Between 1993 and 2006, married couples were allowed to consolidate their federal student loans. For many, this was a positive development. They could make one student loan payment per month instead of two. Often, a couple was able to pay less than they would have been required to. However, the ability to consolidate in this manner had an obvious potential flaw: divorce happens and when loans were consolidated the divorced couples were still liable for their partner’s loan. In turn, this lead to the potential for financial abuse of the former spouse. Thankfully, joint consolidated loans (JCLs) were barred in 2006. Despite the ending of JCLs, couples who had already consolidated their student loans are still liable for repayment. What’s more, JCLs made no accommodation for unwinding these loans in the case of domestic violence, financial abuse, or a partner’s simple refusal to make their fair share of payments.
While it seemed to be a good idea at the time, sixteen years later, JCLs have dangerous ramifications. NPR highlighted this issue sharing stories from several people harmed by the lack of the ability to unroll the JCLs. For example, Angela Powell and her ex-husband enrolled in the program. She and her husband divorced years ago, but she is still fettered to their joint repayments. Her ex-husband has stopped paying loans, so now she must settle up $1,942.50 monthly for both of them, even though his loan was twice the amount of hers. Unfortunately, there are many others in situations similar to Angela’s. JCLs can lead to financial abuse – an abusive partner could use their consolidated loans to make a partner stay in an abusive relationship. They could also intentionally tank their partner’s credit score by not making their share of the payments.
Patrick Stebly, who consolidated his student loans with his now ex-wife, has spent the past five years advocating for a solution to this predicament. His advocacy has inspired the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation (JCLs) Act of 2021, which would allow borrowers to apply to separate their loans. In addition, the legislation would allow just one borrower to submit an individual application under certain circumstances, like domestic or financial abuse, an unreachable partner or ex, or if deemed appropriate by the Secretary of Education.
Even many years after being eliminated, joint consolidated loans are another example of how student loan debt traps Americans. Passing this legislation is a crucial step in the journey to cancel all student loan debt.
Back to All Posts
Sign our pledge to show that you support debt freedom!
Student debt impacts millions of people, of all ages.
What would you do if you were free from the student debt trap? How would your life be different?Submit Story