The far-reaching effects of student debt in America
Local attorney helps debtors navigate through options

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

Oct. 13, 2015

Laurie Bigsby
Submitted photo

TOWN OF BROOKFIELD - The weight of student loans weighs heavily on Americans - $1.2 trillion worth of heavy. In fact, some millennials are delaying marriage and home ownership until their loans become less burdensome and some Generation X parents are still repaying debt as their children get ready to go off to college. For college dropouts and students who borrowed to attend for-profit colleges, the risk of defaulting is a real concern.

Attorney Laurie Bigsby with Horizons Law Group wants to help clients navigate the different options available to handle student debt - and for those facing litigation regarding unpaid loans, she wants to help them find a way to fight back.

Bigsby recently joined Horizons Law Group to focus on student loan defense, a new practice for the firm.

“My clients are working-class people who sought a good education, and often took out multiple loans to pay for it,” she said in a statement. “They don’t know where to turn when loans go into default and threatening, abusive calls from collectors begin. My student loan mitigation practice creates room to renegotiate payment plans, and sometimes dismiss the debt outright if fraud or illegal practices are discovered.”

In addition to former students who are grappling with loan debt, Bigsby said she also often meets with parents or other family members who were co-signers for the loan and are looking for help.

Bigsby has more than two decades of experience in bankruptcy cases and said the student loan debt is the next national crisis.

Horizons Law Group owner Michelle Fitzgerald agrees, so she brought Bigsby on board to help clients with this specific and growing need.

She said often students leave college with “a massive debt burden and often without degrees that allow them to pay for the loans.”

Declining incomes

In fact, incomes have fallen.

For people with college degrees but no graduate school education, incomes, after accounting for inflation, have declined, reducing their ability to repay their loans. For a 23-to-29-year-old with a college degree, median income in 2013 was $41,000. That figure has plunged $5,000 in current dollars since 2000, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The drop reflects a trend dating to 1970 of stagnant income for the college-educated with no graduate degree - evidence that the supply of these workers has roughly matched employer demand.

When a person is in trouble with student loan debt, there are resources, Bigsby said.

“They need to look into options with student loans versus ignoring them,” she said.

Bigsby said she can help clients consolidate loans, get out of default and help them navigate through the options. Even just having one session with Bigsby might help point a client in the right direction to getting the situation resolved, she said.

“I want to help them go down the right path,” she said.

A typical member of the class of 2013 graduated owing $27,300, according to the College Board. This figure has risen $5,000 in current dollars since 2000, a 22 percent jump. College grads who go straight into master’s programs often owe a combined $70,000 by the time they leave. Debt averaged $41,400 for a master’s degree, $71,600 for a research doctorate and $128,600 for a professional doctorate in medicine or law, according to exclusive Education Department data analyzed for The Associated Press.

In 2013, college-educated heads of households under age 40 owed $4,850 in annual student loan payments, the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances shows. The figure has shot up by $1,090 since 2001 after adjusting for inflation.

Contributing: The Associated Press