Your letters about the remission of civil service loans: NPR
“Thank you,” writes Cara Christensen, a first-year teacher in Washington state who has read NPR Deep Dive in the troubled civil service loan forgiveness program (PSLF). The report, she says, “made me feel less alone.”
We have received dozens of emails, tweets and Facebook comments from aggrieved borrowers responding to reports that in the past year, 99% of requests for the popular loan cancellation program have been refused.
PSLF offers the loan forgiveness promise to nurses, teachers, first responders and other student borrowers who work in the public service for 10 years while meeting their loan payments. But it has been plagued by miscommunication from the US Department of Education and mismanaged by the service companies the department pays to manage its trillion-dollar student loan portfolio.
Many borrowers who have written in share eerily similar stories, making payments for years, while working in the public service, only to find that they are not yet eligible for the program due to a technical issue. Maybe they’re on the wrong repayment plan, or they have the wrong type of loan.
Colleen and Dan Burton, from New York, struggled with the two:
“My loans are of the wrong type,” writes Colleen, and “despite [Dan’s] Qualifying employment history, we were extremely disappointed at the time to learn that all of his previous payments (2007-2013) were ineligible because he was not in the right type of repayment plan. “
Dan’s story comes with a different twist. When he realized that switching to an appropriate repayment plan would require him to start the 10-year forgiveness path all over again, he simply chose to consolidate his loans, worth $ 13,000, and to move on. But, earlier this year, Congress created a emergency fund for public servants who, like Dan, were excluded from the PSLF because they were placed in the wrong repayment plan.
There’s only one catch, Colleen writes:
“We just learned of the existence of the temporarily expanded PSLF program, so we requested a reassessment. Dan’s case is the exact scenario they were supposed to try to rectify. He had several years of rejected payments due to the type of repayment plan. Now they’re rejecting his forgiveness again because his loans were consolidated. We consolidated BECAUSE he was rejected from forgiveness in 2014. If we somehow knew that ‘there would be this new opportunity, we would have made a different decision. … It clearly meets the standard of the spirit of the law’ but the ‘letter of the law’ makes it impossible to take advantage of the program. “
We also saw this on Twitter from Nathan Fried, who teaches in the biology department at Rutgers University-Camden.
… even though, 10 years ago, her loan agency said she had. Now she’s approaching retirement age and starting her 10-year clock all over again. His whole financial plan is in shambles. As a mother and son from a low income background who are both educators, it is incredibly scary.
– Nathan T. Fried, PhD (@NeuronNate) Oct. 17, 2018
“I’m one of the thousands of people trying to get answers,” writes Mary Leist of Ohio. She says her loan officer “miscalculated my qualifying payments over the past two years, telling me first that I had only made 8 qualifying payments, then 21, then they needed to” investigate further “my count after I complained several times, indicating that I was, in fact, closer to 60.”
Borrowers are expected to make 120 qualifying payments – for 10 years – before their loans can be canceled.
Last week, Leist said, she spoke with her service agent again, checking the status of her payment calculation, “and she was told it could take up to a year for them to respond to me. I don’t know what I was hoping for because by sharing this with you … maybe just the recognition that we are real people, not just rows on a spreadsheet. “
This is a common theme among ratings received by NPR: borrowers who have had their loan cancellation expectations dashed due to technical issues or poor communication from their service agent feel abandoned and helpless.
Ryan Coleman from Missouri wrote in an email:
“When I first asked for a review of how many qualifying payments I had made in the last 6-7 years of my public service career, I was told the number was only of 17 lol (so 1 year and 5 months of payments). Incredulous, I called and a lady explained that they had misapplied a payment some time ago and therefore subsequent payments weren’t factored into their initial review. She assured me that they would recalculate soon. It was probably two years ago. I called one a few times and I’m told it’s taking a while. “
Seattle’s Justin Davis goes on to give great advice – although, he admits, it didn’t help:
Finally, Erik Carlton of Tennessee writes that when he repeatedly asked his loan officer for help lowering his high monthly payments, no one mentioned that he was eligible for the loan forgiveness. civil service nor recommended an income-based repayment plan. Instead, he was forbidden.
It wasn’t until Carlton reached out to the public university where he now teaches that he learned the PSLF and quickly signed up. Although he says he worked in the public service for at least seven years, he made only 18 of the 120 payments needed to qualify for a loan forgiveness.
“My heart is broken and my heart is broken … My elder [child] is supposed to start college in three years, my next three years later, and our third only three years later. … I have never been arrested and I haven’t even had a speeding ticket in 20 years. I do not drink, do not smoke, do not play. I vote. I’m a teacher. I have been working and supporting myself since I was 16, and I have no idea how I am supposed to give my children a future. Because I can’t save for theirs. I can barely pay for their gift. “