Senators Introduce Legislation to Address Private Student Loans

Three Democratic senators introduced legislation earlier this week to allow people to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. According to an article at Campus Progress:

[Illinois Senator Dick] Durbin introduced the Fairness for Struggling Students Act, which would move the country back to pre-2005 standards and allow private student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy like any other loan. Federal student loans have been ineligible for bankruptcy discharge since the 1970s, but only since 2005 have private loans had the same status—and, Durbin said, private lenders and for-profit colleges are offering students the rawest deals.

“Charles Dickens would have a ball” with the current debtors’ prison-like standards for private student loan bankruptcy protection said Durbin. Right now, a borrower has to show “certainty of hopelessness,” or prove that the future is likely to be as bad as the present, to qualify for an “undue hardship” exception to discharge student loans. Since the borrower must prove a negative, her only “certainty” is the hopelessness of her case.

Durbin introduced a similar piece of legislation, which went nowhere, in the last Congress.

This one, frankly, will probably go nowhere as well. But then, it probably wouldn’t matter much even if it did become law. Attempting to fix the student loan problem by allowing debtors to discharge private loans in bankruptcy is sort of like trying to reduce credit card debt by adjusting the interest rate on the Diners Club card.

While private student loans, which often carry high rates of interest, are perhaps the most unjust example of the burden of education debt, they’re actually a pretty small part of the problem.

Only 15 percent of the Americans’ roughly $1 trillion in education debt is owed to private lenders. The rest of it, some 85 percent, is owed to the federal government.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer