Student Loan Bills (A problem obscured by the mortgage mess?)

This post comes from Martha Sherwood, a legal researcher in a consumer law office. Martha works for a lawyer who blogs at

. Martha holds a doctorate in biology


Student loan debt is a huge and growing problem for American families. As Congress rushes to patch the holes in the dike of the collapsing home mortgage industry, student loans have been shoved under the carpet. There is a widespread lack of recognition of the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are already saddled with educational loans they cannot repay, which cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, and thousands more are being added daily. Our congresspeople seem reluctant to pick up the ball. Although has already become law, it provides no relief to the mass of student debtors. (See at BLN.)

Of the three relevant bills currently pending, only one,

(“A bill to Amend Title 11, United States Code, with respect to exceptions to discharge in bankruptcy for certain qualified educations loans”) provides any meaningful relief. Introduced by Senator Richard Durbin (D-Il), this bill removes the paragraph in the 2005 bankruptcy “reform” act which included private educational loans in the non-dischargeability provisions of the code. Senator Durbin’s introductory remarks recapitulate what bankruptcy attorneys are discovering: that this one paragraph, which slipped unnoticed into the act, opened the door to irresponsible lending and predatory debt collection practices. This bill deserves the unqualified support of anyone concerned with just fiscal policy.

, Thomas Petrie’s (R-Wis.) bill, would provide direct government funding for consolidation loans subject to income contingent repayment plans (ICRPs). Under present ICRPs, unpaid interest on guaranteed educational loans accumulates and becomes a public obligation to the lender at the end of the ICRP period. In the long run, this bill would save the government and the taxpayer some money, but it does not help the student borrower.

, is the brainchild of Hilary Clinton (D-NY). This bill purports to address the inadequate truth in lending disclosure requirements on educational loans, and a long litany of loan servicer abuses. If the bill had any teeth in it, it might help curtail mushrooming fees and penalties due to questionable lender practices. Otherwise it’s just an impressive-looking conglomeration of empty platitudes. In the mortgage sector, the government relies on private attorneys to bring action for violations, usually in conjunction with a home sale, and compensates them if the prosecution is successful. Nothing in S. 511 provides a comparable mechanism for sanctioning educational lenders for violating borrower’s “rights”.

Student loan obligations, bloated with unpaid interest and penalties, hover like a raptor over the incomes of working Americans. Every month adds to the growing pool of people trapped in this cage, as college-bound young folk and their parents are lured into signing contracts whose implications they do not understand, recent graduates, working full time, find they cannot pay down the principal, large numbers of people experience personal crises during the long repayment period and find their obligations doubled by penalties and interest, and older workers are downsized or forcibly retired with substantial obligations still in place. Given the magnitude of the problem while the economy is still considered to be healthy, the prospects should a real recession occur are frightening to contemplate.

Thanks for the report, Martha!