This couple owes $900,000 of student loans – and now the wife can’t become a lawyer.
Here’s what you need to know.
Student Loan Debt
Cynthia Marie Rodgers, 59, graduated from Capital Law School and intended to become a lawyer in Ohio. As part of her bar admission, she was required to pass a character and fitness review, which is typical for aspiring lawyers to ensure they have good character to practice law.
However, the Board of Commissioners on Character and Fitness of the Supreme Court of Ohio recommended that her bar admission be denied. The reason? The Court said Rodgers did not have the requisite character or fitness to practice law. Among the Court’s reasons:
- Rodgers apparently filed numerous and potentially frivolous federal, state and municipal lawsuits – all before going to law school. Cases ranged from personal injury to property to bankruptcy, among others.
- Rodgers and her husband collectively owe $900,000 of student loan debt. This includes $340,000 of student loan debt from Rodgers’ husband for law, bachelor’s and associate’s degrees as well as a master’s program.
Rodgers told the Court she is disabled and only can work part time. She is enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan, which enables her pay a monthly student loan payment based on her discretionary income. Rodgers told the Court that she expects that her student loans will either be forgiven or she will pay for the remainder of her life. The court noted in its opinion that Rodgers borrowed the student loan debt with the knowledge that it will never be repaid.
Can a state bar deny admission to a new lawyer because they have student loans?
Not exactly. Naturally, most recent law school graduates have student loan debt when they apply for bar admission. If student loans would disqualify a prospective lawyer, then many new law school graduates would not become members of a state bar. That said, fitness and moral character are important components for bar admission. While student loans in isolation may not disqualify an applicant, state bars can evaluate the totality of the circumstances to reach an overall judgment on an applicant’s moral character. In this case, the Court believed that Rodgers misused the legal system by filing numerous lawsuits. The Court also found that Rodgers borrowed a significant amount of student loan debt and did not intend to repay the loans in full. In the Court’s judgment, this was enough to deem Rodgers not fit to become a member of the bar.
Student Loans: Forgiveness
Importantly, income-driven repayment plans do not magically forgive your student loans.
- First, income-driven repayment plans such as IBR, PAYE, REPAYE and ICR are only for federal student loans. Private student loans are not eligible for forgiveness from the federal government.
- Second, you must recertify your income each year with the federal government, which means your student loan payments can change over time.
- Third, to qualify for student loan forgiveness, you must make on-time payments for 20 or 25 years.
- Fourth, the amount of student loan forgiveness you can receive is equal to the remaining amount of your student loans after 20 or 25 years (not the total student loan balance with which you started).
- Fifth, you owe income tax on the amount of student loan forgiveness you receive from an income-driven repayment plan. For some, that’s worth the trade off. For others, there are other ways to pay off student loans faster.