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PSLF Waiver Success Story: Ending the Cycle of Debt
A note from NASP: On October 6, 2021, the Department of Education announced a series of planned actions to improve the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and deliver relief to more borrowers. The program was signed into law in 2007, and the first evaluation of its success or lack thereof came in October 2017, because borrowers are required to make 10 years of payments through full-time employment to qualify. As of March 2019, the Department of Education had denied close to 99% of applicants. Even after temporarily expanding the process, yet again nearly all applicants were denied. This program was meant to extend loan forgiveness to public service employees, including those who work in public school settings, but it has fallen significantly short of its promise. You can find our resources, which include background on PSLF, here.
I first heard about Public Service Loan Forgiveness on NPR in 2007. At the time, I was an assistant professor in my first academic job. I was so excited! I had a preschool-age daughter and had only been paying off my loans for about 4 years. Prior to hearing about the PSLF program, I had anticipated that I would continue paying my loans until 2033, even while attempting to save and eventually support my own daughter to cover the cost of her college education. My student loan payments kept me from putting much aside each year for her for college, but I figured that by the time that she was in school we would have figured something out. That "something" was likely more loans for my daughter.
That time has arrived, and my daughter is now less than 2 years away from college. I've worked extra jobs in addition to my main job as a professor to put money aside for her for college. In early fall of 2021, I received a Listserv post describing a time limited set of changes being made to the PSLF program because of implementation issues that resulted in many people being denied loan forgiveness who were, in fact, eligible. I immediately applied in October, and I was approved in February! PSLF has allowed me to focus exclusively on my daughter’s college fund and not my own. I feel empowered to see the potential cycle of borrowing large sums for an education to end with me in my family. My hope is that this will be the case for other families as well. If we want diversity in school psychology, we must provide opportunities like PSLF to all other graduates. It allows for first-generation college students to focus on their work and the future success of their own children.
What general advice would you give to members who are considering enrolling in or who are currently working towards Public Service Loan Forgiveness?
The waiver for certain types of loans ends in October 2022. Find out if your loans (a) meet the requirements for this waiver period or (b) do not require the waiver to qualify. If your loans meet the waiver version only, go ahead and submit what you have NOW. Make sure that you get your materials submitted in time (if you are not under a qualifying loan at this time). Even if you have not met your qualifying 120 payments, you should go ahead and get started. It is my understanding that they will count whatever payments (if they qualify for the waiver) to that number. Then, switch to the postwaiver types of loan and finish out your 10 years. If you have specific questions, contact the U.S. Department of Education Office of Student Aid.
What was the biggest obstacle you encountered in your process of applying for forgiveness?
Misinformation. In 2007, when the program was first passed, I contacted the federal financial aid folks. I let them know that I had a “direct loan,” and I wanted to make sure that I did not need to make any changes to this loan to qualify in 2017 when my 10 years were done. They told me that my loans were fine and everything would be easy. So, 8 years later, I contacted them to find out what I needed to be doing to prepare for my loan forgiveness in 2 years. They told me then that my loans DID NOT qualify for the program. When I stated that this information was different than what I was told before, they basically said that this was not their problem. So, I continued to pay with no real hope of loan forgiveness. Then, the waiver came open and my type of loan was included! So, I began the process of submitting the materials. There are a LOT of materials to get verified. Stay on top of it and call once per month (not on the first or last week) to check on your progress. I would be told different things by different people at different times. The entire process of getting the loan forgiven took 5 months from my original submission.
Were there any resources that were particularly helpful to you?
They have a great website that tracks your submission as information is processed. Please note, the PSLF office is overwhelmed. You may send the information that they need, but they may not process it for more than a few months.
Did you communicate with anyone through your loan servicer or at the Department of Education? Any communication tips to get your questions answered?
Check the tracking website. Call them monthly (no more and no less) until it is done. Ask specific questions. These include:
- What forms do you still need from me?
- What forms do you still need from my current employer?
- What forms do you still need for my financial aid loan office?
- How many qualifying payments have you processed?
- I have in my records that I have made X qualifying payments, but you have Y. Why is there a difference?
- When should I plan to call back for new information?
Any other specific, key tips to keep in mind?
Also, please note, if you have made more than the 120 qualifying payments, they will refund you the difference. So, in my example, all my payments between 2007 and 2017 should have been considered qualifying. Therefore, any payment that I made since 2017 is in the process of being reimbursed to me. I’ve already received a check for half of these payments while they continue to verify my extra payments as qualifying or not qualifying. I will continue to make my monthly calls until all of my overpayment has been reimbursed.
This really is a great program. My daughter starts college in about a year. I’m able to put all of my monthly payments towards her college fund as well as my reimbursement for overpayments. I hope that everyone else’s experiences are this positive.