Showing posts with label income-based repayment plan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label income-based repayment plan. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Woman enrolls in low-ranked law school, accumulates massive debt, and is academically dismissed only three credit hours from getting her degree: Is that fair?

 Jill Stevenson enrolled at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 2002. She completed 87 credit hours toward completing her degree, but she was "academically dismissed" because her GPA dropped in her last year of study.

Stevenson took out student loans to pay for her legal education and entered an income-based repayment plan (IBRP) in 2006. This plan required her to make monthly payments on her student debt for 25 years. She made her payments faithfully for 14 years--a remarkable achievement. But her loan balance grew larger with each passing month because of accruing interest.

By the time she filed for bankruptcy and tried to get her student loans discharged, she owed the U.S. Department of Education $116,000, and the debt would continue growing until she finished her IBRP in 1931.  At that time, her student loans would be forgiven, but the forgiven amount is considered taxable income. Thus, when she is in her sixties, Miss Stevenson will face a huge tax bill.

This is a sad outcome, made sadder perhaps because Thomas M. Cooley has been ranked as one of the worst law schools in the United States.  Don't take my word for it.

Garrett Parker, writing for Money Inc., ranked Cooley as one of the 20 worst law schools in the United States in 2019. Parker said Cooley made the worst-law-school list "with flying colors."

Staci Zaretsky, writing for Above the Law (a terrific blog site) in 2018, listed Cooley as one of the ten worst law schools in the nation. In 2018, Zaretsky reported, Cooley admitted 86 percent of its applicants, including 135 students who scored in the bottom 12 percent on their LSAT tests. Cooley was the 2017 defending champion for worst law school, Zaretsky noted drily.

You want another take? David Frakt, "who serve[d] as chair of the National Advisory Council for Law School Transparency, [wrote] that 2017 defending champion Western Michigan University Thomas Cooley Law School repeats for 2018, claiming the number 1 spot on the list of bottom 10 schools."

My point is not to knock Cooley Law School--other people are doing an excellent job of that without my help. But let's think about Jill Stevenson.

Even if she graduated from Cooley, her prospects in the legal field would not have been bright. She made a smart decision to take a job as a paralegal. 

Nevertheless, Cooley dismissed her when she was three credit hours short of graduation. And all that student-loan money Stevenson paid the law school--Cooley kept that money.

And then the U.S. Department of Education shows up to fight her plea for bankruptcy relief, claiming she shouldn't have her student loans forgiven because she smokes cigarettes and cares for a disabled grandson.

This is the way Great Britain treated debtors in Charles Dickens's time. I thought America was better than that.

*****

Note: According to Inside Higher Ed, Thomas M. Cooley Law School affiliated with Western Michigan University in 2013 and changed its name to "Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. In November 2020, Western Michigan University's board of trustees voted to end its affiliation with the Cooley Law School. The disassociation will take three years to finalize. 






Monday, November 30, 2020

Hlady v. Educational Credit Management Corporation: Another Heartless Bankruptcy Judge Denies Relief to a Distressed Student-Loan Debtor

 Cherie Ann Hlady graduated from Hofstra Law School in 2006. She passed the New York bar exam and began practicing law. Unfortunately, Hlady could not make ends meet as a practicing lawyer. Ten years after getting her law degree, she filed for bankruptcy.

Hlady took out student loans totaling $40,000 to finance her legal education, a reasonable amount considering that she attended an expensive private law school. 

Sadly, Helady's solo law practice did not generate enough income to pay off her student debt.  Judge Louis Scarcella, who heard her case, noted that Hladly's net profit in 2016 was only $321. In the five years leading up to her bankruptcy, she had never made a profit of more than $17,691.

Meanwhile, interest on her student loans was accruing at an annual rate of 6.88 percent.  By 2017, Hlady's debt had grown to $140,000--more than three times what she borrowed.

Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) held an interest in part of Hladly's student debt, and it opposed bankruptcy relief. ECMC told Judge Scarcella that Hlady was eligible for a 25-year, income-based repayment plan that would allow her to make monthly payments of zero due to her low income.

In Judge Scarcella's opinion, this fact--and this fact alone--was enough to make Hdlady ineligible to discharge her student loans in bankruptcy. "[I]t cannot be said that an obligation to pay $0 on the ECMC  Loan under the income-based repayment option would cause [Hlady] to fall below a minimum standard of living."

But wait a minute. Judge Scarcella admitted himself that Hladly's net income in 2016 was only $321. Doesn't that put her below a minimum standard of living?

Not in Judge Scarcella's view. Apparently, he was skeptical of some of the expenses that Hlady had listed on her federal income tax return. "Here," the judge wrote, "[Hlady] has not presented the Court with concrete evidence from which her current financial condition can, with any degree of certainty, be known."

Moreover, in the judge's opinion, Hlady had not shown that she could not increase her income in the future. Nor had she demonstrated that she handled her student loans in good faith. "[Hladys] unwillingness to be inconvenienced by having to report her annual income for the next 25 years does not provide sufficient justification to discharge her student loan obligation."

With all due respect, Judge Scarcella's reasoning is nutty. How can he say Hlady hadn't established that she cannot pay off her student loans while maintaining a minimum standard of living when ECMC itself concluded she was so broke that she didn't have to pay anything on her loans due to her low income?

How could the judge conclude that Hladly might someday pay off her student loans when the amount she initially borrowed had tripled since the time she graduated from law school? If Hlady could not pay off $40,000 in student loans over 14 years, how will she ever pay $140,000 over the next 25 years, especially since her loan balance grows by $20 a day in accruing interest?

As Judge Scarcella observed, Ms. Hlady is 48 years old. Her 25-year repayment plan will terminate when she is 73.  By that time, her loan balance will be more than a quarter of a million dollars.  This amount will be forgiven, but the forgiven debt will be taxed as income unless Hlady is insolvent at the time.

So what's the friggin' point?  

The point, obviously, is this. ECMC, as an agent of the federal government, does not want anyone to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy. And, apparently, Judge Louis Scarcella feels precisely the same way.

References

Hlady v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 616 B.R. 257 (Bkrtcry E.D.N.Y. 2020).