Q: I did not have a high school diploma or a GED when I enrolled in college. Am I responsible for my student loans?
A: Before a college provides you with a student loan, that institution is supposed to make sure that you have an “ability to benefit” from its educational curriculum.
One way for a college to ensure that you have an “ability to benefit” is to give you a certain exam or to make sure that you have a high school diploma or GED. Without these things, you may qualify for a student loan discharged based on what’s called “false certification.”
Additionally, when you apply for a student loan, you typically need to indicate your current level of education, grade and other identifying information.
If you indicated that you were a high school graduate when filling out your student loan application, but you really weren’t, you may have received the loan under “false certification.” Or maybe you stated you were a high school graduate because you anticipated getting a diploma or GED prior to enrolling in college.
Whatever the case, if you have received a student loan under any of these circumstances and aren’t able to enroll in your school of choice because you have yet to complete your high school education or get your GED, you’ll need to have your loan discharged. Here’s what you need to do:
Determine Your Eligibility for a Student Loan Discharge
You may be eligible for student loan forgiveness, or a loan discharge, if any of the following apply:
- You did not actually have a high school diploma when you obtained your student loan
- You did not actually have a general equivalency diploma (G.E.D.) when you obtained your student loan
- Your school of choice could not or did not determine your “ability to benefit” according to federal requirements for student loan disbursement, at the time you enrolled
- You did not complete the required remedial education courses to get your high school diploma within a reasonable period of time
- You did not complete required remedial courses to get your G.E.D. within a reasonable period of time
Double-Check the Timing of Your Student Loans and Understand “False Certification”
The timing of your loans now plays a great role in your ability to use the “false certification” defense as a way to discharge your student loans.
Effective July 1, 2012 any potential student loan borrower without a high school diploma or a GED was no long eligible for federal student aid. (The only exception to this is for home-schooled students).
And there’s a rationale behind the whole concept of “false certification.”
If you were a student who lacked a high school diploma or G.E.D. they attended college, the college had the responsibility to make sure you could benefit from its educational program, typically by giving an exam known as an “ability to benefit” exam. However, if a school didn’t use an approved exam, or if there were serious problems with the exam, those are also grounds for getting your student loan discharged.
Submit Materials for a Student Loan Discharge
If you meet any of the above criteria and think you are eligible for a student loan discharge, you will need to submit some paperwork stating your case to the U.S. Department of Education. You must send in a “False Certification of Ability to Benefit” discharge application, and attach supporting documents such as a demand letter about your outstanding student loan.
You can download the Loan Discharge Application: False Certification (Ability to Benefit) form here.
Make sure to complete this form as thoroughly and as accurately as possible.
You will also need to include your Social Security number, indicate whether you had a GED or high school diploma at the time of enrollment in the program, and also indicate whether you completed any type of developmental or remedial program at the school.
Make sure you include the total amount of the outstanding student loan balance, and sign and date the form in the appropriate areas.
Send the completed form and supporting documents to:
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
FEDERAL STUDENT AID
Processing Group Regional Office, Room 8633
50 Beale Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Once you learn about this discharge opportunity, if you think you qualify you should apply right away, even though there’s no specific deadline by which you must seek a discharge.
And although those who borrowed through the Direct Loan program must apply to the Department of Education, FFEL borrowers need to apply to the lender or agency holding the loan. Either way, send everything certified mail, return receipt requested.