Student loans. If you’re like me, just hearing the phrase makes you shudder. Adam Minsky feels our pain and is here to help. An attorney in private practice in Boston, Adam is the first lawyer in Massachusetts — and one of the few in the entire country — specializing in student loan law. I spoke to him about his specialty — and tried to get some free legal advice!
How did you end up practicing this type of law?
Well, shortly after I graduated from law school, I had a bit of a problem with one of my own student loans, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. I decided I should seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in student loan law… and I couldn’t find one! There are millions of lawyers, millions of student loan borrowers, and $1 trillion (yes, trillion) in student loan debt in America (and counting)… but no student loan attorney? I had already become a bit of the informal go-to guy for student loan “stuff” among family and friends because I was a bit… thorough… in trying to understand how to manage my own student debt (law school is pricey). So I had some working knowledge of these issues already, and I saw that there was definitely a need for these types of services; I thought, why not try this out as a profession? I like problem-solving, and I wanted to do something to help others who had issues with their student loans but had nowhere to go for help.
Who is your typical client?
I’d say my clients generally fall into two categories. The first are people who have a lot of student loan debt and just need some help and guidance in optimizing their repayment and taking advantage of the complex web of programs out there to assist student loan borrowers. Often these are soon-to-be or recent graduates, or people who are just frustrated with their current repayment structure. The second category of clients is made up of people who are in some sort of trouble because of their student loans, including people who are behind on their payments or are in default or collections. Overwhelmingly, my clients tend to be good people of all ages (not just 20-somethings) who tried to do the right thing by getting an education, and they are now just overwhelmed by the realities and burdens of student loan debt.
What kinds of remedies are available to those clients?
Fortunately, there are a lot of programs out there to help student loan borrowers, and a big part of my job is determining clients’ eligibility for these programs and getting them on board. Borrowers might have the ability to consolidate their loans and get onto income-sensitive repayment plans, which could substantially simplify and lower their payments. They might also be eligible for loan forgiveness or cancellation—if not now, then sometime in the future if they do things right. For people in default, I’ve been very successful in bringing student loans back to good standing through negotiated payment plans, re-consolidation, or settlement. There are also laws out there that protect borrowers from unfair or abusive practices by collections agencies, and I’ve been able to use those laws to protect my clients.
A main theme of the recent Occupy protests has been debt and college costs. Do you think we need to change the way students pay for higher education?
Absolutely! Our higher education system is just a complete mess financially. College tuition — whether it’s for public or private schools — is just out of control and has been increasing at astonishing rates. We have parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and everyone else telling young high school seniors that student loan debt is “good debt” and is necessary if they want to go to a good school and get a good job (and they’re not rich!). Increasingly, Bachelor’s degrees are “not enough,” you need to get a Master’s or professional degree to get that good, high-paying job with growth potential. Then we have a financial and legal system that makes student loans abundantly available, completely under-regulated, and mostly barred from being discharged in bankruptcy (which makes student loans different from almost any other type of debt). What that means is that we have a generation of young people graduating with tens of thousands (sometimes *hundreds* of thousands) of dollars in student loan debt in one of the worst hiring environments for youth in decades, and they will effectively be stuck with this debt for much of their adult lives. Something isn’t right. Education is supposed to be a good thing, a way to improve your life, not a vehicle for saddling an entire generation with debt before they’ve even begun their careers, purchased their first homes, or started their families. I’m doing what I can with my little law practice, but we need big, big changes.
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