Student Loans

By: SD Lawyer

While millions borrow money to attend college and graduate school, not everyone pays this money back. The failure to pay can result from circumstances such as a slow job market, failure to finish school and health problems. Of course, there are the select few who simply welch on the repayments. The U.S. Supreme Court rendered a decision on December 7, 2005, impacting people who are behind in paying their loans.

In Lockhart v. United States, the Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether the federal government could seize social security benefits to cover outstanding student loans. The case involved James Lockhart, a disable man, who sued to stop the government from cutting his monthly $874 check. Lockhart suffers from heart disease, diabetes and other health problems and lives in public housing in Seattle. He argued the forfeiture of part of his check made it impossible for him to continue to buy his medication and food. The Justices disagreed with Lockhart.

Under federal law, efforts to collect defaulted student loans had a 10 year limit. Put another way, the federal government was barred from hunting down delinquent payers after ten years. In the past few years, however, Congress did away with this limitation, which brought forth a conflict of law. The Social Security Act contains language protecting benefits from being seized as part of debt actions. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that such protections only apply to private individuals, not the federal government. In short, social security benefits are no longer safe.

Currently, the total balance on outstanding student loans is roughly $30 billion. Of this amount, roughly seven billion are delinquent or defaulted loans. With 25 percent of loans in the red, one can see why the government has an interest in collecting the debt.

Personally, I don't have any problem with this ruling. If you borrow money to go to school, you should pay it back. Failing to do so could deprive others of the same opportunity.

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