Q: Hello, In 1983 I took out a student loan (private loan backed by the government) for my college education. After attending for 2 years, I went into the workforce and never returned to complete the other 2 years.
Long story short my loan went into deferment and finally defaulted. I was giving the option to have my income tax refund held and applied towards my loan. This went on from 1985 to 2000.
I am now disabled and living on a fixed income. The US Department of Education now takes money from my disability check. Is there anything I can do to be rid of this or am I trapped until death?
A. Thanks for writing me on AskTheMoneyCoach.com. Here’s my advice on what to do about your student loan problem.
First, do you have any records whatsoever — things like cancelled checks, paid invoices, or written receipts — that show your student loan payments from 1985 to 2000?
You didn’t state what your student loan debt total was, but since you’ve already paid for 15+ years on only two years worth of education, you need to know:
a) How much debt the U.S. Dept. of Education is saying you STILL owe; and
b) How much debt you’ve actually paid off over the years
If you can prove that you have indeed repaid some or all of your student loans, perhaps this problem can be remedied by digging up some of your old records and providing detailed evidence of your past payments.
If that doesn’t work, you can appeal your garnishment. Read this article for more tips on stopping a garnishment that’s done to fix a defaulted student loan.
Most people have their income/wages garnished. But in your case, it sounds like your disability check is being garnished. Either way, the same general advice applies.
Also, if you’ve been charged a ridiculous amount of money for late fees, interest, penalties, etc., you should try negotiating with the Education Department to reduce or waive those fees.
Be sure to let them know about your current dire economic circumstances. You will likely have to submit forms attesting to your current level of income, assets, etc.
Lastly, since you said you are disabled and living on a fixed income, have you explored trying to get your student loans discharged due to a disability?
The rule of thumb is that you have to be “totally and permanently” disabled — meaning, a doctor will certify that you probably won’t ever work again. If that’s the case, you could have your student loan balance cancelled/discharged.
Here’s an article on how to qualify for loan forgiveness or a student loan cancellation based on a disability.
The bad news is that if all of these options fail, then you will be stuck with paying those student loans until your balance is zero (or until you die). Student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy court, so they can literally haunt you until the grave — or until you pay them off in full.
Again, hopefully, you won’t have to deal with these loans for many more years. But I just wanted you to know the worst-case scenario.
I hope this information helps you …. and good luck!