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By January, Anna Brekken had finally made 120 student loan repayments, the number at which borrowers are expected to get the remainder of their debt canceled under the public service loan discount program.
When she submitted her forgiveness request, she was eager to withdraw from her $ 100,000 balance and run out of loan repayments of $ 580 per month. And for the first time in 12 years, she might think about quitting her government job to do something else. Her dream is to teach English in South America.
But then her student loan officer FedLoan came back and said she hasn’t made 120 payments yet, but closer to 80. That would mean Brekken would have to keep paying her student loans for another three years.
“It’s devastating,” said Brekken, 39. “It’s going to cost a lot more money. Why did they do this program if they weren’t going to let anyone get forgiveness? It’s like a name-only program.”
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Most borrowers still cannot access debt cancellation under the civil service loan cancellation program, which is supposed to allow employees of nonprofits and government to cancel their loans. federal student loans after 10 years.
About 5% of student loan borrowers who requested April 30 relief qualified, according to The data from the US Department of Education. In 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated that a quarter of American workers could be eligible.
However, the program has been plagued by problems.
Many people in public service positions think they are paying for loan forgiveness only to find out at some point in the process that they don’t qualify for some technical reason or another. And borrowers often complain that agents are underestimating their payments, pushing back their remittance dates again and again.
President Joe Biden has vowed to improve the program, but it’s unclear when these changes might occur.
The US Department of Education and FedLoan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the meantime, borrowers can take certain steps to improve their chances of forgiveness.
Understand the four basic program requirements:
- Your loans must be federal direct loans.
- Your employer must be a government organization at any level, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, or some other type of nonprofit organization that provides a public service.
- You must repay your student loans in one of the four income-oriented repayment plans.
- By the end, you must have made 120 qualifying payments on time.
To get started, make sure your student loans, payment plan, and employer all qualify.
Borrowers can get a list of their federal loans by logging into StudentAid.gov. You want to make sure that your loans are Direct loans. Federal family and education loans and private loans are not eligible.
There are about 14 ways to pay off your student loans, but to be eligible for the Public Service Loan Waiver, you must be enrolled in one of these four income-based repayment plans: Income-Based Repayment , income-based reimbursement, income-based reimbursement, and revised pay-as-you-go reimbursement.
And finally, to make sure your employer qualifies, at least once a year, you need to complete and submit to your manager a so-called employer attestation form. These forms will also allow you to keep records of your confirmed eligible payments.
It is especially important to complete this form if you are changing employers, said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.
Keeping a record of your payments can also protect you when it comes to proving you’ve made all 120 payments, he said.
âBorrowers should keep a spreadsheet showing, for each payment, the date of payment, amount of payment, repayment plan and eligible employment,â Kantrowitz said. “If there are any problems, this worksheet will be helpful in solving them.”
Keep in mind that even if you haven’t paid off your student loans while government bills are suspended until September, those months still count towards your 120 required payments. (It’s at least 19.)
If your loan officer insists that you haven’t made 120 payments and think you have, you need to keep making payments, Kantrowitz said.
“If they have actually made the required number of payments, the additional payments will be refunded to them,” he said.
In the meantime, you can appeal the tally from your loan manager. Again, it will be helpful if you can show a record of your payments as well as your employers over the past decade.
Brekken is currently in this process and luckily she had kept records.
âI submitted my payment history in black and white,â she said. “And I’m going to have to keep bothering them.”