Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Cry me a river, United

Espinosa files for bankruptcy because he can't pay his student loan of $13K. He's making around $6 an hour, living frugally (is there any other way to live on $6 an hour). He doesn't have any other debt. His car is worth $1200. His attorney figures out the deal and contacts the lender. The company does not file any objections. Six months later a federal bankruptcy judge approves the payment plan. Espinosa pays off the debt over a period of five years and receives a letter from the bankruptcy court stating the debt is paid in full. And many years later - 11 since the bankruptcy court confirmed the repayment plan - United Student Aids Fund, Inc., the company that lost $4K in interest on the deal, says the court erred in not holding a hearing to determine if Espinosa's circumstances rose to the level of undue hardship necessary to allow the bankruptcy. WTF?

This case has made it all the way to the Supreme Court. You know who's backing United? The U.S. government, 24 states, and the entire student loan industry. If I wasn't rooting for Espinosa before, I sure am now.

For NPR's coverage of the case, click here.

I'm trying to process what this all means if the court finds for United and against Espinosa. So, you file for bankruptcy, the court confirms the payment plan, you pay according to said plan, you even get a court letter that states the debt has been cleared. And years later the company can claim some part of the process was unfair to them and you get stuck for any additional monies they lost out on when the payment plan was constructed. What would be the point of filing for bankruptcy if you can open up a closed deal years later? Is it really necessary to hold a hearing to determine if someone making $6 a hour at his/her job suffers an undue hardship?

Update: Forbes has an awfully written article on the case here. I particularly like this comment to the Forbes' piece:
"...you just had me laughing off of my chair. "Congress, in reflecting the desires of the American people has excluded student loans from discharge in the current version of the Bankruptcy Code." Really?? Do you have anything to back up your statement that the change in bankruptcy law to exclude student loans was based on the "desires of the American people"??

The most recent Gallup poll has Americans' approval rating of Congress at 21%. Do you really think that Congress is "reflecting the desires of the American people" every time they pass a law, when 80% of the country disapproves of their performance?

And it sounds like your embittered professor needs to stay in the make-believe world of academia - because the last time I checked, a majority of Americans DO expect fairness from our judicial and legislative branches.

The Henry Fords and Walt Disneys of the world - had they not been given a second chance through bankruptcy - would never have been able to turn around and build the successful empires that eventually employed hundreds of thousands of people and helped put American business on the map. Many of the products that you take for granted every day come from someone who failed many times before succeeding.

15 million people are unemployed right now. If you are not one of them, then I congratulate you. Many Americans are having a tough time putting food on their tables and paying the most basic bills. Bankruptcy will not help these people if a majority of their debt is in the form of student loans.

The saftey net called "bankruptcy" exists for a reason. It is time that we stop singling out students and treating them like criminals, while giving all other consumers a free pass."

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