Congress shuttered a short-lived program for married couples, the Department of Education program. The program had high perks and lower interest rates on couples’ debts, and they only had to pay once a month. This program helped couples have a single monthly payment with low-interest rates, which explains why over 14,000 couples participated in the program.
The program makes no provision for disentangling the debts, and one spouse carries all the debts alone. However, the program had a significant flaw that manifested when it was time to separate the loans during divorce or domestic violence. Below are two case studies relating to joint consolidation loans after divorce.
Ways to Managing Joint Consolidation Loans
The first case study is about Angela Powell, who met her husband as a freshman in college. She got married after graduation, began attending business school while her husband obtained his law degree, and then settled in Arizona. Like every young person in love, she dreamed of a very long future filled with love, happiness, and beautiful children.
While in Arizona, they decided to consolidate their loans under this program. She didn’t think it was a big deal because they had plans to pay off all the loans. However, they lost their jobs and divorced in the housing market crisis in 2009/2010.
Like most couples who divorce, Angela’s relationship with her ex-husband became sour, particularly when he stopped paying the loans in 2016. To make matters worse, he had taken out nearly double her debt, and together, the total debt amounted to almost $200,000. The debt was now more than five times the initial amount Angela took as a loan.
Unfortunately, since the program makes no provision for disentangling debts, Angela was stuck with having debts on her back. Meanwhile, if her ex chose not to pay the loans anymore, there was nothing she could do because the loan was in her name.
The second case study is of Holly Rodriguez, who had to pay back a $72,000 loan. This high cost includes her husband’s loan, nearly ten years of strained finances, and interest. They started paying the loan, but her husband lost his job soon after they had their daughter, which strained their finances.
Apart from losing the protective order she filed for in 2018, she couldn’t get her ex to repay the loans. The collection agency called, and Holly contacted her loan servicer to update him on her situation. They both lost their jobs and faced medical setbacks until they had a separation that was not amicable.
Despite providing her ex-husband’s contact information, nothing changed because the loan was in her name. The loan servicer told her to work it out with her ex if she wanted him to take responsibility for the loan.
Her ex had told the loan servicer that although he co-signed with her, she signed first, which is why she’s taking the brunt. She had to take on the entire debt to avoid her credit score being affected by missing payments.
Thankfully, help came through Patrick Stebly, who believed that if you could put something together, you could take it apart. He has been in a similar situation since 2013 but has spent the last five years trying to change the problem. Thanks to his advocacy, people like Senator Mark Warner passed legislation that remedied the problem where joint loans would be split accordingly into divorce or domestic violence cases.
Warner introduced the bill in 2017, where the thousands affected across the U.S. contacted the senator’s office requesting relief from the program. Advocates and lawmakers believe a legislative fix should be easy; the challenge would be getting the legislation through the gears of Congress. Until then, couple’s main course of action would be through the court system. “There is no strict formula for the court to determine if spousal support should be implemented or not,” said Attorney Samah T. Abukhodeir of Florida Probate and Family Law Firm. “A judge will review the basis of the case to determine implementation,”