My Student Loan Journey
I shared a post on my Instagram celebrating the end of my student loans. The best part was that I was in Hawaii when I found out the good news, which made it even sweeter. I received the Public Student Loan Forgiveness after 10 years of paying on my loans. I truly didn't think it was ever going to happen.
A quick summary of the PSLF program: The PSLF Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer. In a nut shell it is for people who work in the public service realm typically earning less than in the private sector. Read all about it here
Here is my journey and timeline. PLEASE NOTE: This is not official or legal advise. This is just MY journey and experiences (the steps I listed are what helped me get through it all, please refer to your loan servicer for specifics to your situation).
First let me say, I am a first generation college student. My parents are lovely but they had no clue how to help me though it all. Secondly, the financial aid counselors didn't help me either, they just encouraged me to take out as much loans as I needed they should "counsel" students to take out the LEAST amount possible).
I graduated with my bachelors in 2006 (divorced and nine months pregnant) and then I started graduate school in August 2006 with a two month old (single!). I graduated with my Master's in December 2009 and went into full PANIC mode when I received the information about paying back my loans. I took a job at a 501c Non-Profit therapy company and my loan payments were going to be over $700/month (spoiler alert I wasn't making enough money at the clinic to cover that, rent, daycare, food, bills, etc...) I frantically researched and found the PSLF program. Here is where you need to start if you are in the same boat I was.
Consolidate your loans into a Federal Direct Loan (or other qualifying program, this is the one I did). THIS IS THE CRUCIAL FIRST STEP! I read about some people who thought they were eligible but had the wrong type of loan, they had to start all over!
Select a qualifying payment plan, this is essential and a requirement for PSLF. I chose the Income Based Repayment plan. This also drastically decreased my monthly payments to the $200/month range. Read about payment plans here to see if you qualify.
Check to see if your employer qualifies. Most public schools, public health organizations, and non-profits qualify. Click here to see more info on this.
Once you have completed these three steps, you should be good to go. Now your job is submitting paperwork and tracking payments for the next 10 years. Here are the steps you MUST take every year!
Submit an employment certification form from your employer annually. They have updated the system to a "PSLF Help Tool". Use this updated forms (using old forms may delay your approvals). Click here to view it
Recertify your payment plan annually through studentaid.gov
(I typically do these around the same time every year, you should get notifications that it is due).
Every time you get confirmation of your employment certification approval and payment updates, download and keep copies.
Your loan servicer should send you updates on how many qualifying payments you have made, double check these. I missed an employment certification for two months when I switched jobs and I was able to get credit for those 2 payments by sending in an employment certification form for that time period (every payment counts). Luckily my old employer was nice enough to sign the form for me!
My loan servicer was FedLoans and they made this a very simple process (they tracked payments and gave you an update on the main payment screen). I heard they are no longer going to be servicing these loans. I am not familiar with other companies, so I am not sure how it will look exactly for others. My tip: call and ask!
COVID forbearance: If you were already tracking payments and received the forbearance for COVID (which everyone did), these payments count towards your 120 payments, make sure your payment tracking reflects this (if not call and ask about it).
If you request a forbearance for other reasons, these payment months will NOT be counted toward your loan forgiveness, but it is ok! They don't have to be 120 consecutive payments, just 120 total payments. This came in handy for me because there were two months that I didn't re-certify my payment plan in time (my older brother had just passed away with cancer and I totally forgot to submit my paperwork) and my payment jumped back up to over $700 and I had to put it in forbearance until my payment plan was approved. At this time I was working for a the school and now had 3 kids, I couldn't afford that much.
If you have the right type of loan and payment plan and haven't been tracking yet, you should be able to submit an employment certification form and get credit for any payment you made that was eligible. Call and ask your servicer!
About 5 years into this process, I switched jobs to a Title 1 Public School district. This was a qualifying employer to so I just had to get new employment certification forms submitted by then (I had no problems at all switching employers).
6 long years later (5 years at the non-profit clinic, 6 years at the school) ...
I made my 120th payment in November 2020. I submitted my final employment certification form right after that. I submitted my application for loan forgiveness November 30, 2020... and then the waiting began.
Due to COVID, I was told processing was taking longer than normal. What I read and was told it could take 3-6 months from the date your application was received (so for me that would be June 2021).
I called in February and asked for an update and was told it has been sent to the Dept. of Education for review. I called again in March and got the same response. In April I was notified that my forgiveness has been approved and now I just have to wait for it to be discharged (woo hoo!) May went by so I called and got the same response as I did in April. Finally on June 24, 2021 (on my vacation), I logged into my account and it said I had a ZERO balance! I called to confirm and yes it was true! I couldn't believe it. A few days later the letter was posted to my account.
I waited a few months and checked my studentaid.gov account and credit reports and my balance was gone in both! My dreams had come true!
I wanted to share my story to give some of you some hope that are still in the middle of your journey (or starting). I hope that this program does not go away because it really saved me (remember I was a first generation college student who didn't have any guidance).
My final thoughts: Please read all of the criteria for this program carefully and make sure you submit the paperwork annually and keep copies. Not everyone qualifies for this program and I don't want to mislead anyone in to thinking they do! Remember NOTHING in this post is official or legal advise. I am not affiliated with this loan program (just went through it).
Also, to those who have worked their butts off to pay off their student loans, I applaud you. I have friend who sacrificed so much early on to pay extra on her loans (before she bought a house, a nice car, had kids..etc..) she is a rock star. I have had some negative comments about getting loan forgiveness, if I had to do it all over again, I would've done it differently. I grew up on welfare and wanted my life to be different, sadly like I said earlier, I had no one to help me. I also didn't plan to be divorced and a single mom at 24 years old. This program allowed me to become the SLP I am today and I am forever grateful (so please spare me any negativity, I am happy to discuss perspectives just not mean remarks).