Update on Discharge of Student Loans – $221,000 in Student Loans Discharged

One of the more difficult problems associated with bankruptcy has been discharge of student loans. A recent decision by Chief Judge Cecelia Morris of U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, In re: Kevin Jared Rosenberg, enabled law grad Kevin Jared Rosenberg to discharge the $221,000 loan debt he acquired as an undergraduate at the University of Arizona and later at the Cardozo School of Law. The win by Rosenberg, who represented himself in the matter, is surprising in view of the common belief that student loan debt is all but impossible to discharge in bankruptcy.

What made this case different is how the bankruptcy judge applied “Brunner test”—which lays out the three criteria student loan borrowers must meet to demonstrate that repaying their loans poses an undue hardship—that has caught the attention of the bankruptcy law world. Morris’ opinion includes a strongly worded rebuke of how judges have traditionally applied the Brunner test, saying they have made it more onerous on borrowers than it was intended to be. “Over the past 32 years, many cases have pinned on Brunner punitive standards that are not contained therein,” Morris wrote. “Those retributive dicta were then applied and reapplied so frequently in the context of Brunner that they have subsumed the actual language of the Brunner test. They have become a quasi-standard of mythic proportions so much so that most people (bankruptcy professionals as well as lay individuals) believe it impossible to discharge student loans.”

Judge Morris’ application of the second two prongs of the test in the Rosenberg case are surprising. Rosenberg claimed in his bankruptcy petition that his annual income as an outdoor guide is $37,000 and that he has a negative monthly outlay of $1,500. But the court did not consider any potential increase in his earnings on the grounds that the entirety of his $221,000 loan balance is due because he went into default. Judges usually take a 10 or 25-year view of earnings based on the length of the repayment plan. What makes this decision particularly interesting is that Judge Morris declined to use Rosenberg’s decision not to pursue a legal career, as evidence that he has not made a good faith effort to repay his loans.  In finding that Rosenberg made a good faith effort to repay his loans, Judge Morris credits him with making about 40% of his required loan payments, even though he was only required to make 26 payments over the course of 13 years due to securing multiple loan deferrals.

But whether Rosenberg’s case will be followed by other bankruptcy courts, including here in Western New York, is uncertain and will largely depend on whether Judge Morris’ decision is upheld on appeal. If the district court for the Southern District of New York, and subsequently U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, uphold it, that would make it more likely that more borrowers will see their loans discharged.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Henrietta, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

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