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I am a senior with student loan debts. What help can I receive?

Many seniors are in default on student loans. These loans may have been taken out for them or others. Either way, Social Security is offsetting the benefits of social security retirees and disabled seniors with these debts.

By law, Social Security can take retirement and disability benefits to repay student loans in default. Social Security can take up to 15% of a person"s benefits. However, the benefits cannot be reduced below $750 a month or $9,000 a year. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cannot be offset to repay these debts.

Before offset begins, Social Security sends a notice. Debtors should know that the notices they receive from Social Security are just to tell them that offset will begin. Debtors cannot appeal, challenge, change, or question this debt to Social Security. To do this, they must go back to the agency to which the debt is owed. The notices from Social Security will have the name and contact information for the agency that is claiming the debt is owed. To change or challenge the offset, the debtor will have to set up a payment plan, or argue hardship to the agency that is owed the money.

Debtors can avoid or stop an offset by getting the student loan out of default. Income Based Repayment (IBR) is an option. It gives borrowers a way to make loan payments. IBR provides for reasonable student loan payments based on a person"s income. Payments can be as low as $0. After 25 years on the program, any remaining debt is forgiven. People with loans in default cannot be in the program. However, people can get their loans out of default by making a number of "reasonable" payments. Once the loan is out of default, offset of benefits should stop.

This FAQ was written by  former Legal Aid attorney Carol Eisenstat,   and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue 3 of "The Alert" - a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

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