MONEY College

Why Harvard Will Win the NCAA Tournament

150319_FF_MarchMadnessHarvard
Hunter Martin—Getty Images Fans of the Harvard Crimson celebrate a win over the Yale Bulldogs in mid-March. Just imagine how excited they will be in Indianapolis in April if we're right.

Sure, the No. 13 seed in the West is a long shot. But our March Madness bracket favors colleges that produce alumni who win the financial tournament of life.

For the three weeks known as March Madness, college basketball fans focus on stats like field goal percentages or player efficiency. But we here at MONEY try to stay sane and pay attention to the numbers that matter over the long term.

So when we filled out this year’s NCAA men’s tournament bracket, we picked teams based on our Best Colleges rankings, which look at which schools do best in terms of affordability, quality of education, and graduating students into good-paying jobs. In other words, if we gathered these players and their classmates together again in, say, 25 or 50 years, who would likely be on the best financial footing?

This gave us an unorthodox final four of Harvard (6th in our value rankings, while a 13th seed in the tournament), Notre Dame (20th), Virginia (16th), and UCLA (31st), with Harvard besting Virginia in Indianapolis on April 6.

That Harvard is the overall winner is not exactly surprisingly: 97% of students graduate, there have been no recent defaulters on student loans, and the average recent graduate is earning about $55,000 a year these days, according to data from Payscale.com. But the elite private colleges don’t dominate in this bracket or in life. Two of our final four are public universities–Virginia and UCLA–which also have graduation rates above 90% and whose recent alumni typically earn about $50,000 a year.

Looking for this year’s Cinderella story? Manhattan (40th), the rightful winner of the play-in game against Hampton under our system, is predicted to oust undefeated Kentucky (389th) in the first round and go all the way to the Elite Eight. Another sixteen seed makes history in our bracket, as Lafayette College (28th) knocks off Villanova (114th) in the first round and hangs on until the Elite Eight as well.

There are some squeakers along the way. Schools within 20 places of each other in our ranking are roughly equivalent. But, strictly by our numbers, pricey, exclusive Lafayette edges out public and relatively affordable UC Irvine (32nd) in the Sweet 16 round. Lafayette Leopards tend to graduate into higher-paying jobs than do Irvine Anteaters (a difference of about $8,000 a year, according to Payscale), but they pay much more for their degrees. The average Leopard pays a total of $178,000 (after college scholarships are subtracted) for a bachelor’s degree, versus the Anteaters’ total bill of about $123,000.

Under our college value selection system, Brigham Young (9th) not only makes the roster of 64 teams but goes all the way to the Elite Eight before running up against unstoppable Harvard. Other notables in our bracket: Perennial basketball powerhouse Duke (32nd) barely makes it past Georgetown (37th) in the Sweet 16 before falling to UCLA. But high seeds like Gonzaga (177), Arizona (99), and Kansas (248) stumble early in the tournament.

To see how your college ranks in the competition of life, check out our full college rankings. Dig into our full NCAA bracket below (click the image to see a larger version).

MoneyBracket 3-18b

 

MONEY Student Loans

5 Little-Known Ways to Get Your Student Loans Forgiven

mortarboard on top of money
Shutterstock

Here are some student loans forgiveness programs that you might not have even known about. Do you qualify?

If you’re like most people, your student loans probably feel a bit like a ball and chain that you’ve been dragging through your life for years. Every month, you dutifully make a payment knowing that you’ll be making that same payment next month, the month after that, and so on. But what if you didn’t have to? What if there was a way to get your student loans forgiven?

It turns out that there are many ways to get federal student loans forgiven. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report in 2013 estimating that more than one-quarter of working Americans are eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, but only a small percentage are actually using it.

Programs like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program are relatively well known. However, there are some lesser-known programs that may also help you pay down your loans.

Here are five ways to say goodbye to your student loans that you might not have even known about. If you’re not eligible for any of them, there are still other ways to lessen your student loan burden – such as through student loan consolidation, refinancing your loans, or by picking the right federal or private student loan repayment plans.

1. Loan Forgiveness Programs for Health Care Professionals

If you’re a doctor or a nurse, there is probably somewhere in the country where you could get a significant amount of your student loans forgiven in exchange for your service. From federal programs like the Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program that helps health care professionals serving in the military repay up to $50,000 in loans per year of service, to the Maine Dental Loan Repayment Program which pays up to $20,000 a year for serving an underserved area, there are many ways to get your loans repaid.

2. Perkins Loan Cancellation & Discharge

Did you get Perkins loans to pay for college? Well, then that’s good news for you. Borrowers of Perkins loans can have their entire debt forgiven after five years if they fit certain criteria. The professions that qualify for forgiveness are fairly broad and include anything from an attorney to a librarian, to even a speech pathologist. Check it out to see if your job fits the bill.

3. Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs

Great news if you’re a teacher who is willing to work in underserved areas – there are several student loan forgiveness programs tailored to you. Many states offer awards specifically to draw teachers to underserved areas. Not only can you make a difference, but you can pay off your student loans while doing it.

4. Volunteering

SponsorChange.org is a nonprofit organization that helps graduates pay off student loans in return for volunteer work. Donors give money to projects or nonprofits to help them recruit volunteers and those volunteers get great work experience while also lessening their student loan burden.

5. Total and Permanent Disability Discharge

While no one plans to be disabled, it’s good to know that if you have a terrible accident that your student loans could be forgiven. If you have a condition that prevents you from working that has lasted for more than 60 months or can be expected to last for more than 60 months, then you may be able to get your student loans discharged.

The Bottom Line

If you’re having trouble paying your student loans, it’s important to find a workable solution so you don’t default on them. For the most part, student loans aren’t dischargeable in bankruptcy, and falling behind on your payments can hurt your credit and may even lead to wage garnishment. (If you want to see how your student loans are affecting your credit, you can get a free credit report summary on Credit.com.)

There are many more people eligible for student loan forgiveness programs who don’t take advantage of them. One important thing to remember — if you do get your student loans forgiven, you will then owe taxes on the amount forgiven. The IRS counts forgiven student loans as income; so while you might be able to escape your student loans, you definitely can’t escape taxes.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

TIME Higher Education

This Graduate Is Refusing to Pay Back Her Student Loans

"By using our debt as leverage, we’re making our voices heard"

A recent graduate of a for-profit college’s nursing program is refusing to pay back her federal student loans, saying the school defrauded her.

Mallory Heiney says her 12-month nursing program at Everest Institute, a Grand Rapids, Mich. school owned by Corinthian Colleges, failed to adequately prepare her for the state nursing licensing exam and put her $24,000 in debt. In a column in the Washington Post, Heiney writes that thousands of students were caught in Everest’s “debt trap.” She and several other students who have dubbed themselves the Corinthian 15 are demanding that the Department of Education discharge their federal loans.

“By using our debt as leverage, we’re making our voices heard,” Heiney wrote. “We are not asking for a handout. We are demanding justice for students ensnared in a debt trap.”

Heiney said she was inspired by Susan B. Anthony’s advocacy for women’s suffrage and by Rosa Parks’ efforts to end racial discrimination.

Corinthian Colleges, which once operated more than 100 campuses across the country, began shutting down much of its operations and selling off its assets last summer following a Department of Education investigation into its educational and financial practices.

Joe Hixson, a spokesman for Corinthian, noted that the vast majority of the students from Heiney’s nursing program successfully graduated, including Heiney herself, and that most of these students successfully passed the nursing licensing exam. “Recent criticism of Corinthian Colleges wrongly disparage the career services assistance that we offer our graduates and mischaracterize both the purpose and practices of the ‘Genesis’ lending program,” he wrote in an email, referring to Corinthian’s private student loan program.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said the agency worked with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to provide $480 million in loan forgiveness for borrowers who took out loans through Corinthian. However, she also encouraged students to continue paying back their outstanding loans to avoid default.

TIME College

Penn State Frat Suspended Over Facebook Photos of Nude, Unconscious Women

Page featured images of nude, passed out women and drug sales

A fraternity at Pennsylvania State University has been suspended after police accused members of operating a secret Facebook page that featured photos of naked women apparently taken when they were unconscious.

According to WJAC, police in State College, Pa. were given a tip about two Facebook pages where members of the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity allegedly posted images of drug transactions, hazing, and partially nude women. The women in the images appeared to be “passed out or sleeping,” according to police.

The Facebook pages, titled “Covert Business Transactions” and “2.0,” were invite-only. After the “Covert” page was shut down, “2.0” appeared in its place. The page had at least 150 members, including current students and alumni.

The Penn State Interfraternity Council said in a statement it has suspended the full chapter and it will undergo a “conduct review session.”

[WJAC]

Read next: The Historical Roots of Fraternity Racism

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY College

The 50 Best Private Colleges for Earning Your Degree On Time

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There aren't many "super seniors" at these private schools, where almost every student earns a bachelor's degree in just four years—and avoids the high cost of a longer stay.

Paying four years’ worth of college tuition is hard enough. But too many parents and students don’t realize that there’s a good chance they’ll have to pay for five, since 45% of full-time students need at least an extra year of school to earn a bachelor’s degree, according to Judith Scott-Clayton, an economist at Teachers College, Columbia University.

That common miscalculation can be “devastating” to a family’s finances, says Jim Briggs, a founder of Reducing College Costs, a private financial aid consulting firm. Since an extra year at a private college can easily cost more than $50,000 these days, “we are talking about a lot of money,” Briggs adds.

Before committing to a college, you should check the four-year graduation rate with the U.S. Department of Education. If the rate is low, ask the college and some students why that is, Briggs advises.

While students themselves cause many delays—by flunking required courses or changing majors late in their college careers—some schools do an especially good job of helping students get the courses they need to finish up in four years, saving parents that unpleasant surprise of a fifth year’s worth of bills, Briggs says.

At these 50 private colleges, you’ll have the best chance of graduating on time. At all of them, the average student graduates in 4 to 4.1 years, and more than 80% of the student body earns a bachelor’s degree within those four years. This list, ranked by four-year graduation rate, also includes Money’s best college values ranking and our estimate of how much the degree will cost if you get the typical amount of financial aid.

Your net cost will be lower if you take advantage of, say, federal education tax credits, or if you receive scholarships from private organizations or federal, state, or local government agencies. It will be higher if you don’t receive any financial aid.

College State Money ranking % of freshmen who earn a bachelor’s in 4 years Estimated average net cost of a degree for class of 2019
1) Pomona College CA 50 93% $167,662
2) Haverford College PA 122 91% $187,297
3) Yale University CT 15 90% $188,279
4) University of Notre Dame IN 20 90% $190,073
5) Williams College MA 14 90% $173,630
6) Carleton College MN 79 90% $183,529
7) Davidson College NC 72 90% $170,095
8) Vassar College NY 129 90% $159,658
9) Hamilton College NY 101 90% $187,252
10) Amherst College MA 17 89% $161,350
11) Boston College MA 122 89% $207,603
12) College of the Holy Cross MA 101 89% $191,814
13) Colby College ME 86 89% $195,668
14) Swarthmore College PA 32 89% $180,033
15) Georgetown University DC 37 88% $210,612
16) University of Chicago IL 101 88% $194,477
17) Bowdoin College ME 44 88% $185,213
18) Bates College ME 150 88% $199,275
19) Washington University in St Louis MO 62 88% $218,216
20) Princeton University NJ 4 88% $150,602
21) University of Pennsylvania PA 11 88% $207,659
22) Harvard University MA 6 87% $186,658
23) Tufts University MA 72 87% $207,047
24) Johns Hopkins University MD 107 87% $216,263
25) Duke University NC 32 87% $198,588
26) Dartmouth College NH 24 87% $194,752
27) Cornell University NY 24 87% $200,157
28) Colgate University NY 27 87% $192,119
29) Bucknell University PA 45 87% $204,082
30) Vanderbilt University TN 50 87% $165,615
31) Middlebury College VT 47 87% $208,897
32) Harvey Mudd College CA 7 86% $193,324
33) Wesleyan University CT 169 86% $199,874
34) Northwestern University IL 129 86% $206,162
35) Brandeis University MA 248 86% $197,555
36) Columbia University in the City of New York NY 22 86% $212,954
37) Kenyon College OH 94 86% $196,119
38) Villanova University PA 114 86% $202,283
39) Washington and Lee University VA 39 86% $153,859
40) Macalester College MN 214 85% $143,259
41) Lafayette College PA 28 85% $183,806
42) Claremont McKenna College CA 47 84% $202,642
43) Emory University GA 156 84% $217,059
44) Babson College MA 1 84% $204,884
45) Massachusetts Institute of Technology MA 3 84% $159,316
46) Wellesley College MA 95 84% $170,844
47) Franklin and Marshall College PA 248 84% $196,727
48) Brown University RI 19 84% $197,789
49) Occidental College CA 285 83% $191,630
50) St Olaf College MN 359 83% $139,836
MONEY College

The 10 Colleges With the Most Generous Financial Aid

Vanderbilt University
courtesy of Vanderbilt University At Vanderbilt University, the average merit award tops $20,000.

These top schools offer enough money to cover students' financial needs—and hand out award ample merit grants to high achievers too.

If you need a lot of financial help to pay for college, you’ll have much better odds at a schools that has a generous aid budget.

Unfortunately, these days that’s a small group. The average college provides only enough scholarships or grants to meet 70% of what low- and moderate-income students need to pay the bills, according to data provided by the colleges to Peterson’s.

In all, only 64 colleges in the country say they hand out enough aid to meet the full demonstrated financial need of every regularly admitted undergraduate, according to Peterson’s data. And many members of that elite group, including schools in the Ivy League, don’t provide a penny in merit scholarships. That means no scholarships to students who don’t qualify for need-based aid, no matter their academic achievements.

So Money crunched financial-aid data to find the 10 schools on our Best College Values list that not only provide 100% of the scholarship money they think you need, but also have large merit-aid budgets to help high-achieving, wealthier students.

It’s important, however, to be realistic about what’s “generous.” When colleges say they “meet full demonstrated need,” that doesn’t mean they give everybody full-tuition scholarships. Colleges first calculate how much they think your family can afford to pay (also known as the “expected family contribution”), using the financial information you provide on the FAFSA or the College Board’s CSS/Financial Aid Profile.

On top of that number, many colleges add an expectation that students will take out loans and earn a few thousand dollars a year. The difference between the total expected student and parent contribution and the cost of the college is your “need.” That’s the amount that the most generous colleges will provide in need-based scholarships. Merit scholarships are awarded without regard to your family’s financial situation. (For tips on how to appeal for additional aid, click here.)

School Money rank Avg. est. total family education-related debt Est. average net price of a degree % of students who get merit awards Average merit grant
Vanderbilt University 49 $6,649 $160,791 10% $23,789
Rice University 20 $8,447 $149,851 15% $11,833
Duke University 32 $9,694 $192,804 12% $19,823
Davidson College 72 $10,842 $165,141 6% $22,246
Grinnell College 144 $11,325 $123,981 15% $15,093
University of Chicago 106 $12,986 $188,813 17% $10,205
Kenyon College 94 $13,313 $190,407 13% $13,040
University of Richmond 120 $14,317 $157,221 16% $23,300
Washington and Lee University 39 $15,270 $149,377 8% $35,060
Harvey Mudd College 7 $17,736 $187,694 20% $9,743

Notes: Average total estimated debt is federal student debt and parent Plus loan borrowing per graduating senior; net price for freshman starting in the fall of 2014.

Sources: Peterson’s, U.S. Department of Education, Money calculations.

MONEY College

How to Land More Money to Pay for College

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Getty Images

Want a bigger financial aid package now that you've been accepted to college? These four moves can strengthen your appeal.

There’s a new spring ritual for parents of high school seniors: financial aid appeals.

Increasingly, college acceptance letters that make your kid shout for joy are likely to make you want to cry for help. On average, schools are giving only 70% of the grants that families, on top of their expected contributions, need to cover the cost of attendance, based on data from Peterson’s. Most colleges, especially public universities, simply don’t have enough money to fully fund every qualified student.

You may be able to win more aid with a well-crafted appeal. It’s not a sure thing: If your kid has neither exceptional talents nor above-average test scores compared with other applicants, don’t expect an above-average merit grant. And colleges may reduce aid offers in response to misguided appeals, says Al Hoffman, director of the College Funding Service Center, a financial aid consultancy in New London, Conn.  “You don’t get the dance unless you ask for it,” he says, “but you’ve got to be careful.”

Follow these tips to draft an appeal letter more likely to win extra grant dollars (and check out our list of the 10 colleges with the most generous aid budgets):

Be realistic about your need. Showing legitimate reasons the school overestimated how much you can afford (such as recent pay cuts or increased medical expenses) is the strategy most likely to win sympathy—and additional aid. Discretionary expenses, however, such as high credit card or car payments, generally aren’t persuasive, warns Brad Barnett, senior associate director of financial aid and scholarships at Virginia’s James Madison University.

Time your request correctly. Colleges carefully monitor who is sending in deposits and by late April have a good sense of whether they’re on target to fill their class, explains Robert Massa, senior vice president for enrollment at Drew University in New Jersey. His advice: File your appeal with your first-choice school in mid-April. The schools that are overenrolled by then probably won’t give you more money anyway, but the others might be worried enough to reconsider the aid package they’ve offered.

Show academic improvement. Many merit grants are based on grades and test scores reported early in the fall of a student’s senior year. Some schools may offer higher merit aid if a student brings his score up on the ACT or SAT later in his senior year, says Deborah Fox, a college planning adviser in San Diego. Louisiana State University, for example, takes scores through April 15; University of Maine, through May 1.

Leave the door open. If financial reasons compel your child to turn down a college she really wants to attend, she should write a polite letter declining the offer of admission and explaining the reason. Some colleges that didn’t fill their classes last spring circled back in May to offer increased aid to certain students who had rejected them, says Hoffman.

Related: 7 Legal Ways to Squeeze More College Aid From the FAFSA

MONEY College

Don’t Be Too Generous With College Money: One Financial Adviser’s Story

When torn between paying for a child's education or saving for retirement, parents should save for themselves. Here's why.

Saving money isn’t as easy — or as straightforward — as it used to be. Often, people find they have to delay retirement and work longer to reach their financial goals. In fact, one of the most common issues parents face these days is how to save for both retirement and a child’s college fund.

Last month, for example, I met with a couple who wanted to open college savings funds for each of their three children. They were already contributing the maximums to their 401(k)s with employer matches. I applauded their financial foresight; it’s great to see people thinking ahead.

Then I gave them my honest, professional opinion: Putting a lot of money into college funds isn’t going to help if their retirement savings suffer as a result. Sure, they’ll have an easier time paying tuition in the short term, but down the road their kids may end up having to support them — right when they should be saving for their own retirement.

The tug-of-war between clients’ retirement and their children’s education can lead to difficult conversations with clients, and difficult conversations between clients and their children. Who wants to deprive their children of their dreams and of their top-choice school?

I try to be matter-of-fact with my clients about this sensitive subject. I start with data: If you have x amount of money and you need to put y amount away for your own retirement, you only have z amount left over for your children’s college.

I also talk a little about my own experience — how my parents were able to write a check for my college tuition. But college was less expensive then, and costs were a much smaller percentage of their salary than they would be today. Times have changed.

As much as we all want to be friends with our children, we have to put that aside. I tell people that if they don’t know whether they should put their money in a 529 account or their retirement account, they should put it in their retirement account. Financial planners commonly point out that you can get a loan for college but you can’t get one for retirement.

I don’t think people realize that. I think that they just want to do right by their children.

After I talk about my own experience, I move on to my recommendation. I tell clients that one way to approach this issue with their children is to make them partners in this venture. Tell them that you’re going to pay a portion of the cost of education. Set a budget for what you can afford, then work with them to find a way to fill in the gaps. Make a commitment, then stick to it.

I explain to my clients that choosing their retirement doesn’t mean that they can’t help your children financially and it doesn’t mean they are being a bad parent or are being selfish. It does mean that they should prioritize saving for retirement.

When clients tell me that they feel guilty for putting their retirement first, I ask them this: “Where is the benefit in saving for your children’s college but not for your own retirement?” Without a substantial nest egg, I tell them, you could end up being a burden on your children when you’re older.

And there’s an added bonus, I tell them: If your kids see you putting your retirement first, it might teach them about the importance of saving for their own retirement. That could end up being the best payoff of all.

Read Next: Don’t Save for College If It Means Wrecking Your Retirement

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Sally Brandon is vice president of client services for Rebalance IRA, a retirement-focused investment advisory firm with almost $250 million of assets under management. In this role, she manages a wide range of retirement investing needs for over 350 clients. Sally earned her BA from UCLA and an MBA from USC.

MONEY Student Loans

6 Ways the New ‘Student Aid Bill Of Rights’ Will Help Borrowers

President Barack Obama speaks at Georgia Tech
David Goldman—AP

On Tuesday President Obama proposed some relief, but experts say more is needed.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday proposed a “student aid bill of rights” that offers about a half-dozen small but important improvements for the 40 million Americans who are dealing with student loans.

While congressional action would be needed to make significant changes in the student loan program, President Obama has ordered the Department of Education to take steps by 2016 to make things simpler and easier for student borrowers.

In a speech at Georgia Tech, the president said the federal government will now “require that the businesses that service your loans provide clear information about how much you owe, what your options are for repaying it, and if you’re falling behind, help you get back in good standing with reasonable fees on a reasonable timeline.” The reforms announced today will:

1. Create a centralized website that makes it easy to file complaints and to see all your student loans in one place. Jesse O’Connell, assistant director of federal relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said many students are confused by the government’s use of contractors to collect their loans. Some borrowers who receive letters from these anonymous-sounding private companies, such as Navient (a spinoff of Sallie Mae), throw the letters away, thinking they are identity theft scams. A simple centralized website where borrowers could see all their student debt information, payment amounts, and due dates is a “basic consumer-friendly protection,” O’Connell said.

2. Try having federal employees collecting debts instead of private contractors. The Department of Education is already working with the Department of the Treasury to test out having federal employees collect defaulted student loans. Deanne Loonin, of the National Consumer Law Center, called this a good first step, though only a first step. In a blog post about the proposals, she called the use of private debt collection agencies “a disaster” for financially distressed borrowers, and called for the Department of Education to stop using private debt collectors all together: “Debt collectors are not adequately trained to understand and administer the complex borrower rights available under the Higher Education Act, and the government does not provide sufficient oversight of their activities.”

3. Make it easier for borrowers who become disabled to get their student loans discharged. Currently, some borrowers who qualify as disabled through the Social Security system don’t know that they are eligible for a disability discharge, Loonin says. Making the disability discharge rules clear and consistent “is a critical change for some of the most vulnerable borrowers and should be implemented immediately,” she wrote.

4. Ensure that the private debt collectors hired by the Department of Education apply prepayments first to loans with the highest interest rates, unless the borrower requests a different allocation.

5. Make it easier for students to get IRS information to qualify for income-based student loan repayment.

6. Clarify the rules under which students who declare bankruptcy can get their student loans reduced or eliminated. Congress and the federal bankruptcy courts have imposed tough rules that make it far more difficult for student loan borrowers to get out from under their obligations than almost any other kind of debt. But the president asked the Department of Education to at least clarify the rules to collectors so they can be applied consistently.

What Government Can Do Next

While these steps would improve the lives of many people struggling with student debt, experts pointed to three bigger, but politically unlikely, changes that could make student loans far more affordable and fairer. First, simplify the government’s complicated, income-based repayment system into one option, and automatically sign all borrowers up for the program. University of Michigan economist Susan Dynarski, one of the nation’s leading researchers on financial aid, calls the current menu of “income-driven,” “income-contingent” and “income-based” options a “bewildering array” that requires students to jump through many bureaucratic hoops to qualify for the payment plans that will benefit them the most.

Second, stop charging fees on federal student and parent loans. O’Connell, of the association of financial aid administrators, says that the 4.292% fees on federal parent PLUS loans, for example, are not well explained to borrowers and add an unnecessary expense to families. Eliminating them, which would take congressional action, would save families more than $1 billion a year, he says.

And finally, make it easier for borrowers in dire financial straits to reduce or eliminate their loans in bankruptcy. Loonin, at the NCLC, notes that bankruptcy judges across the country apply varying levels of strictness to the rules, which say loans can only be discharged if repaying would cause an “undue hardship.” These variations make it unfair for borrowers seeking relief and force many to spend what little money they do have on lawyers. Since the strict bankruptcy rules were created by Congress, however, it’s up to Congress to change them.

Read next: The 100 Best Private Colleges for Student Borrowers

MONEY Student Loans

Help! The Government Seized My Tax Refund to Pay My Student Loan Debt

Tax Refund check on dark background
Getty Image

If you are in default on your federal student loans, the government can take your tax refund. Here's what you can do about it.

Many people have already filed their taxes this year — particularly those owed refunds. Because of rising taxpayer identity theft, it’s a smart idea for anyone to file quickly. However, some taxpayers are discovering the refund they thought was coming has instead has been taken to pay their student loan debt. Here’s a sample of questions recently sent to Credit.com:

  • From Amber: Is there anything i can do to stop my whole federal refund from going to my student loans? … I’ve just set up a payment plan, but I really need my refund this year.
  • From Peggy: I was looking forward to my tax refund as it will help with bills and much needed things for the baby. It was accepted and … now after digging around I found out they are sending it to the U.S. Dept. of Ed. for my student loans which I thought were in deferment. Now this is causing me and my kids a hardship but they refuse to send me the refund… What can I do to get my refund owed to me?
  • From Luis: I heard that if your student loan is in default and they are intercepting your taxes, It goes towards interest of the loan. Getting your loan out of default you can then get the intercepted (money) back. Is this true? Is there some info on this?

First, some background: If you are in default on your federal student loans (which by definition means you are behind by 270 days or more), the Department of Education can take your tax refund using the Treasury Offset Program. This program authorizes federal payments such as tax refunds or Social Security income to be intercepted in whole or in part to pay debts owed to other federal agencies. There are some limited consumer protections, but debtors aren’t always aware of them.

What Can You Do if Your Refund Was Seized?

We spoke with Jay Fleischman, a student loan and bankruptcy attorney, about what people can do. First, he said that by federal law, people who have student loans in default get a notice in advance warning that they are at risk of having any potential tax refund seized for student loan repayment. That notice contains instructions for a review of your loan information and how to avoid the offset.

If your refund is taken, you can still request a hearing. If it was taken in error, the money will be refunded. However, be aware that an error does not generally include not getting a notice; it typically would require that you be able to prove your student loan was not in default. (There is a case where you will likely get a refund; more about that in a moment.)

Fleischman said it’s a good idea to adjust your withholdings whether you’re subject to a tax refund offset of not. A large tax refund means you overpaid your taxes during the year, he notes. If you are in default on your federal student loans you probably need that money. But at this point, there is nothing you can do to change the overwithholding from last year. Still, revisiting how much you’re having withheld for taxes is a smart move for anyone who got a large refund.

The bigger problem is how you are going to deal with the default on your student loans from now on. You’ll want to get out of default and stay that way. Fortunately, there are many payment options; you should be able to make one work for you. In some cases, income-based repayment payments can be set as low as $0. And “if your circumstances are dire and expected to remain so,” bankruptcy and the discharge of student loans might be options, Fleischman said.

The one case in which you are likely to be able to recover the money is if you filed jointly with a spouse, and it was his or her student loan that was in default. “You may be able to make an injured spouse claim,” said Fleischman.

For most, what is done is done. The best thing you can do is to look ahead. And if you haven’t filed your tax return and expect a large refund, you may want to see what options you have to get out of default first. Being in default on a student loan can not only squeeze your budget, it can hurt your credit and cost you thousands of dollars in higher debt costs over a lifetime. You can get two of your credit scores for free, updated every month, on Credit.com to track your standing.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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