Despite our best efforts and intentions, sometimes circumstances prevent us from being able to fully meet all of our financial obligations. But when our financial situation becomes truly dire with no relief in sight, sometimes we have to take drastic action. For many of us, student loan debt is a large component of our overall debt load. When bankruptcy seems our only option for financial recovery, it is critical that we be prepared to present a compelling and convincing argument that repaying student loan debt presents an undue hardship. Providing acceptable proof of undue hardship can be the difference between having student loan debt discharged and remaining obligated to repay it.
Prepare documentation that proves you would be unable to maintain a minimal standard of living if you are forced to repay your student loans. Compile information about your current and projected future minimum monthly student loan payments from all of your lenders. List all of your monthly gross and net income from all sources. Itemize all of your monthly expenses for food, housekeeping supplies, apparel and services, personal care products and services, out-of-pocket health-care expenses, housing, utilities, transportation and miscellaneous expenses. Create a spreadsheet or report that clearly indicates you do not have the resources to repay your student loans in addition to the basic expenses necessary to maintain a minimum standard of living.
Provide evidence that you have additional extenuating circumstances that make it unlikely your situation will improve for a significant portion of your loan repayment period. The type of evidence you will need must support the contention that due to some health or some other circumstances your income is unlikely to increase for a substantial amount of time. Examples of this type of evidence include physician's statements and medical reports that indicate you are either totally and permanently disabled or have a disabling condition that makes steady employment impossible; notifications that professional licenses have been either revoked or suspended for an extended period of time; and copies of court documents that indicate you are involved in a legal or law enforcement related matter that will prevent you from engaging in gainful employment for a significant amount of time.
Present credible and incontrovertible proof that you have made a good faith effort to repay your loans. Produce copies of canceled checks and correspondence with your lenders. Document all telephone conversations with your lender, including the date and time of the conversation, the telephone number you called or where the call came from, the names and identification numbers of the representatives you spoke with, and a summary of the contents of your conversation. Keep copies of all your requests for deferments and forbearance, as well as your lender's response to each request. It is crucial that you be able to show that you maintained constant contact with your lenders, kept your lenders apprised of your financial situation and sent in payments (even partial payments) on a regular basis.
Research bankruptcy cases in your jurisdiction to see what has been considered acceptable evidence of undue hardship.
Michelle McFarland-McDaniels has been writing professionally since 1983. She has written for a variety of online publications including BET.com and MSNBC.com, as well as "College Outlook" and "San Diego Family" magazines. McFarland-McDaniels holds master's degrees in African-American literature and education.