34 CFR § 31.8 - Rules of decision.
(a) Enforceability of debt by offset. In deciding whether the Secretary has established that the debt described in the pre-offset under § 31.3 is owed by the employee, or whether the employee has established that the debt is not enforceable by offset, the hearing official shall apply the principles in this paragraph.
(1) The statutes and Department regulations authorizing and implementing the program under which the debt arose must be applied in accordance with official written interpretations by the Department.
(2) The principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel apply to resolution of disputed facts in those instances in which the debt or material facts in dispute have been the subject of prior judicial decision.
(3) The act or omission of an institution of higher education at which the employee was enrolled does not constitute a defense to repayment of an obligation with regard to a grant or loan under a program authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act or similar authority, except to the extent that -
(i) The act or omission constitutes a defense to the debt under applicable Federal or State law;
(ii) The institution owed the employee a refund under its refund policy and failed to pay that refund to the employee or to a lender holding a loan made to the employee; or
(iii) The institution ceased teaching activity while the employee was in attendance and during the academic period for which the grant or loan was made, and failed to refund to the employee or holder of a loan to the employee a proportionate amount of the grant or loan funds used to pay tuition and other institutional charges for that academic period.
(i) A debt otherwise established as owed by the employee is enforceable by offset under this part if the Secretary sends the pre-offset notice for the debt within the ten year period following the later of -
(A) The date on which the Secretary acquired the debt by assignment or referral, or
(B) The date of a subsequent partial payment reaffirming the debt.
(ii) Periods during which the statute of limitations applicable to a lawsuit to collect the debt has been tolled under 11 U.S.C. 108, 28 U.S.C. 2416, 50 U.S.C. App. 525, or other authority are excluded from the calculation of the ten year period described in paragraph (a)(4)(i) of this section.
(b) Extreme financial hardship.
(1) In deciding whether an employee has established that the amount of the proposed offset would cause extreme financial hardship to the employee, the hearing official shall determine whether the credible, relevant evidence submitted demonstrates that the proposed offset would prevent the employee from meeting the costs necessarily incurred for essential subsistence expenses of the employee and his or her spouse and dependents.
(2) For purposes of this determination, essential subsistence expenses include costs incurred only for food, housing, clothing, essential transportation and medical care.
(3) In making this determination, the hearing official shall consider -
(i) The income from all sources of the employee, and his or her spouse and dependents;
(ii) The extent to which the assets of the employee and his or her spouse and dependents are available to meet the offset and the essential subsistence expenses;
(iii) Whether these essential subsistence expenses have been minimized to the greatest extent possible;
(iv) The extent to which the employee and his or her spouse and dependents can borrow to satisfy the debt to be collected by offset or to meet essential expenses; and
(v) The extent to which the employee and his or her spouse and dependents have other exceptional expenses that should be taken into account, and whether these expenses have been minimized.