Student Loans in Bankruptcy: The Brunner Test

The "Brunner Test" helps determine if you can get student loan debt discharged in bankruptcy, but it's very hard to pass.

By , Attorney

Getting student loans discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case is very difficult. For the most part, you must show that repayment would cause you "undue hardship."

Many courts use a three-factor test, called the Brunner test, to determine if you can meet the undue hardship requirement for student loan discharge. Keep in mind, however, that not all courts use this test. Some bankruptcy courts will look at the totality of the circumstances which include all factors relevant to your hardship argument.

Below are the factors that a court will consider if it uses the Brunner test.

The Brunner Test

Under the Brunner test, a bankruptcy court looks at the following three factors to determine if repayment of your student loans would cause undue hardship, thereby justifying the discharge of some or all of your student loan debt through bankruptcy.

  • Based upon your current income and expenses, you cannot maintain a minimal standard of living for yourself and your dependents if you are forced to repay your loans.
  • Your current financial situation is likely to continue for a big part of the repayment period.
  • You have made a good faith effort to repay your student loans.

Likelihood of Success: Student Loan Debt Forgiveness

Most courts are extremely reluctant to discharge student loans through bankruptcy, whether they use the Brunner test or apply other factors. However, if you are age 50 or older, are likely to remain poor for the rest of your life, and you have tried hard to pay off your loans, you may be a better candidate for student loan discharge.

Other Ways to Get Help Repaying Student Loans

Be sure to explore other ways to reduce your payments, extend your payments over a longer period of time, get a temporary break from payments (called deferment or forbearance), consolidate loans to get a lower interest rate, or cancel loans based on certain factors. To learn about the available government programs for repayment, deferment, forbearance, discharge, or consolidation, check out the articles in Nolo's Student Loan Debt area or visit the National Consumer Law Center's Student Loan Borrower Assistance Center.

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