Settling student loan debt isn’t easy, but it can be possible — if you’re in exactly the right circumstances.
The US Department of Education has very strong powers to compel payment of defaulted student loans, including garnishment of wages and Social Security benefits, income tax refund offset and blocking renewal of professional licenses. Federal student loans cannot generally be discharged in bankruptcy unless the borrower can demonstrate undue hardship in an adversary proceeding. The availability of income-based repayment, which reduces the loan payments to an affordable level, makes bankruptcy discharge of federal student loans very rare. But the US Department of Education does occasionally settle debt for less than what is owed.
Nevertheless, distressed borrowers who can offer a substantial lump sum may be able to free themselves from years of wage garnishments, tax refund seizures and other collections efforts. However, unlike credit card debt, student loan debt – which averages $27,000 per student – can’t be settled for pennies on the dollar.
Increasing numbers of borrowers are struggling with their student loan payments, according to Department of Education statistics. About 600,000 of the 4 million borrowers who were scheduled to start payments in September 2010 defaulted, which means they failed to make any payments for 270 days or more. That three-year default rate of 14.7 percent was up from the 2009 default rate of 13.4 percent.
Even those who can scrounge up a lump sum — by borrowing from a family member, for example, or through a windfall such as a lawsuit settlement or an inheritance — aren’t guaranteed success. That’s because student loan collectors, in general, and federal student loan collectors in particular, have so many legal avenues to wrangle payments from borrowers.
Federal student loan collectors can garnish wages, grab federal tax refunds and take a portion of government benefits, including Social Security, all without taking a borrower to court.
Borrowers whose wages aren’t easily garnished, such as the self-employed or the frequently unemployed, may have an advantage since federal collectors won’t expect much of a future income stream from them.
In general terms, federal student loan settlements usually take one of three forms. The Department of Education may agree to waive collection charges, which can be substantial. It also may knock off 10 percent off the total owed, or it may settle for the current principal owed plus half the accrued interest.
In practical terms, borrowers who want a settlement should find out how much the Department of Education paid to acquire their defaulted student loans, and open negotiations with an offer halfway between that number and the total amount they now owe. The amount the DOE paid, known as the default claim, is usually the last amount showed owing on the loans in the National Student Loan Data System database.
As you can see, federally funded student loans are quite difficult to negotiate. Private student loans, however, are a different story.
Private lenders also have fewer powers to collect than the federal government, which can often lead to more willingness to settle.
Private lenders are required to go to court to get wage garnishments and cannot legally seize tax refunds or government benefits. Private student loans also are subject to statutes of limitation that limit how long lenders can sue borrowers over unpaid debt. However, borrowers can unknowingly extend the statutes and invite lawsuits by making a single payment on an old debt or even acknowledging a debt is theirs, which is why employing a professional organization like Regal Financial is so important to a positive outcome. Our debt settlement processing team, our attorneys, and our fluency with applicable statutes make our program the best available in the tri-state area.
We know the burdens student loans can be, and settlements are always an easy or even practical path. But a consultation with Regal Financial can help you define your options, and knowledgeably go forward with the best avenue for you. We can review your credit history, determine if debt forgiveness is achievable, and make all of the appropriate overtures to the lender to get the best possible repayment scenario.
If you have a student loan that is holding you back from your personal financial goals, we strongly urge you to contact our office to review your position.