After about a decade of bad news regarding the economy, it is tempting to grab onto pieces of information that might mean there is good news for a change. One bit of information that sounds promising at first listen is that personal bankruptcy filings are down.

Yay for the U.S.A, right? Maybe. But that isn’t necessarily the whole story. A law professor looks at the bankruptcy report and warns that fewer bankruptcy filings could simply be a sign that it is a different kind of debt that is getting people in trouble these days — debt that can’t be discharged through bankruptcy.

The dilemma of student loan debt has become a hot topic of economic conversation in the past several years. With a tough job market, men and women have tended to see going back to college as a wise professional and financial decision, even if it means borrowing money to do so.

When the right-paying job doesn’t appear after graduation, the reality of student loan debt creeps up on the unemployed or underemployed. For some of those graduates, their degrees don’t save them from financial struggle. And the help that they might think to turn to — filing for bankruptcy — often can’t save them either. Unlike credit card debt, medical bills, mortgage loans and some other kinds of debts, school debt is generally not forgiven through bankruptcy.

It is a complicated and sensitive legal matter. Seeking debt relief through bankruptcy isn’t just a legal process for the consumers going through it; it is a matter of being able to move on with their lives, protect their families and pave the way for a more secure future. Student loan debt can complicate that fresh start, but a bankruptcy lawyer can discuss someone’s specific situation to evaluate whether there might be some form of relief to work toward.

Marketplace, “Bankruptcy filings are plummeting,” Annie Baxter, Nov. 5, 2013