Disabled no longer face tax penalty after Student Loan Debt is forgiven
The new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act benefits individuals who are permanently disabled and struggling to pay back their student loan debt. Disabled borrowers include veterans who are no longer able to work due to service-related injuries but also anyone who is determined to be “totally and permanently disabled” by a physician and is now receiving disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. After the rules were changed in December, these taxpayers will no longer be hit with a big tax penalty when their student loan debt amounts are forgiven.
Prior to the new tax law, the Internal Revenue Service treated the forgiven debt as income. Students whose loans were forgiven due to “total and permanent” disability were hit with a one-time tax bill on the discharged income, which could sometimes amount to tens of thousands of dollars.
The new tax bill eliminates this.
Borrowers who have had their federal student loans forgiven due to “total and permanent” disability determinations will no longer have to pay federal income taxes on the amount forgiven. This change is great news for borrowers who anticipate having loans forgiven in the future.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), over 213,000 people were approved for discharges due to total and permanent disability (TPD) in 2014 and 2015. The typical amount forgiven in 2015 was around $17,500, an amount which would be then considered taxable income by the IRS
In 2016, the Department of Education, utilizing a computer matching software, identified an additional 387,000 borrowers who appeared to be eligible for loan forgiveness. Notifications were then sent to these individuals regarding their eligibility, also warning them of the tax consequences. An additional 19,000 in new approvals for loan forgiveness were then made.
However, the fact that only 19,000 followed through showed that borrowers may have been either intimidated by the paperwork or scared of the tax consequences of the student loan forgiveness.
Now that there are no federal tax implications tied to loan forgiveness for disabled borrowers, lawmakers want to see the Department automatically clear out the debt of those who do meet the eligibility requirements by using the same or similar computer matching program that was previously used. In fact, on Feb. 15, eight lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and VA Secretary David Shulkin, asking that the process begin in discharging these debts.
“Veterans who have served our country with honor and sustained a debilitating service-connected disability are still facing the burden of payments on debt that is eligible to be forgiven,” the letter said. “Delaying benefits owed to our veterans due to a lack of coordination among federal agencies is unacceptable.”
Certain issues may delay borrowers from filing for a TPD discharge, especially if the filer is not a veteran. Delays have been known to happen at the Social Security Administration level.
Once approval has been given for the disability and the borrower has been approved for loan forgiveness, it is also still possible that the approval can be taken away if the borrower fails to submit to annual income verification that is required for the three years following the approval, also known as the three-year monitoring period. The IRS is not notified that the loan has been forgiven until after the three-year period has been completed.
However, if the borrower was given TPD discharge through a VA application, he or s he will not need to do the three-year monitoring period.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) suggests borrowers do the following when seeking TPD loan discharges:
- Provide proof of disability from a physician, the Social Security Administration or Veterans Administration;
- If the borrower’s loans are in default, it is recommended that he or she apply for discharge as soon as possible. Any payments being taken out of social security benefits will then stop while the application is being reviewed;
- Remain in touch with the loan servicer during the three-year review period;
- Discuss other options if the borrower has been turned down for a TPD discharge. Other income-based repayment plans do exist to help ease the burden if the borrower cannot get a total discharge.
If you have any questions on this topic or are struggling with insurmountable debt, call Orlando bankruptcy attorney, Walter Benenati at 407-777-7777. Ask Walter how you can restart your life. At The Benenati Law Firm, we have helped thousands of individuals and families eliminate their debt and get a fresh start financially. The day you hire our firm, we will contact your creditors to stop the harassment and collection calls. We make our hours convenient for our clients and offer free consultations on Saturdays (9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.) and throughout the week until 5:00 p.m. If you are in a financial crisis and considering filing for bankruptcy, contact an experienced Orlando bankruptcy attorney who can advise you of all of your options.