NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Logan Jenkins joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in order to have his college years funded. After graduating from Lamar University, he enrolled in the military. Today, the retired colonel isn't worried about paying back student loans because his four-year university education was completely paid for by ROTC scholarships.
"I'm now working a private sector job and saving money to send my 15 year old son to college in a few years," Jenkins told MainStreet.
Unlike Jenkins, who is debt-free, 53% of adult Americans are paying off student loans, according to a new survey by Findlaw.com, and about 21% of people aged 55 and older still owe money on their student loans.
"As the cost of a college education has risen so has the number of graduates carrying a substantial amount of student loan debt," said Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney with FindLaw.com.
The study found that two-thirds of those still paying off student loan debt are between the ages of 24 and 44, and 47% say they have completely paid off their loans or else had them discharged through personal bankruptcy or government forgiveness programs that include teaching in low-income areas or membership in the armed forces.
Under Chapter 7 Bankruptcy law, student loans are only discharged if it would cause the debtor undue hardship.
"A person who has no income and little chance of earning enough in the future to pay off student loans may be able to show that repayment would be an undue hardship but only an expert bankruptcy attorney can properly evaluate such a claim," said Marilyn Stanley, chief operating officer of Housing and Credit Counseling.
And hiring an expert attorney usually requires extra cash thus government forgiveness programs may be a more viable option for some debtors.
"Ideally, students use their degrees to land well-paying jobs and quickly pay off their loans," said Rahlfs. "But job markets are cyclical, and careers don't always go according to plan. Student loans can be a big financial burden, but there are various options available to those who are unable to repay their loans."
Under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program created by Congress in 2007, borrowers must have been employed full-time by an eligible public service employer and made at least 120 payments or 10 years worth of payments on the eligible student loan.
"There are no consequences when using a forgiveness program," Stanley said. "The debt is forgiven not paid. These programs are readily available but there is a qualification process."
Careers that qualify include emergency management, military service, law enforcement services, library services and early childhood education.
Under the teacher forgiveness program, borrowers must have been employed as a full-time teacher for five complete and consecutive academic years and at least one of those years must have been after the 1997–98 academic year for their loans to be forgiven.
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--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet