While our elected officials and the Supreme Court argue over whether student debt can be forgiven on a mass level, some are forgetting that student loan forgiveness programs already exist. One of our staff recently went through the process and documented his experience. Along the way he has some things you need to consider.
In the Beginning…
This entire process began with the decision to use student loans to cover my expenses that were not covered by scholarships and grants. My plan was to use my savings to minimize borrowing student loans. Quickly I realized this is the catch with paying for college, the more I saved for the next year the less I received in grant money. I changed my major multiple times and ultimately took more than four years to finish my degree. Most of my grants and scholarships had dried up so those last years meant taking out even more in loans.
A few years after earning my undergraduate degree I decided to return to school and get a graduate degree. I was making payments prior to enrolling but once enrolled I was offered the option to defer payments until after I completed my graduate degree. Some of my loans continued to incur interest charges, others were interest-free while I was in school.
Following the completion of my graduate degree I entered my repayment period. My degrees afforded me quality opportunities to demonstrate my skills to employers.
Consolidating my Loans
Each year of college a student requests a new loan. I had three extra loans for additional years of school and the one year when my college changed how they awarded loans. Rather than make minimum payments to multiple loans I could consolidate my loans into one after I finished my undergraduate degree. This happened again after I completed my graduate degree.
My consolidations came before the government started the first loan forgiveness programs. What I learned was that some forgiveness programs require your loans to be consolidated with specific companies and my servicer at the time didn’t qualify, despite telling me that “all of my federal benefits would be retained.” I was offered a chance to move to the qualified servicer, but it meant getting a new loan at the new interest rate.
As you go through the process, consider if or when you will continue your education. You might elect to wait and consolidate after you are all done. I trusted the call center at my servicer to give me the best advice on what to do. Remember that it is in their best interest for you to keep your loans with them. You can get details on the programs and eligible servicers at https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation. Before you begin the process make sure you read the requirements and select the correct one on your consolidation application.
Applying for Forgiveness
When the government expanded the Public Service Loan Forgiveness to give credit for past employment and payments I decided to apply. As you read above, this was a two-step process for me. The first part was applying to reconsolidate my loans with Mohera. This was the longer of the applications and required things like my Social Security Number and income validation. You have to select a payment plan, the key here is to choose a plan that will take you past the 10-year repayment. If you choose the standard plan your loan would be $0 when it was eligible for forgiveness. Most students will do this as their initial consolidation after they finish college.
The second part is the program application. Here you select which loan forgiveness option you are planning to qualify for. They are very similar but pay attention to the details. In my case I had to get a letter signed by my employer and myself. There was a single checkbox to say that I already met the repayment qualifications. Had I missed that I would be starting my 120 on-time/in-full payments over again. For those of you doing this immediately after graduation you need to keep tabs on this website for which employers qualify. I have heard horror stories of people who left their qualified employment a month or two before they would have met the 10-year requirement. Likewise, keep track of the number of payments you make on-time/in-full. DO NOT trust the servicer to keep track. In your account you can see if your payment qualified and the sooner you address discrepancies the better your odds are of getting it resolved.
One thing that is important to remember is that you do not need to remain employed with the same organization for 10 years. As long as your new employer qualifies you only need to submit another employment verification. I suggest asking your old employer to validate your employment when you leave a job. It is harder to go back years later and get the necessary paperwork.
Paying off the Loans
The best part of this process is logging into your account and seeing a $0 balance. Amazingly, it happened just like that…only seven months after I submitted my application. About two weeks after I noticed my $0 balance online I received a letter from Mohera. For many that is the end of this, but check with a tax professional as some states will require you to report the amount forgiven as income on your state taxes the next year.
By Jason Combs