ECMC's position was absurd, of course. A woman in her late 50s will never pay off a $245,000 loan by making monthly payments of $84. The only possible purpose that is served by jamming Ms. Edwards into a 25-year repayment plan is to carry her student-loan debt on the Department of Education's books as a performing loan.
In ruling for Ms. Edwards, the bankruptcy judge questioned the wisdom of a system that allowed Edwards to borrow so much money. "In hindsight, it is a shame that [Edwards] ever incurred these student loan debts," the court observed.
While her Ottawa University education may have given her the tools and credentials to work in an emotionally satisfying role [as a counselor] and may have provided a well needed skilled counselor in her rural community, the predictable economic burden was never likely to justify the massive economic burden she incurred.The Edwards case demonstrates the insanity of the federal student-loan program. Our government allows people to borrow extravagant amounts of money for educational programs that will never pay off, and then it engages debt collectors to push borrowers into long-term income-based repayment plans that stretch out over 25 years and will almost never result in the loans being repaid.
And the Edwards case is not an anomaly. In the Roth case, ECMC opposed a bankruptcy discharge for an elderly woman with chronic health problems who was living on less than $800 a month. In fact, Roth's income was so low that ECMC acknowledged that Roth's monthly payments under an income-based repayment plan would be zero!
In the Halverson case, ECMC opposed a discharge for a man in his sixties making less than $14 an hour as a substitute teacher and who owed almost $300,000 in student loan debt. Mr. Halverson borrowed less than half the amount he owed when he filed bankruptcy and was never in default. His debt ballooned mostly due to accruing interest while his loans were in deferment.
The Department of Education itself has taken the same irrational stance regarding bankruptcy discharge for student debtors. In the Myhre case, DOE opposed a discharge for a quadriplegic, and in the Abney case, it opposed a discharge for a single father of two children who was living on less than $1200 a month and could not even afford to own a car.
I can think of only one reason. ECMC and DOE are engaged in a massive accounting fraud, trying to convince the public that the federal student loan program is solvent and fiscally sound. But in fact the student loan program is a disaster. Eight million people are in default and and one out of four debtors are either in default or behind on their loan payments.
ECMC benefits from the status quo--that is clear. According to a Century Foundation report, it has $1 billion in unrestricted assets, most of it obtained from its loan-collection activities. The Westlaw database shows that ECMC has appeared as a named party in over 500 federal court rulings; it has spent literally millions of dollars in attorney fees chasing after people like Gail Edwards and Janet Roth.
And who pays those fees? According to a law review article written by Rafael Pardo, ECMC draws money from a Federal Reserve Fund to finance its loan-collection activities and has access to "significant [federal] resources when litigating against student-loan debtors" (p. 2145). Pardo cites a document showing that DOE allowed ECMC to keep a quarter of a billion dollars that it drew from DOE's Federal Reserve Fund to finance its activities in 2008 (p. 2145).
So you, Mr. & Ms American taxpayer, are paying ECMC to engage in unproductive litigation against impoverished debtors--litigation intended to keep the student-loan crisis under wraps.
And ECMC is a nonprofit organization--supposedly devoted to the public good.
But ECMC is not acting for the public good. On the contrary, ECMC is DOE's hit man--the entity DOE sends to beat down bankrupt student debtors and prevent them from getting the bankruptcy relief they deserve.
ECMC's senior executives are getting well paid to be DOE's "Mac the Knife." Its CEO makes at least a million dollars a year.
Annual Report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, September 2016. Available at http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/102016_cfpb_Transmittal_DFA_1035_Student_Loan_Ombudsman_Report.pdf
Edwards v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, Adversary No.. 3:15-ap-26-PS, 2016 WL 1317421 (Bankr. D. Ariz. March 31, 2016). Available at http://www.azb.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions/024139558300_dmd.pdf
In re: Halverson, 401 B.R. 378 (Bankr. D. Minn. 2009).
Rafael Pardo. The Undue Hardship Thicket: On Access to Justice, Procedural Noncompliance and Pollutive Litigation in Bankruptcy. 66 Florida Law Review 2101-2178. Available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2426744
Roth v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 490 B.R. 908 (9th Cir. BAP 2013). Available at http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/bap/2013/04/16/RothV%20ECMC%20opinion-FINAL%20AZ-11-1233.pdf