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Public Q&A: The following question (and answer) is a good example of why law librarians caution public librarians when they try and respond to legal questions posed by members of the public. Unlike many public library reference question, legal reference questions are rarely answered and instead referrals are made to research materials, attorneys, or legal service providers:

Question: “I make very little money and am unable to hold a job for very long due to bi-polar or schizophrenia. How can I get rid of my old student loan, which has grown from $8,000 to over $25,000 with interest?”

Answer: This is a multi-faceted question and one that has a lot of potential pitfalls buried within it. (i.e., there are probably several details that the patron hasn’t shared with you that could affect how this could be addressed.) It is also a loaded question, as there are a number of issues here that are probably more complex than they seem on the surface. First reaction would be to refer the patron to other resources in the community that can assist with credit counseling or with providing free or low-cost legal advice relevant to the patron’s particular situation.

However, several websites are maintained by government entities that discuss issues of repayment or default on student loans (IF those loans were through a federal grant or loan programs – and there are different types of programs, which have different requirements for repayment or forgiveness. Another element of this question which makes it multi-layered.) Some possibilities are listed below, although one should avoid recommending any of these as the BEST sites available, but encourage the patron to search for information on the program – and sponsoring agency or private entity – to which the loan amount and interest is due.

The Dept. of Education does discuss conditions under which a federal direct student loan MAY be discharged (forgiven). However, it is probably not safe to assume that any of these options would be appropriate for the patron, or that his/her loan was through the Dept.

There is also a web page maintained by the FSA’s omsbudman’s office.

Other potential sites that might provide further information (not sponsored by federal government): Nolo Press, Lawyers dot com, and Fin Aid, to name only a few.

Finally, you should always recommend to the patron that s/he contact an attorney who is familiar with this area of the law or a legal advocacy group for people with disabilities. They may know of many other options available to assist the patron.

Please don’t ever let me neglect thanking my exceptional county law librarian colleagues for their assistance answering these questions. This posting came from the Lane County Law Librarian.

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