The 8th Circuit Federal Bankruptcy Appellate Panel recently upheld a Minnesota bankruptcy court’s discharge of $300,000 in student loans, even though the debtor’s husband was paying for a newly installed screened-in deck and had just purchased a luxury Chevrolet Suburban.
In this case, In re Walker, 2010 WL 1407769 (8th Cir. BAP April 9, 2010), the court was clearly swayed by the debtor’s inability to work, due to family considerations and having to care for her autistic children, as well as the fact that it was not actually the debtor’s income that was used for the luxury purchases.
The debtor had incurred her student loan debt pursuing a bachelor’s degree and various postgraduate degrees. Her employment history was interrupted at times by the pursuit of further degrees, and also by having five children with her husband, a police officer. Two of the children had autism, which required the debtor’s attendance at 27 to 37 hours per week of therapy for the children provided by the school district.
The debtor filed chapter 7 in 2004, receiving a general discharge in the case. During the next three years, her husband’s income ranged from $59,261 to $67,639 per year. In 2005, the debtors spent $30,000 of a $50,000 second mortgage to build a screened-in deck. In 2007, the debtor’s husband purchased a $40,000 SUV, his fourth motor vehicle.
In 2007, the debtor filed a lawsuit asking the bankruptcy court to discharge her student loans as an undue hardship. The appeals court agreed with the bankruptcy court that the debtor’s lawsuit was not untimely under the legal doctrine of laches. It held that the court could consider a student loan dischargability case even years after the underlying bankruptcy was discharged and closed.
Next, the appeals court held that the proper time for the court to examine whether the debtor’s student loan payments were an undue hardship was the time of trial in 2007, not the time of the bankruptcy filing in 2004.
Next, the appeals court observed that the debtor’s household net income was, at the time of trial, $4,355.48. The household living expenses were $5,913.00. As such, there was no way the debtor could make meaningful payments toward the student loans, nor could she afford to pay the student loans under an Income Contingent Repayment Plan. This would have been true even if the deck and SUV had not been purchased. In any event, the deck and SUV payments had been found reasonable under the unique circumstances of the debtor’s marital and family situation.
The appeals court also rejected the student loan lender’s argument that the fact that the debtor was making payments on the deck and SUV proved that “the money was coming from somewhere,” and thus the debtor could pay on the student loans. The debtor’s net income and living expenses figures had not been rebutted by the lender, and those figures showed no income from which to make student loan payments.
Latest posts by Craig Andresen, Minneapolis, MN, Bankruptcy Attorney (see all)
- Bankruptcy Means Test: Student Loans Used to Obtain Dentistry Degree Not “Consumer Debts” Under Section 707(b) - March 2, 2014
- After-Acquired Property in Chapter 13: Whether to Amend the Schedules is No Longer in Doubt - November 29, 2013
- Brunner: Vicious, Stupid, and Stubborn - October 20, 2013
- Attorney-Client Privilege Doesn’t Apply in Chapter 7, Florida Bankruptcy Court Rules - September 30, 2013
- Health Savings Accounts Not Exempt in Bankruptcy - September 4, 2013
Last modified: June 28, 2010