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Debt Free Journey: “PSLF Success" and Overcoming Bumps Along the Way

Much has been written about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), but until recently you couldn’t find too many success stories. After years of borrower frustration, the PSLF program was reformed last year by the Biden administration‘s limited PSLF Waiver Reforms. This waiver announced on October 6, 2021 was part of an effort aimed at improving the public service loan program that had been riddled with problems in the years since it was signed into law by former President George W. Bush in 2007.

"Borrowers who devote a decade of their lives to public service should be able to rely on the promise of Public Service Loan Forgiveness," U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in a press release announcing the changes. “The system has not delivered on that promise to date, but that is about to change for many borrowers who have served their communities and their country."

Under the waiver announced last year, the Biden administration temporarily expanded eligibility for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program until October 31, 2022. That deadline is fast approaching, and I want to encourage anyone who think they might be eligible to look into this life changing opportunity and take advantage of the program to have certain payments which would otherwise not be eligible count towards forgiveness. Contact your lender, review eligibility requirements under the reforms, organize your paperwork and apply before the deadline, if you believe you are eligible.

I can speak from personal experience about the difficulties I faced navigating the PSLF program, and hearing about the low approval rates of PSLF applications didn’t ease my worries one bit when I was still making monthly payments towards eligibility. My relationship with PSLF wasn't a smooth ride and did come with a lot of bumps and obstacles that I had to overcome, but I persevered. I graduated Law School in 2008 with six-figure debt, and began working for a PSLF qualified employer. I advised my lender of my desire to enroll in PSLF and to start making repayments under a qualified repayment plan. I was enrolled in an income based repayment (IBR) program and began making my monthly payments under an IBR Plan. While remaining dedicated to public interest work, I thought I was all good and set to have loans forgiven after 10 years of dedicated service working for the government, which according to my calculations would have been some time in 2018. I submitted employer certifications annually which confirmed PSLF eligible employer and payments. Unfortunately, approximately two and half years into making payments, I was advised that one of my loans was not the correct type of loan, and that I needed to consolidate and transition both loans to be managed by FedLoans. I immediately filled out the paperwork to consolidate loans—BIG mistake. What no one failed to mention at the time was that once you consolidate, it re-starts the clock on PSLF and all previous payments made no longer counted towards forgiveness. Because I had completed annual employer certifications and received confirmation in writing that payments were eligible, I honestly did not think that consolidating the ineligible loans would re-start the clock. You can imagine the frustration and stress that came with this news, and no one would help, no matter how many phone calls or letters I wrote to the lender. Under the new PSLF limited waiver, those two and a half years of payments would have counted towards PSLF.

I received forgiveness of my loans under the traditional PSLF in November 2021, almost three years later than I should have gotten it. While I am happy for those who are getting the relief that they deserve sooner under the new PSLF waivers, unfortunately for me the changes came almost three years too late. So did I have "success" with PSLF? Ultimately yes but it wasn’t without stress, confusion and overcoming many obstacles and bumps along the way. I had to learn patience, and find joy in my work to remain dedicated to public interest work when it became clear that I would be starting all over again. There’s talk about some people getting a refund for payments made above the 120 qualifying payments needed for PSLF. Based on the Department’s estimates, I had at least 32 extra payments over the 120 needed.

I have no idea if I will be one of the people who receive a refund for payments made over the required 120. I would be grateful to get that money back, but I am not holding my breath.

For now, I am grateful to finally have this huge weight lifted off my shoulders and to be one step closer towards becoming debt-free. I know taking out student loans is a personal choice and there’s some level of personal accountability for repaying what you borrowed, but when the government makes you a promise and you justifiably rely on that promise to make important life decisions such as where you work, which employer you work for, and limiting your potential earning capacity, and dedicating yourself to a career in public interest and often staying in lower-paying jobs and foregoing other opportunities, YOU my friend deserves to get those loans forgiven and for the government to keep its promise. Accountability works both ways, and if I hold my end of the bargain, the government should too.

When you go from having a six-figure debt and waking up to your account showing a $0 balance, it’s a feeling that words cannot describe! After all the sacrifices made and stress endured, all you can do is take a screenshot of account balance—you know just in case it turns out to be some sick joke or fluke. Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but there's still some hesitation to celebrate, because you know until you get it in writing on official government letterhead does it really count, lol?

Approximately a week later, I did receive an official letter from FedLoans confirming indeed that loans had been forgiven under PSLF, and suddenly I can breathe sigh of relief, sleep a little better at night, and can finally celebrate this great milestone. I am rooting for everyone whose application for PSLF is pending and hope you will get some good news very soon! I encourage others to check eligibility under the PSLF limited waiver and apply before the October 31, 2022 deadline if you believe you are eligible and good luck!


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