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‘Fairness for Struggling Students Act’ is Struggling to Be Heard

Efforts to find relief for people crushed by private student loan debt are buried again in the halls of Congress.

Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin re-introduced the Fairness for Struggling Students Act of 2013 on Jan. 23, and it apparently is going nowhere. The bill would provide a bankruptcy escape for people unable to pay back college loans issued by private lenders. Those loans account for about $150 billion of the estimated $1 trillion in outstanding college loan debt.

The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

According to Harkin’s office, the bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it apparently is all but forgotten underneath more pressing issues.

“I’ve never even heard of the bill,” Jessica Brady, press pecretary for Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, told Debt.org. “As you know, our committee has a lot of things going on here with gun violence and judges and other bills, so it’s not something we’re dealing with right now.”

Help is Needed

The purpose of the Fairness for Struggling Students Act is to give people a chance to rid themselves of excessive debt incurred while in college. Provisions of the bill force the borrowers to make a legitimate effort to repay the loans before they can be included in bankruptcy procedures.

Current laws put all student loan debt in the same category as child support and criminal fines, meaning debts that can’t be forgiven, even in bankruptcy. Many people, seeing no way to dig themselves out of the substantial holes the college loans created, simply give up.

“Too many Americans are carrying around mortgage-sized student loan debt that forces them to put off major life decisions like buying a home or starting a family,” Durbin said in press release. “We can no longer sit by while this student debt bomb keeps ticking,”

But that’s exactly what is happening. The bill was first introduced by Durbin in 2012, was referred to committee and died there without getting a vote.

Banks Could Help

He brought it back this year, along with a similar bill, Know Before You Owe Act, that would require schools to advise students if they have federal aid available before they take on private student loan debt. Students typically pay considerably higher interest rates for private loans than for federal loans.

Durbin, Franken, Harkin, Reed, Warren and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, sent a letter to 13 major banks on March 1, asking them to work at reducing the number of students defaulting on private loans. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 850,000 students have defaulted on private loans, totaling $8.1 billion.

“We need the public and private sector to work together to prevent a calamity for middle-class students,” Reed said in a statement. “I hope we can get everyone to the table to find workable solutions to controlling costs and reducing the debt burden for students and families.”

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].

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    Sources:

    1. Choma, R. (2013, February 7). Members of Congress Feel Student Loan Pain Firsthand. Opensecrets.org. Retrieved from http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/02/members-of-congress-feel-student-lo.html
    2. Anderson, H. (2013, February 6). Student Debt Relief Bill Floated in Congress. Cutimes.com. Retrieved from http://www.cutimes.com/2013/02/06/student-debt-relief-bill-floated-in-congress
    3. Reed, J. (2013, March 1). Senators Call on Banks to Work With Regulators and Students Who are Trying To Pay Back Loans [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.reed.senate.gov/news/release/senators-call-on-banks-to-work-with-regulators-and-students-who-are-trying-to-pay-back-loans
    4. Durbin, R. (2013, January 23). As Student Loan Debt Surpasses $1 Trillion, Senators Introduce Legislation To Address Crisis [Press release]. Retrieved from http://durbin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/pressreleases?ID=adad47a3-9b82-4c46-b971-57bb9dc11044