, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/05/16/discount-rates-rise-yet-again-private-colleges-and-universities.

Kelly Woodhouse. (2015, November 25). Discount Much? Inside Higher Ed. Accessible at: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/11/25/what-it-might-mean-when-colleges-discount-rate-tops-60-percent?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=389f6fe14e-DNU20151125&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-389f6fe14e-198565653

Enrollments slide, particularly for older students. Inside Higher Ed, May 24, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/05/24/enrollments-slide-particularly-older-students?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=74ec3a191d-DNU20160524&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-74ec3a191d-198564813




Monday, May 23, 2016

A liberal arts degree is not worth much: Don't borrow a lot of money to pay for one

Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the f-cking Peace Corps."

Bluto (played by John Belushi)
Animal House

Americans cling to the touchingly pathetic belief that a college degree will improve their lives. And it is true that people who graduate from college make more money over their lifetimes than people who only have high school diplomas.

But in many instances, a college degree represents nothing more than an individual's dogged tenacity and willingness to sit through four years of meaningless classes--traits that make college graduates adaptable to the sterility and boredom of the American workplace.

That's not always true, of course. I feel quite sure that people who get degrees in engineering, journalism, and the health professions often learn valuable skills.  

But a degree in the liberal arts or the social sciences is highly overrated as a ticket to a good job. Reflecting back more than 40 years from my time at Oklahoma State University ("the Princeton of the Prairies"), I realize I learned more about how to make my way in the world from delivering newspapers as a 12-year-old for the Anadarko Daily News than I did from any of my college courses.

And I received much more vocational guidance from my father than from any college professor. Not that my father gave a damn about what I would do for a living when I left home. But after holding down several hundred bull calves while he castrated them with his Schrade pocket knife, I came to the firm conviction that I would never make it as a cattleman.

At one time, going to college was a relatively harmless activity. Rattling around a campus for four (or five, or six) years didn't do young people much harm other than delay their entrance into remunerative employment. And no question about it--studying for exams improves people's short-term memory.

But things have changed. Today, making the wrong choices about going to college can lead to a lifetime of economic hardship, at least for people who borrow too much money to pay for their college education.

What can go wrong about obtaining a liberal arts education, you might ask?  Here are some mistakes that many people make:

1) Getting a liberal arts degree from a for-profit college. By and large, for-profit colleges are more expensive than public schools; so if you attend a for-profit college you will probably borrow more money than if you attended a public institution. And the for-profits have high default rates. According to a Brookings Institution report, almost half of the people in  a recent cohort who borrowed to attend a for-profit school defaulted on their loans within five years. Thus, attending a for-profit college increases the risk of default.

So if you want to get a degree in sociology, history, literature, or women's studies, you should probably get it at a public university--even a mediocre one--rather than pursue a liberal arts degree at a for-profit institution.

2) Paying the sticker price to attend a prestigious private college.  Private colleges are more expensive than public colleges, but they are now discounting their tuition drastically. In fact, the average institutional discount rate at private colleges was 48.6 percent for first-time freshmen in 2015-2016. And the discount rate for all students attending private schools was 42.5 percent.

So don't pay the sticker price to attend a fancy private college. Keep in mind that many private schools are scrambling to keep their enrollments up, and they need you more than you need them.

3) Doubling down by going to graduate school without a clear idea how a graduate degree will improve your earning potential. About 40 percent of all outstanding student-loan debt was acquired by people who went to graduate school. Graduate education in some fields has become outrageously expensive--especially for law degrees and MBAs. But graduate degrees in the liberal arts are also pricey.

There was a time when graduate school was a reasonable default option for people with no clear vocational goal. Graduate school was a respectful place for people to park themselves while they decided what they wanted to do with their lives. And opportunity costs were relatively low because tuition was often low--particularly at public colleges.

But the game has changed. Individuals who borrow money to get a liberal arts education and then borrow more money to go to graduate school are playing Russian Roulette with their financial futures; and they're playing with three bullets in their revolvers. Don't go to graduate school unless you have a clear idea about how a graduate degree will lead to a job that pays well enough to make the investment worthwhile.

Beware: A liberal arts degree is no sure path to a middle-class lifestyle

In sum, a liberal arts degree provides no sure path to making a living, and borrowing a lot of money to get a liberal arts education can lead to financial disaster. It is a fine thing to know a little Shakespeare and to be able to identify the causes of Thirty Years' War; and it's nice to talk literature with the swells. But if you leave college with a hundred grand in student loans, you will find that the liberal arts degree you acquired didn't enhance your life; in fact, it might have destroyed it.

Image result for bluto in animal house
"Seven years of college down the drain . . . ."

References

Rick Seltzer. Discount rates rise yet again at private colleges and universities. Inside Higher Ed, May 16, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/05/16/discount-rates-rise-yet-again-private-colleges-and-universities

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Educational Credit Management Corporation v. Acosta-Conniff; A lifetime of Indebtedness is the future for most college borrowers

James Howard Kunstler wrote one of his best essays recently about America's opioid epidemic., and he began his essay with this observation:
 While the news waves groan with stories about "America's Opioid Epidemic," you may discern that there is little effort to actually understand what's behind it, namely the fact that life in the United States has become unspeakably depressing, empty, and purposeless for a large class of citizens.
Kunstler went on to describe life in small town and rural America: the empty store fronts, abandoned houses, neglected fields, and "the parasitical national chain stores like tumors at the edge of every town."

Kunstler also commented about people's physical appearance in backwater America: "prematurely old, fattened and sickened by bad food made to look and taste irresistible to con those sick in despair." And he also described how many people living in the forgotten America spend their time: "trash television, addictive computer games, and their own family melodramas concocted to give some narrative meaning to lives otherwise bereft of event or effort."

There are no jobs in flyover America. No wonder opioid addiction has become epidemic in the old American heartland. No wonder death rates are going up for working-class white Americans--spiked by suicide, alcohol and drug addiction.

I myself come from the desperate heartland Kunstler described. Anadarko, Oklahoma, county seat of Caddo County, made the news awhile back due to four youth suicides in quick succession--all accomplished with guns. Caddo County, shaped liked the state of Utah, can easily be spotted on the New York Times map showing where drug deaths are highest in the United States. Appalachia, Oklahoma, the Rio Grande Valley, and yes--Caddo County have the nation's highest death rates caused by drugs.

Why? Kunstler puts his finger on it: "These are the people who have suffered their economic and social roles in life to be stolen from them. They do not work at things that matter.They have no prospect for a better life . . . ."

Now here is the point I wish to make. These Americans, who now live in despair, once hoped for a better life. There was a spark of buoyancy and optimism in these people when they were young. They believed then--and were incessantly encouraged to believe--that education would improve their economic situation. If they just got a degree from an overpriced, dodgy for-profit college or a technical certificate from a mediocre trade school, or maybe just a bachelor's degree from the obscure liberal arts college down the road--they would spring into the middle class.

Postsecondary education, these pathetic fools believed, would deliver them into ranch-style homes, perhaps with a swimming pool in the backyard; into better automobiles, into intact and healthy families that would put their children into good schools.

And so these suckers took out student loans to pay for bogus educational experiences, often not knowing the interest rate on the money they borrowed or the payment terms. Without realizing it, they signed covenants not to sue--covenants written in type so small and expressed in language so obscure they did not realize they were signing away their right to sue for fraud even as they were being defrauded.

And a great many people who embarked on these quixotic educational adventures did not finish the educational programs they started, or they finished them and found the degrees or certificates they acquired did not lead to good jobs. So they stopped paying on their loans and were put into default.

And then the loan collectors arrived--reptilian agencies like Educational Credit Management Corporation or Navient Services.  The debt collectors added interest and penalties to the amount the poor saps borrowed, and all of a sudden, they owed twice what they borrowed, or maybe three times what they borrowed. Or maybe even four times what they borrowed.

Does this scenario--repeated millions of time across America over the last 25 years--drive people to despair? Does it drive them to drug addiction, to alcoholism, to suicide?

Of course not. And even if it does, who the hell cares?

References

James Howard Kunstler. The National Blues. Clusterfuck Nation, April 28, 2017.

Sarah Kaplan.'It has brought us to our knees': Small Okla. town reeling from suicide epidemicWashington Post, January 25, 2016.

Natalie Kitroeff. Loan Monitor Is Accused of Ruthless Tactics on Student DebtNew York Times, January 1, 2014.

Gina Kolata and Sarah Cohen. Drug Overdoses Propel Rise in Mortality Rates of Young Whites. New York Times, January 16, 2016.







Friday, February 26, 2016

Student Loan Debtors and the Presidential Race: Hillary still has an opportunity to win over young voteers

Hillary Clinton devastated Bernie Sanders in the South Carolina Democratic Primary election. As Bernie candidly admitted, the Sanders team was "decimated." The only good news, he said, was this: Bernie beat Hillary among voters age 29 and younger.

Hillary talks herself hoarse telling voters how much she has done for them and much more she will do if she is elected President. But young people don't buy it. Essentially, they see her as an elderly political hack who sucks up to the banks.

But Hillary can still make headway with young voters if she would only promise some tangible and substantive reforms to the student-loan program. After all, there are 43 million Americans with outstanding student-loan debt; and most of them are young.

What could she promise? How about this:

1) "If elected president, I will instruct the IRS to draft regulations specifying that forgiven student-loan debt is not taxable."  

Under current law, about 4 million people are in income-based repayment plans, and most of them are seeing their total debt grow larger with each passing month due to accruing interest. When they complete their long-term repayment plans (after 20 or 25 years), their loan balances will be forgiven, but the forgiven amount will considered taxable income by the IRS. This is a real problem for people in income-based repayment plans. Why not just fix that problem with an IRS regulation?

2) "If elected president, my Department of Education will enact regulations that will cut off federal funding to any for-profit college that forces students to sign a promise not to sue the college for fraud or misrepresentation. And I will instruct the Department of Justice to cooperate with State Attorney Generals who are investigating and suing for-profit colleges that exploit students."

This promise demonstrates nothing more than common decency and would be well received by young people.

3) "When I am your president, the government will stop garnishing Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters. And my administration will not oppose bankruptcy relief for elderly student-loan defaulters who are living below the poverty level."

There is nothing radical about this proposition. In fact, last month, in Precht v. U.S. Department of Education, DOE agreed to bankruptcy discharge of an elderly person's student-loan debt and stopped garnishing his Social Security check.

4) "My administration will renegotiate all contracts with student-loan debt collectors like Educational Credit Management Corporation. All these entities will be required to disclose the salaries of their executives and employees. They will also be required to disclose their profits. And I will eliminate the penalties and fees that the collection agencies have been charging distressed student-loan borrowers."

The beauty of these promises is this. All the reforms I listed could be implemented by President Hillary Clinton on the day she takes office. None of them require congressional approval.  And even if they did require statutory changes, what federal legislator would say no to these modest reforms if President Hillary asked for them?

If Hillary made these promises, she would demonstrate that she understands the magnitude of the student-loan crisis and that she  plans to take energetic action to grant some relief.  But my prediction is this: Hillary won't promise any substantive reforms of the student loan program because Goldman Sachs and the banks would disapprove. And that--in a nutshell--is why young people are not voting for Hillary.

References

Natalie Kitroeff. Loan Monitor is Accused of Ruthless Tactics on Student Debt. New York Times, January 1. 2014. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/us/loan-monitor-is-accused-of-ruthless-tactics-on-student-debt.html?_r=0

Stephen Burd. Signing Away Rights. Inside Higher Ed, December 17, 2013. Available at https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2013/12/17/essay-questions-mandatory-arbitration-clauses-students-profit-higher-education

Ashley A. Smith. U.S. Urged to Deny Aid to For-Profits That Force Arbitration. Inside Higher Ed, February 24, 2016. Available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/02/24/us-urged-deny-aid-profits-force-arbitration?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=183bc9e3a3-DNU20160224&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-183bc9e3a3-198565653

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Nightingale case: Elderly student-loan debtors need a swifter process for bankruptcy relief

Nightingale v. North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority, decided last month. demonstrates how difficult it is for distressed student-loan debtors to obtain bankruptcy relief--even if they are elderly and in poor health.

The Nightingale case: A 67-year-old retired teacher with chronic health problems seeks to discharge her student loans in bankruptcy

Alice Nightingale took out about $48,000 in student loans when she was in her late 50s to obtain a master's degree that would allow her to obtain a job as a public school teacher. Due to serious health issues, she went on disability leave in 2012 and received monthly disability benefits until she retired in  June  of 2014. After retiring, she lived on an income of $1,645 a month, consisting of Social Security income and state retirement benefits.

In June 2013, Nightingale filed for bankruptcy and received a discharge. She then filed an adversary complaint in the bankruptcy court to discharge her student loans.  North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA), Nightingale's student-loan creditor, filed for summary judgment in 2014, arguing she was eligible for a long-term income-based repayment plan that would obligate her to pay zero on her student loans. Since paying nothing would not be an undue hardship on her, NCSEAA maintained, Nightingale was not entitled to a bankruptcy discharge.

Fortunately for Nightingale, Judge Benjamin A. Kahn, a North Carolina bankruptcy judge, denied NCSEAA's motion, pointing out that the creditor's reasoning would mean that the people who are most worthy of bankruptcy relief could never get it. Furthermore, the judge pointed out,"Participation in such a 'repayment' program in which [Nightingale's]  monthly payment is zero is not repayment at all; rather, the loan continues to accrue interest on the principal without any repayment. At the end of the twenty-five year period, [Nightingale's] loans may be forgiven, but that amount, on which interest has been accruing, may become taxable as income."

The case then went to trial, and Judge Kahn entered his decision on January 16, 2016. The judge ruled that Nightingale met two prongs of the three-pronged Brunner test. First, she could not pay back her loans and maintain a minimal standard of living. Indeed, Judge Kahn ruled, "the unrebutted evidence demonstrated that [Nightingale] is currently incapable of making any material payment on the debts while maintaining a minimal standard of living."

Brunner's second prong required Nightingale to show that she had made good faith efforts to pay back her loan.  Judge Kahn ruled that she met this prong as well. Nightingale had paid about $11,000 on he loans and was currently making income-based payments of $133 a month.

To obtain a bankruptcy discharge of her student loan, Nightingale was also required to pass the third-prong of the Brunner test by showing that exceptional circumstances prevented her from paying back her student loans in the future. In other words, she was obligated to show a "certainty of hopelessness" regarding her long-term financial circumstances.

Judge Kahn admitted that Nightingale's testimony supported a finding of exceptional circumstances. "Nightingale is elderly, has no job prospect in the field for which she was educated, lives on a meager budget, relies upon friends and family to provide shelter, and testified that she has additional medical disabilities that prevent her from returning to gainful employment." In fact, NCSEAA agreed that Nightingale's current situation was dire "and that she is barely able to remain healthy and in affordable housing, much less hold down a job."

But Judge Kahn ruled that Nightingale's own testimony about her chronic health problems was insufficient to show long-term financial distress without corroborating evidence. The judge indicated that corroborating evidence in the form of a letter from Nightingale's doctor about her health status would probably be sufficient and gave her 14 days to produce such a letter or other corroborating evidence of her health problems.

What is the significance of the Nightingale decision?

The Nightingale decision is significant for two reasons. First, Judge Benjamin Kahn flatly rejected a student-loan creditor's argument that Nightingale was ineligible for bankruptcy relief because she could enroll in a long-term income-based repayment plan that would require her to pay nothing due to her limited income. Had Judge Kahn adopted NCSEAA's argument, no student-loan debtor would be eligible for bankruptcy relief, at least not in Judge Kahn's court.

Second, the Nightingale decision demonstrates the difficulty distressed student loan debtors have when trying to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. First, Nightingale had to defeat NCSEAA's summary judgment motion, which took months to resolve. Second, she was required to round up corroborating evidence of her chronic health problems.

In many circumstances, it is entirely appropriate for a bankruptcy judge to require a student-loan debtor to provide proof of chronic health issues. As Judge Kahn correctly observed, when health problems are not obvious, corroborating evidence is necessary to avoid the possibility of fabrication and fraud.

But Alice Nightingale is 67 years old! She went on disability leave until she retired in 2014 and now lives on an income of only $1645 a month. Why was it necessary for her to provide corroborating evidence that chronic health issues prevent her from increasing her income in the future?

I don't mean to be too hard on Judge Kahn. He was obviously sympathetic to Nightingale's situation. After all, he denied NCSEAA's motion for summary judgment, and he gave Nightingale time to provide supporting evidence of her chronic health problems.  I feel sure the judge will ultimately discharge Nightingale's student-loan debt.

Nevertheless, when an elderly person living on a small pension and a Social Security check comes into bankruptcy court to discharge her student loans, I believe she is entitled to a speedy discharge. Unfortunately for Alice Nightingale, her adversary proceeding lasted more than two years. And her case may still not be behind her. If Judge Kahn discharges her student-loan debt, as seems likely, NCSEAA may appeal.

References

Nightingale v. North Carolina State Educ. Assistance Authority, 543 B.R. 538 (Bankr. M.D.N.C. 2016) (ruling requiring Nightingale to provide corroborating evidence of her chronic health problems).

Nightingale v. North Carolina State Educ. Assistance Authority, 529 B.R. 641 (Bankr. M.D.N.C. 2015) (ruling on NCSEAA's motion for summary judgment).

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dead in the Water: Many students who default on their loans will be sucked into a financial abyss with no means of saving themselves (Reflections on Bible v. United Student Aid Funds, Inc.)

Saving Private Ryan, directed by Steven Spielberg, realistically depicts American soldiers landing in Normandy on D Day, June 6, 1941. As the film accurately represented, many soldiers were killed as they left their landing craft, cut down by machine guns or artillery fire before they ever set foot on the beaches.

Something similar happens to people who default on their student loans. From the moment their student loans go into default, they are dead in the water.

Bible v. United Student Aid Funds, Inc. illustrates my point. Bryana Bible borrowed $18,000 to finance her college studies. She defaulted in 2012, but she promptly agreed to a rehabilitation agreement that allowed her to make reduced monthly payments of only $50 a month. The interest rate on her rehabilitated loan was set at 6.8 percent.

Although Bible faithfully abided by the terms of the rehabilitation agreement, a loan guarantee agency assessed $4,547.44 in "collection costs" against her, increasing her total indebtedness to more than $22,500. When Bible began making $50 monthly loan payments, the guarantee agency applied the payments to the collection costs, not the loan's principal.

In short, Bryana Bible was dead in the water. It would take her more than seven years just to pay off the collection costs on her debt. In the meantime, her loan balance would be accruing interest at the rate of 6.8 percent!

Bible sued the guarantee agency for fraud and racketeering, alleging she had been told that costs against her were zero.  Last August, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that she has a valid cause of action.

The Seventh Circuit's decision is quite long--57 pages including a concurring opinion and a dissent.  But it is not necessary to read the court's lengthy legal analysis to understand what happens to people who default on their student loans, even briefly.

People who default on their loans can get slapped with collection fees amounting to 25 percent of their loan balance, and they can be put in repayment plans that cause their loan balances to go up because the payments aren't being applied to the principal of their loans.

Once student-loan debtors fall into the clutches of the loan guarantee agencies, most of them can never get free.  Collection costs, accrued interest and various fees get added to their loan balances, and their loan balances go up--not down.

That's why we see distressed student-loan debtors stumbling into the bankruptcy courts owing two or three times the amount they borrowed. And who do they meet when they get to bankruptcy court? Attorneys for the loan guarantee agencies, who argue stridently that these poor souls are not entitled to bankruptcy relief.

Bryana Bible's story would be a shocking even if her circumstances were unique. But there are millions of Americans who are unable to pay off their student loans, and most of them are seeing their loan balances go up with each passing month.

Whether it intended to do so or not, Congress created a federal student loan program that benefits the finance industry and pushes millions of student loan debtors into a financial abyss from which there is no escape. The program has destroyed higher education as a moral enterprise and created a modern-day class of sharecroppers who will be indebted to the government for their entire lives.

It will take courage to fix this problem, but we can't look for courage from Congress or from our higher education leaders. I am convinced the only way to bring down this putrid, sleazy flim-flam game is for distressed student-loan debtors to march into bankruptcy court--with or without lawyers--and cry out for justice.

References

Bible v. United Student Aid Funds, Inc., 799 F.3d 633 (7th Cir. 2015).


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Interest, fees and penalties are burying millions of student-loan debtors--not the amount these poor people borrowed to go to college

Sometimes, huge problems can be analyzed best by simply boiling down the complexity of a situation into a simple phrase.  For example, "It's the economy, stupid," crafted by Democratic political strategist James Carville, summarized a central theme of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign.

Likewise, we can summarize at least one huge element of the student-loan crisis by focusing on one core fact: accrued interest, penalties and fees are burying millions of student-loan debtors, not the amount of money these poor people borrowed to attend college.

For example, I have a friend on the East Coast who borrowed a total of about $55,000 to obtain a bachelor's degree and a graduate degree; and he paid nearly $14,000 on those loans.  Unfortunately, my friend suffered a series of unfortunate life events--health issues, divorce, and job loss.  Now at age 67, he is living entirely on Social Security and a small pension. The Department of Education is garnishing his meager retirement income, and he is living on only $1200 a month.

A few weeks ago, my friend filed an adversary complaint in bankruptcy court, seeking to discharge his student-loan debt based on the Bankruptcy Code's "undue hardship" provision. Guess how much the government says he owes? $120,000--including accrued interest and $23,000 in collection costs. That's more than twice the amount my friend borrowed.

And this case is not atypical. In Halverson v. U.S. Department of Education, Stephen Halverson borrowed about $132,000 to obtain two master's degrees. Just as with my East Coast friend, life happened for Mr. Halverson: a job loss, serious health issues, a divorce, medical expenses for a child, and expenses incurred to care for an aging parent.

At times, Mr. Halverson was unable to make payments on his student loans, but he obtained a series of economic hardship deferment, and he was never in default.  Nevertheless, when Halverson was in his 60s, it was clear he could never pay back his student loan debt. By the time he filed for bankruptcy, his total deb had ballooned to almost $300,000--more than twice the amount he had borrowed. And Mr. Halverson's job at that time only paid $13.50 an hour.

Various public-policy analysts have argued that there is no student-loan crisis because most people borrow relatively modest amounts of money--typically about the amount of a car loan. But these analysts ignore two key facts:

1) Even a small student loan is a huge burden for someone who doesn't have a job or who has a low-income job.

2) People who are unable to make their monthly loan payments must obtain an economic hardship deferments or enter a long-term repayment plan in order to avoid default. And both options mean that the debtor's loan balance goes up due to accruing interest.

Thus we see people like Liz Kelly, featured in a recent New York Times article, who owes $410,000 on her student loans, far more than she borrowed to attend college and graduate school. Today, at age 48, the annual interest cost on her indebtedness is more than the entire amount she borrowed to obtain her bachelor's degree!

And I know a man in California who borrowed around $70,000 to finance his education, and paid back about $40,000. Now the Department of Education claims he owes more than $300,000, including a one-time penalty assessed in the amount of $59,000! That one penalty is more than 80 percent of the entire amount he borrowed!

Surely it should be apparent to everyone--even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Obama and Congress--that adding interest, fees and penalties to people's student-loan debt only increases the likelihood of default.

The higher education industry and the Department of Education have embraced economic-hardship deferments and long-term repayment plans because both programs hide the fact that millions of people can't pay off their student loans.

Does anyone think, for example, that Liz Kelly, who was unable to pay back the $25,000 she borrowed to get an undergraduate degree, will ever pay back the $410,000 she currently owes.? Does anyone think my East Coast friend, who is living on about $1,200 a month, will ever pay back $120,000?

Like a seething volcano about to erupt, pressure is building on the federal student loan program. Currently, about 41 million Americans owe a total of $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans. Let's face it: at least half that amount will never be paid back.



References

Kevin Carey. (2015, November 29). Lend With a Smile, Collect With a Fist. New York Times, Sunday Business Section, 1. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/29/upshot/student-debt-in-america-lend-with-a-smile-collect-with-a-fist.html?_r=0


Halverson v. U.S. Department of Education, 401 B.R. 378 (Bankr. D. Minn. 2009).

Sunday, December 6, 2015

In the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Catholics Should Urge the Government to Forgive Student-Loan Debt

According to Old Testament scripture, a jubilee year occurs every fifty years; and in that year, slaves are freed and debts are forgiven. Leviticus 25:8-13. Pope Francis has proclaimed a Jubilee Year of Mercy for the Catholic Church that begins on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Would not this be a good time for the  U.S. government to forgive  $1.3 trillion in student-loan debt?

Perhaps not all of it. Of the 41 million people who have outstanding student loans, a great many received good value for their college education and can pay back what they borrowed. But 10 million people have either defaulted on their student loans or are delinquent in their payments. Millions more have gotten economic hardship deferments and aren't paying down their loans.

And for some people, their student loan debt is completely out of control. Liz Kelly, for example, featured in a recent New York Times article, is a 48-year old school teacher who owes $410,000 in student-loan debt--most of it accumulated interest. Will she ever pay it back? Not likely.

A 2014 law review article reported that 241,000 people with student-loan debt filed for bankruptcy in 2007, but less than 300 of them even tried to discharge their student loans. Either they figured it would be hopeless to try wipe out their student-loan debt in the bankruptcy courts or they didn't have the money to hire a lawyer to assist them.

And yet, as Paul Campos explained on his blog site and in a recent book,  we have thousands of unemployed or underemployed attorneys, many of whom have crushing student-loan debt themselves. Why doesn't the government, as an act of mercy, encourage these idle lawyers to help people discharge their student loans in bankruptcy?

Mercy, Pope Francis reminds us demands justice. "True mercy, the mercy God gives to us and teaches us, demands justice, it demands that the poor find a way to be poor no longer," Pope Francis explained. Mercy demands that institutions strive to make sure that "no one ever again stands in need of a soup-kitchen, of makeshift lodgings, of a service of legal assistance in order to have his legitimate right recognized to live and to work, to be fully a person."

Our country now has 23 million people who are unable to pay off their student-loan debt.  Indeed, about 150,000 elderly people are having their Social Security checks garnished by the federal government to offset unpaid student loans. For these people there is no Jubilee Year of Mercy--no forgiveness, and little relief even in the bankruptcy courts.

We are now a secular people--a people who pride themselves on having driven religion out of the schools and the public square. But surely we are not a heartless people. Surely our hearts are susceptible to warming by the words of a great man like Pope Francis.

So let us do mercy in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. And if our government is incapable of mercy, let us look for ways we as individuals can render mercy and to work for a system of higher education that does not drive millions of students into the poor house.

Image result for pope francis year of mercy

Friday, October 16, 2015

All Student Loan Debtors Should Read Natalie Kitroeff's Recent Online Article in BloombergBusiness.Com

Every distressed student-loan debtor should read Natalie Kitroeff's recent article in BloombergBusiness.com about Murphy v. U.S. Department of Education and Educational Credit Management Corporation, now pending before the First Circuit Court of Appeals.  And any student-loan debtor who is trying to discharge a student loan in bankruptcy should read the amicus brief filed in that case by the National Consumer Law Center and the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

The essence of the Murphy case can be summarized in a few words. Robert Murphy took out federal PLUS loans (student loans taken out by parents to pay their children's college costs), but he lost his job as the president of a manufacturing firm.  He's been unemployed for 13 years--too old, he says, to find comparable employment and overqualified for lower-paying jobs in his field.

Today, Murphy is 65 years old, and his total student-loan indebtedness has grown to almost a quarter of a million dollars due to accumulated interest. He and his wife are living on an income of $15,000 a year, which his wife earns working as a teachers aide.

Murphy filed for bankruptcy, seeking relief from his PLUS loans, but a bankruptcy court refused to discharge the debt. Like so many debtors who try to shed their student loans in bankruptcy, Murphy is acting as his own attorney.  His case is now on appeal before the First Circuit.

Murphy hopes to persuade the First Circuit to abandon the harsh Brunner test for determining when it would be an "undue hardship" for insolvent debtors to be forced to repay their student loans. That test requires debtors to show that they cannot repay their student loans and maintain a minimal standard of living, that their financial circumstances aren't likely to change soon, and that they made good faith efforts to repay their loans.

In the Ninth Circuit BAP Court's Roth decision, Judge Pappas filed a concurring opinion arguing that the Brunner test no longer makes sense. He pointed out that the Brunner test was devised at a time when student-loan debtors could discharge their student loans without restriction after a relatively short period of time--after five or seven years.

Today, Judge Pappas explained, student-loan debtors hold a trillion dollars in outstanding student-loan debt. And Congress amended the Bankruptcy Code so that insolvent debtors must prove "undue hardship" no matter when they file for bankruptcy, even if it is decades after the loans were taken out.

John Rao, attorney for the National Consumer Law Center, filed a brilliant amicus brief in support of Murphy, arguing that the Brunner test should be overturned. Rafael Pardo, a nationally renowned legal scholar from Emory Law School, also filed an amicus brief in support of Murphy's position.

If the First Circuit rules in Murphy's favor, bankruptcy might become a viable option for millions of distressed student-loan debtors. And if that happens, the world will turn upside down for the federal government, the federal student-loan program, and the colleges and universities that have feasted off of student-aid money without regard to whether their students could pay off their student loans.

Kitroeff's article pointed out that total outstanding indebtedness has doubled in just seven years. At the current rate of growth, total indebtedness will double again within 10 years, ballooning to well over two trillion dollars.

Let's all say a prayer for Robert Murphy and the two amicus attorneys who came to his aid: John Rao and Rafael Pardo. Ten million people are now delinquent on their student loans or are in default, and nine million more hold deferments or forbearances that temporarily excuse them from making payments.  Almost 4 million people are making payments under income-based repayment plans, which means total indebtedess for most of them is going up, not down, because their loan payments don't cover accruing interest.

This situation can't go on forever, and Robert Murphy may be the guy that ushers in relief for millions of fellow sufferers.  If you are a student-loan debtor in bankruptcy, you must read the amicus briefs in the Murphy case and get the arguments made in those briefs before your bankruptcy judge. Mr. Murphy, Mr. Rao, and Mr. Pardo are on the side of the angels, and I think their arguments will be persuasive to many bankruptcy judges around the United States regardless of what the First Circuit does.

References

Amicus Brief filed by National Consumer Law Center and National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys in Support of Appellant (Robert Murphy) in Murphy v. U.S. Department of Education & Educational Credit Management Corporation. (Written by John Rao, esq.) Accessible at: https://www.nclc.org/images/pdf/bankruptcy/brief-murphy-1st-cir-amicus.pdf

Amicus Brief filed by Rafael Pardo, arguing for reversal of District Court's decision in Murphy v. U.S. Department of education and Educational Credit Management Corporation. Accessible at: http://www.businessweek.com/pdfs/murphy-pardo-brief.pdf

Natalie Kitroeff. This Court Case Could Unshackle Americans From Student Debt. BloombergBusiness.com, October 8, 2015. Accessible at:  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-08/this-court-case-could-unshackle-americans-from-student-debt

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Student Loan Forgiveness for Students Who Attended One of the Schools Owned by Corinthian Colleges: I Recommend Chiang Kai-Shek's Fire Hose Approach

Chiang Kai-shek was the  leader of the Nationalist government of China for many years, but he was also a Methodist of sorts. I read somewhere that he once baptized his soldiers en masse, using a fire hose.  I'm not sure that story is true, but I like to think of all those Chinese soldiers who became Methodists. I'm sure it did them a world of good.

Regardless of the truth of that story, I believe the Department of Education should adopt Chiang Kai-shek's  fire-hose technique when designing a student-loan forgiveness program for all the people who attended one of  institutions operated by Corinthian Colleges--which is now bankrupt.


Chiang Kai-shek(蔣中正).jpg
Chiang Kai-shek: Did he baptize his troops with a fire hose?
The Department of Education is designing a process whereby students who attended a Corinthian campus can apply for loan forgiveness, which at least some of them are legally entitled to do due to Corinthian's shutdown. According to the New York Times, DOE estimates that 350,000 people attended one of the Corinthian  campuses over the past five years. If all of them apply for loan forgiveness and receive debt relief, it will cost taxpayers $3.5 billion.

In the past, DOE has utilized a cumbersome loan-forgiveness process for  students who attended colleges that closed, and DOE says that only 6 percent of students who were eligible for debt relief due to a college closure  actually applied for that relief (as reported in the New York Times).


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan promises a streamlined loan-forgiveness process for former Corinthian students. "We will make this process as easy as possible for them, including by considering claims in groups wherever possible" Duncan said.


But why make Corinthian students jump through hoops to have their student loans forgiven--any hoops at all? Why not adopt Chiang Kai-shek's methods and forgive all those loans en masse? I agree with Luke Herrine, a member of the Debt Collective, who argued that all Corinthian students should be given "blanket relief."


Why give blanket loan -forgiveness to former Corinthian students? First of all, the government is not going to get that money back anyway. In all likelihood, a majority of Corinthian students will either default on their loans or apply for economic-hardship status that will exempt them from making loan payments until they get on their feet financially, which for many Corinthian victims will be never.


Second, the Department of Education is morally responsible for the mess it created by shoveling student-aid money to for-profit colleges that paid their executives lavish salaries while delivering substandard educational programs. A quarter of all student-aid money goes to for-profit colleges, which have the highest default rates. 


The for-profits have kept this shell game going by hiring lobbyists to represent their interests, employing lawyers to file lawsuits to stop DOE's regulatory efforts, and making campaign contributions to strategic members of Congress.  In fact, Corinthian's bankruptcy filings lists its lobbyists as some of its creditors.

No, DOE needs to spray all these students with a metaphorical fire hose, forgiving Corinthian's former students' loans through executive action. These unfortunate folk have been through enough. Duncan shouldn't make them fill out any more forms in order to rid themselves of student-loans they took out to attend one of Corinthian's colleges.



References


Tamar Lewin. Government to Forgive Student Loans at Corinthian. New York Times, June 9, 2015, p. A11.


Help for Victims of College Fraud (Editorial). New York Times, June 10, 2015, p. A24.