If you’re a parent of a student heading to college, you’re well aware of just how overwhelming navigating student repayments can be. For parents who have children with disabilities, this process has the potential to become even more challenging.
Below, we discuss what your options are if you or your child become unexpectedly disabled during the college experience, current policy, and what options might be available for students and parents with disabilities in the future.
Can a Parent PLUS Loan be Forgiven Due to Disability?
As with loans made to students, Parent PLUS Loans are eligible for discharge under specific circumstances. One of the circumstances that allow loan forgiveness occurs when you, the person who has taken out a Parent PLUS Loan, become permanently and totally disabled (P&T).
As it stands currently, loan forgiveness does not extend to parents who have taken out Parent PLUS Loans whose children are granted P&T disability status. Under current legislation, only student borrowers who are approved for P&T disability are eligible for student loan forgiveness or discharge, meaning that individuals who take out Parent PLUS Loans are still responsible for their debts if their dependent becomes disabled.
A congressional bill proposed May 1, 2017 might change this procedure, however. Sponsored by Rep. James Langevin, a House Democrat from Rhode Island who is cofounder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, H.R. 2270 aims to amend section 437(d) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to provide for repayment by the Secretary of loans to parents of disabled students.
If signed into law, the amendment would provide debt relief for parents whose children become permanently disabled.
“Student loan debt is crushing American families, and parents should not be further burdened if their child becomes disabled,” Langevin said when describing his bill. “Disability loan discharge applies to almost all other student loans, and it is simply wrong that a parent struggling with a child’s sudden disability is not also afforded this forgiveness. My bill would close this loophole and allow families to focus on healing, not servicing debt,” he continued.
While there aren’t specific laws that allow parents to discharge their own student loans if their child suddenly becomes disabled, there are other circumstances for which parents may be eligible to have their Parent PLUS Loan discharged. Those include:
- Death of the child for which you obtained the loan
- Discharge through bankruptcy
- The school through which your child was enrolled closed and the student could not complete their program
- Your eligibility to receive the loan was falsely certified by the school and/or identity theft
- The student withdrew from school but the school didn’t pay a refund of your loan money as per laws and regulations
Can Parents of Disabled Children Get Their Student Loan Debt Forgiven?
For adults, having children can mean facing all kinds of new expenses and financial burdens, but many adults are having children before they finish paying off their own student loans. Managing all these debts and budgeting challenges are compounded when a child has special needs.
Many parents of children with disabilities face roadblocks: health insurance can become infinitely more complex and expensive; out-of-pocket costs for medical care as well as education, recreation, transportation, counseling, and many other special needs can be taxing. It is common for parents of children with special needs to become their child’s primary caregiver and advocate. This can make holding down a job and earning enough to cover basic expenses even harder, which makes student loan debt all the more burdensome. Unfortunately, no relief program specifically targets student debt for these parents.
As the law stands now, being the parent of a disabled child doesn’t qualify you for disability discharge of your old student loans. As mentioned earlier, however, there is movement to help change this law so parents of children with disabilities will have more options when it comes to having their student loans discharged. By and large, these measures have significant public support as well as bipartisan support in congress. Time will tell if these measures are heard by Congress.
Navigating collegiate life is difficult for everyone, but for families who must also navigate the process while disabled, the process becomes even more complicated. While the future is uncertain for student loan forgiveness for parents of children with disabilities, it’s promising that lawmakers are aware and looking to make things easier moving forward.
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