As most people are aware, student loan debt is crippling people across the country. Many borrowers are strapped with high interest rates on their principal loans that essentially never allows the owing amount to decrease. However, could you imagine being bogged down by your own debt in addition to the debt of a spouse you were divorcing? This is a reality for many borrowers who consolidated their loans through a Department of Education program for married couples back in the early to mid 2000’s. The perks for consolidating loans for married couples were amazing, the couple only had one payment per month instead of two at a much lower interest rate.
However, when the housing market of 2008-2010 began and everyone lost their jobs, marital strife was high and divorce rates were even higher. What couples going through divorce at this time were now finding out was that the consolidated loan they signed up for was not particularly easy to split. More than 14,000 people participated in this program, which the federal government closed officially in 2006. For many, it seemed like a straightforward idea at the time, but what these borrowers couldn’t foresee was a program that had no way to disentangle the consolidated debts.
One particular borrower took to Congress to change this completely misguided approach to helping borrowers. Patrick Stebly has been stuck in this situation since his divorce in 2013 and has been working tirelessly over the past five years to rectify the situation for every other borrower. Stebly’s advocacy has now prompted legislative action. A new bill introduced by Senator Mark Warner of Virgina and Representative David E. Price of North Carolina, would allow joint loans to be split proportionally based on original loan amounts for those going through divorce or suffering domestic violence. The bill was first introduced in 2017.