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Focus: school-related debt and the student debt relief industry

Tough economic times in recent years have led high numbers of Arkansas residents and millions of other persons throughout the country to consider filing or actually filing for bankruptcy.

A high level of unsecured debt -- often medical debt or credit card debt (and sometimes a combination of the two) -- has often been the catalyst for individuals and families to slip into financial hardship. Indeed, credit card and medical bills are cited repeatedly by debtors as being predominantly responsible for what ultimately becomes an unsustainable level of debt.

Both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy provide relief from insuperably high medical bills and credit card exactions, given that the Bankruptcy Code makes such unsecured debt dischargeable in bankruptcy actions.

The same cannot as easily be said of student loan obligations, although they can also be forgiven through bankruptcy in limited instances.

Notwithstanding that general limitation on forgiveness, persons saddled with student loan debt can still seek and often obtain help by working with an experienced debt relief attorney.

The reasons why they might wish to do so are myriad and well documented. A recent media article chronicles, for example, many of the problems that plague both current and former students owing to assistance they seek from bad-faith actors within the debt relief industry.

One tactic that has been noted is a charge assessed students to avail themselves of loan-consolidation services that are actually free through the federal government. Many students are unaware of this and are thus fleeced by companies that direct them to such services only after extracting a charge for doing so. Additionally, some of those companies charge upfront fees as well.

It is course not true that all debt relief companies are unscrupulous, but many have proven to be so, and a “buyer beware” admonition must necessarily attach to any consumer that seeks out their services.

One thing that readily distinguishes them from an experienced bankruptcy and debt relief attorney is that the latter has a fiduciary duty to always act in the best interests of a client.

Source: North Country Public Radio, "Investigation launched into student debt relief industry," Kate O'Connell, Jan. 24, 2014

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