If you have refinanced your student loans in the past, you may be wondering whether your refinanced loans can be discharged. The short answer is yes, but only under specific circumstances of which most individuals do not meet the criteria, and if you do meet the criteria, it can still be a very difficult process. Read on to see what circumstances allow for refinanced student loans to be discharged, and what you can do to ease the burden of private student loan debt if you don’t meet the criteria for discharge.
What is Student Loan Discharge?
To begin, it’s important to understand what the term “discharge” means in regard to student loans. Often used interchangeably with student loan forgiveness, these terms actually apply to different situations:
- Student loan forgiveness is usually based on the borrower working in a particular occupation for a period of time, such as within the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. For private student loans, loan forgiveness is essentially non-existent.
- Student loan discharge is usually based on the borrower’s inability to repay the debt or the borrower not being responsible for the debt because of fraud.
Discharging Refinanced Student Loans
Refinanced student loans are essentially new loans taken out with a private lender – so when talking about whether refinanced student loans are dischargeable, you should look at them like private student loans. Here are some situations in which private student loans may be dischargeable. Keep in mind that private student loans are very rarely discharged and that this shouldn’t be considered a realistic option.
While federal student loans are dischargeable for individuals who are “totally and permanently” disabled, private student loans aren’t necessarily subject to this rule. However, some private lenders do offer loan discharge in situations of disability. If this applies to you, contact your lender for more information – many lenders review requests for financial assistance on a case-by-case basis and will show compassion toward the situation.
If you’re seeking to have your refinanced student loans discharged, filing for bankruptcy could possibly be a last-resort option – however, it is very difficult and unlikely to happen because student loans aren’t categorized as dischargeable debt. According to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, in order to have your federal or private student loans discharged through bankruptcy, you must prove undue financial hardship on yourself and your dependents, which is a difficult and expensive process that will most likely require a separate lawsuit and an attorney. This process is so difficult that most people who file for bankruptcy do not attempt to include their student loans. If you are unable to prove undue hardship, you will be obligated to continue repaying your student loans, and if you’re currently having your wages garnished due to default, they will continue to be garnished.
There are also some pretty substantial drawbacks to filing bankruptcy that could have a lasting impact on your life.
Drawbacks of Filing for Bankruptcy
It Could Hurt Your Credit Score
If you currently have a good credit score (700 or higher), filing for bankruptcy is likely to bring it down substantially, making it more difficult to obtain financing for a mortgage, car loan, or personal loan.
It Will Show on Your Credit Report for up to 10 Years
As if a ding to your credit score isn’t bad enough, filing for bankruptcy will show on your credit report for up to 10 years, which can not only affect your ability to obtain financing, but also could be seen by potential employers and affect your hireability or be seen by landlords and affect your ability to find rental housing.
Your Cosigners will be Liable for your Debts
If you have any cosigners on your loans, they will become responsible for your debts that you no longer owe.
Loss of Property and Real Estate
Occasionally, not all personal property and real estate will fall under exemption when bankruptcy is filed. This means that the bankruptcy court may seize your property and sell it for the purpose of paying your debts to creditors.
Denial of Tax Refunds
As a result of filing bankruptcy, you may be denied federal, state or local tax refunds.
Ways to Ease Private Student Loan Debt
If the burden of your refinanced student loans appear to be too much for you to handle, there are several actions you can take to help ease the pressure.
Take Stock of Your Finances
While this may go unsaid, making changes to your financial habits and budget may help you set aside the money to afford your monthly payments. Take stock of your income, savings and how you are currently spending your money. Perhaps you also have federal student loans that you could consolidate or refinance as well, or maybe you have a few subscriptions that you don’t need and can cancel. Making small changes to your financial habits can make a big impact.
Contact Your Lender
While you may not qualify to have your refinanced student loans discharged, you may find it useful to contact your lender to learn about the options available to you. Many lenders will offer a temporary deferment or forbearance in times of economic or financial hardship. Being transparent with your servicer may allow you to avoid missed payments, which can have pretty significant impacts on your credit score.
Consider Refinancing Student Loans Again
Did you know there’s no limit to how many times you can refinance your loans? While you may have already refinanced your student loans once, refinancing them again may be an option to consider, depending on whether your financial situation has changed or if interest rates have dropped. If your credit score improves or you get a raise at work, you may be able to qualify for a lower interest rate. Even if you haven’t seen a big change in your financial status, you may be able to extend your loan term and lower your monthly payments. Check out our Student Loan Refinancing Calculator to examine how changing the length of your loan term may help you save on monthly payments.*
Ask for Employer Assistance in Student Loan Repayment
In an effort to be competitive in recruiting and provide relief to employees, many employers are offering (or considering) student loan repayment assistance as an added benefit to employees. If your employer isn’t currently offering this benefit, consider asking if there’s potential for it to be added. Now is actually a great time to make this proposal, as a recent provision within the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allows employers to contribute up to $5,250 tax-free annually to their employees’ student loans until December 31, 2020. Send your HR department a well-written letter or have a formal meeting to discuss this opportunity.
You may find that getting your refinanced student loans or private student loans discharged isn’t any easy process. However, there are actions you can take to ease the financial burden that your student loans are causing. Visit the ELFI blog for more helpful tips and resources for paying off your student loan debt.
*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.
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