NJ Class Loans- Is Settlement an Option?

Recently, I posted a blog on a new law that allows for income based repayment plans for certain NJ Class loans under certain conditions. A step in the right direction but not a giant step.

At the same time, the Legislature passed another bill (S3149) which is entitled “An Act concerning the default and rehabilitation of NJ Class Loans…” Once again, less than the eye meets.

The Act defines what constitutes a default-failure to make an installment payment for at least 180 days if the loan is payable monthly or 240 days if loan is paid less frequently than monthly. That is an improvement. On the bulk of the loans, you have to miss at least 6 payments before HESAA (Higher Education Student Assistance Authority) can come after you.

The Act also states that a party in default can enter into a settlement agreement either pre or post judgment based (1) on the terms of the loan and (2) the borrower’s ability to pay. The request must be in writing. HESAA shall acknowledge receipt of the request within 15 days. Within 30 days of the parties coming to oral argument as to the settlement, HESSA will provide a written settlement agreement to be signed by the parties. I am skeptical about the ability of the borrower to actually negotiate terms with HESAA counsel. I would think that you submit your income and expenses to HESAA and they offer you a “take it or leave it” deal. However, if HESAA is operating in good faith, it should be better than the payment you could not afford Now, here is the key-if the loan is financed by the issuance of bonds, the settlement agreement cannot violate the terms of the trust indenture.

If the borrower makes 9 on time payments out of 10, the loan shall be considered rehabilitated and HESAA will report to the credit agencies that the loan is no longer in default. Note, if after rehabilitation, the borrower misses 6 payments, then the borrower is in default again. At that point, the borrower cannot rehabilitate again.

Historically, NJ Class Loans have been a difficult problem for borrowers. There was no right to an income driven repayment plan. More importantly, you could not consolidate or rehabilitate out of default as with federal loans. Finally, the attorneys representing HESAA were generally inflexible and aggressive. Why? I could think of a few reasons but I will focus on the fact that NJ Class loans are funded by bonds. And the bondholders need to get paid as per the indenture and not one penny less.

Think of that for a second. If HESAA allows income based repayment and many students with lower incomes take advantage of that program, then the chances are higher that at any given time there is going to be less money in the fund than is needed to pay the bondholders. Then, HESAA would be in default unless the Legislature bailed it out with general tax funds. It does not appear that the Legislature wants to have the taxpayers bail out student loan borrowers.

Once again, I am forced to the conclusion that S3149 is helpful but no panacea. That does not mean, however, that if you are in default, you should not at least take advantage of the offer for settlememt

Some Assistance with NJCLASS Loans with RAP and HARP

In early 2018, about a half dozen bills were introduced to deal with student loan issues.   Unfortunately,  those bills languished in committee.

In October, 2018 S3125 and S3149 were introduced dealing specifically with NJCLASS loans.  Two months ago, the bills passed both houses of the Legislature and were signed into law. This blog will deal with S3125.  The next, S3149.

S3125  has two parts.  The Repayment Assistance Program (RAP) deals with NJCLASS loans issued in the 2017-18 academic year and thereafter.   If you are facing an economic hardship, you can apply for RAP .  An economic hardship means that the amount that you currently pay on your NJCLASS loan is more than 10% of the total aggregate household income of all the parties to the loan (borrower and co-signer) minus 150% of the federal poverty guidelines for your household size (which becomes your new payment).  The minimum monthly payment is  $5.

You stay in the program for 2 years.  HESAA pays the interest on the bonds.  Your payment is applied to principal which means that after the two years,  your loan  balance will  be lower.  Before your break out the champagne, however, if you are unemployed or significantly underemployed, your monthly payments could be as little as $5 per month.  That means that your loan balance goes down a whopping $120.  But it keeps you out a default, litigation and possible garnishment of your wages.

After RAP,  the student is supposed to make regular monthly payments based on the loan documents.  However, if  the student and co-signer continues to face an economic hardship, the borrowers can qualify for the Household Affordable Repayment Plan (HARP) beginning with loans issued in the 2018-19 academic year and thereafter.  Under HARP, economic hardship means the regular monthly payment exceeds 15% of the total aggregate household income of all parties to the loan minus 150% of the federal poverty guidelines for your household size.  That becomes your new payment subject to a $25 per month minimum.

If you are in HARP, you can expect that your loan balance will probably increase each year because your monthly payment will probably not cover the interest portion of your payment.  Each year, you will have to submit your income information to HESAA to prove that you qualify.  The repayment term is extended to 25 years.  If you stay in the HARP program for 25 years, the balance of your loan  (which is significantly higher)  is forgiven.  Although the law does not say so, I am pretty sure that the forgiven balance will be reported to the IRS, and you may be required to pay taxes on that amount.

If after a given year your income increases so that you do not qualify for HARP, any unpaid interest is capitalized back into your loan, and you must pay that amount over the original loan repayment plan at your contract rate of interest.

RAP and HARP are not open ended.  Only a certain amount of loans can qualify.  That amount is set forth in the bond documents but not in the law.   So, do 10% qualify?  30%?  50%?  Dunno.   It is first come, first served.

Far from a perfect solution to overburdened NJCLASS borrowers and co-signers,  but a start.