How Michigan Woman Erased $155,000 in Student Loans

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One woman was able to clear $155,000 in student loan debt after filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and she’s now spreading the message that it’s possible for other borrowers as well.

Under President Joe Biden’s updated student debt forgiveness plan, previous rules that made filing for bankruptcy to erase student loan debt more difficult have been upended.

Alrena Dale, a 60-year-old customer service representative living in Flint, Michigan, saw her student loan debt skyrocket to $155,000 after earning two associates, a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

While she claims her college, the online University of Phoenix, promised their degrees would help adult workers in their search for high-salary jobs after graduation, she was never able to find one that made paying off her student debt feasible.

People for student debt relief demonstrate on June 30, 2023, in Washington D.C. A Michigan woman cleared all her loan debt discharged by consulting an attorney and filing for bankruptcy.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

At the time she decided to earn a bachelor’s and master’s in organizational business management, Dale was a single parent looking to make a better life for her son.

“They were encouraging us to recruit others because they could guarantee us all good-paying jobs when we graduated, $50,000 and above,” Dale told Newsweek. “That was a fantasy that they promised us all.”

Newsweek has contacted the University of Phoenix via email for comment on Dale’s claim.

While Dale doesn’t regret her education, she said what she perceived as the promise of that high-paying job never panned out, even after she forked over additional money for a master’s degree.

“I wasn’t really worried about it,” Dale said. “When I realized it was getting out of control is when I graduated with my master’s and I realized that they weren’t holding their end of the bargain.”

Alrena Dale
Alrena Dale was able to clear $155,000 in student debt by filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. President Biden’s new guidance makes it easier for borrowers to erase their debt under a bankruptcy filing.

Alrena Dale

Four years ago, Dale’s student debt had soared to $155,000, but that wasn’t why she looked into filing for bankruptcy.

Instead, Dale found herself in financial straits after struggling to maintain a steady job after purchasing a new car. Dale was scared she would end up losing her car, but she had no idea her student loan debt could be cleared through the bankruptcy process.

Her lawyer at the Robert Branson Law Firm in Orlando, Florida, told her she’d look into the possibility but there were no promises. Still, Dale had hope that maybe she wouldn’t die with the thousands of dollars in debt to her name.

“I said, ‘Lord, I don’t want to go to my grave on $155,000,'” Dale said “I knew that I couldn’t pay that back, especially not having a good job. Right now, I live paycheck to paycheck. Most Americans do.”

The entire process took roughly nine months, and then Dale saw her student debt completely erased. Dale said her life today is significantly different than if she still had the hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging over her.

“I don’t have that heaviness that I had over my head,” Dale said. “I have hope for my future. I feel like now I can move on with my life because at some point I felt like this was stagnating me from moving on. I was like, ‘There’s no way I can pay this money back.'”

How You Might Be Able To Get Your Debt Cleared

George Vogl, the managing director at bankruptcy services and tech firm Stretto, said all distressed student loan borrowers who are interested in discharging their student loan debt in bankruptcy should consult with an attorney who can quickly tell them if this is a realistic option or not.

However, free tools are also available online at websites like FixMyStudentDebt.com.

“If the analysis shows that bankruptcy is a realistic option, then the borrower should engage an experienced consumer bankruptcy attorney to proceed, as the bankruptcy process alone is difficult to navigate and the requirements to seek student loan discharge are even more complicated,” Vogl told Newsweek.

After a student loan borrower files for bankruptcy, an attorney can start a separate action called an adversary proceeding, which acts as a mini lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, Vogl said.

From there, an attestation form will be filled out with all of the borrower’s income, expenses, student loan details and educational history.

“This attestation form is provided to the U.S. Attorney for the jurisdiction, whose team reviews the bankruptcy case and the attestation and consults proactively with the U.S. Department of Education to determine whether full or partial discharge of the borrower’s student loans is appropriate in their case,” Vogl said.

“If it is determined to be appropriate, then the parties file with the court to seek approval and the debt is discharged.”

While the process today is more streamlined than the pre-Biden guidance, it is still a full legal process that typically relies on proper representation, Vogl said.

To date, hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers are eligible for discharge of student loans under the new guidance issued by the Department of Justice and Department of Education in 2022.

“The standards being applied are far less draconian than those common prior to the issuance of the guidance, making relief more likely for a far greater number of borrowers,” Vogl said.

“Bankruptcy is not the option for every student loan borrower, as there are many other factors to be considered and many other valuable options available under the Higher Education Act, but for those who do qualify for relief in bankruptcy, the opportunity to discharge student loans along with the rest of their debts is within reach.”

For Dale, in addition to her lawyer, she credits God for opening up the doors to her debt forgiveness.

“God is the one that really made it happen because he knew deep down in my heart, that I really wanted to pay this debt back and God made a way and that’s all I can say,” Dale said.

Still, millions of borrowers might be eligible for debt forgiveness via bankruptcy today, despite it being a relatively unknown option. While even Dale’s friends tell her they can’t believe she could get it cleared, she wants other borrowers to know it is possible.

Under Biden’s new policy guidance, in 99 percent of cases with court-entered orders or judgments, the court agreed to a full or partial discharge of federal student loan debt, the Education Department released last year.

“When I look at television, and I see all of these people who’re in my situation with the debt, I’m sure their intentions are payback,” Dale said. “That’s why they go to school because they want to get a better paying job so they can have a better life. But sometimes it doesn’t work out like that for everyone. You know, life happens. And then at the same time, promises are broken, and you can’t let that stop you and hold you back.”