This Teacher’s Public Student Loan Forgiveness Nightmare Will Infuriate You

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What if you thought you were keeping track of your student loan repayment progress only to learn you still have years to go before you’re out of debt?

A new profile from The New York Times highlights the nightmare of ensuring you’re actually eligible for student loan forgiveness.

Writer Ron Lieber spent time with Jed Shafer, a teacher who thought he was enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program administered by the Department of Education. The program promised loan forgiveness to people who worked in public service jobs for 10 years and made 120 monthly payments.

This fall, the first group of qualifying borrowers can apply to have their remaining loan balances forgiven.

Shafer told Lieber he kept track of his loans and that representatives at three loan servicing companies had told him over the years that he was on schedule to have his remaining loans forgiven in 2017. But in 2015, Shafer learned that his enrollment in a graduated payment plan, where your payments typically increase every two years, made him ineligible for forgiveness.

He had made considerable progress paying his loans, which had an interest rate of 8.25%, but without the forgiveness he expected to receive, he’ll have to pay his graduate school loans until about the time his 10-year-old child goes to college, according to the Times.

How to Get Student Loan Forgiveness: A Brief Checklist

Shafer’s story is just one frustrating example of the struggle many borrowers face in keeping tabs on their student loans.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report in June listing the most common complaints the agency received about the public loan forgiveness program. The top complaints were about borrowers were receiving incomplete information about eligibility from their loan servicers; delays and errors that forced borrowers to miss qualifying payments; and trouble with the job-certification process a borrower must go through each year.

If you’re unclear whether you’re eligible for forgiveness, here’s a quick checklist to get you started on your paperwork-sorting journey. Can you answer “yes” to these statements?

  • My loans are federal direct loans. These are the only type of loans that qualify for forgiveness, although other loans can be consolidated to make them eligible, like federal Perkins loans.
  • I have submitted the employer-certification form for each year of work in public service, or I can return to those employers to have them certify past employment.
  • I still work for a qualifying employer.

When you apply to have the remainder of your loan balance forgiven, you must verify you made 120 qualifying payments while employed full time by a qualifying employer. Those payments and employment periods do not have to be consecutive.

If you’re not sure if your loans are eligible for forgiveness or unclear whether your employment counts as public service, you can log in to your federal student aid account for more details.

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder.