Will I Be Stopped at the Border for My Old Student Loans?

06/23/2015 11:38 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016


Dear Steve,

I live in France. I have lived in France for over 20 years. Last year I did my first income tax return for the United States using the amnesty program. This year I had a tax refund of $1000.94 well I have a student loan debt I knew I would not get the thousand dollars and I did not. I was able to learn that a collection agency is in charge of my debt.

My question is being a permanent resident in France having no work or residence in the United States and having no intention of ever living again in the United States can the collection agency come after me here in France? The information regarding my wife's employment salary has not been given and will not be given to the collection agency. However I declare myself married filing separately and I declare my own children as my dependents I have 3. Can a collection agency go after my children who are in fact French citizens? Last and final question... Could I be arrested when I enter the United States to visit my family?


Well you can rest assured you will not be arrested when coming back to the U.S. to visit friends and family. It's just not in the purview of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to screen people for bad debts. If they did, imagine the lines.

I applaud you for getting back to filing your foreign tax returns. The answer to avoiding having tax refunds intercepted is to just avoid getting a refund. However, the intercept is probably a small price to pay for dealing with the absent tax filing issue.

Since the refund was intercepted your student loan debt must be federal student loans and there are programs to deal with delinquent student loans.

While we live in a modern world, there is really very little international collection activity. One hurdle for collectors would be to perfect the authority to collect a debt subject to the legal agreement of one country, in another.

There are two distinct audiences who will read this answer. One will say you should do whatever you can to honor your past agreements or you will go to hell. I'm not judging, just repeating what some people say.

The other camp are people who understand the reality of the situation and know you have nothing to worry about. Again, I'm not judging or advocating the do nothing position, just telling you what the truth is.

And the truth is your children are safe, it is very highly unlikely you will ever be the subject of any collection activity in France over this old debt, and you can enter the U.S. without any fear about the student loans.

Thank you for reaching out to me for help.


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This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.