Advice for getting student loans forgiven, from borrowers who did it

October 17, 2019

By Ana Helhoski, MarketWatch

Pursuing student loan forgiveness entails a decade of meticulously recorded payments, hours on hold with your servicer and infinite patience. Success, however, arrives without much fanfare.

Public defender Shelly Tomtschik was in court when she got the email notifying her that the quest was over:

“Congratulations! After final review of your Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) application and payment history, we have determined that you have successfully made the required 120 monthly payments in order to have the loans listed below forgiven.”

“It wasn’t hitting me,” says Tomtschik, 40, of Baldwin, Wisconsin. “I thought it would be more official or something.”

Tomtschik is among the first federal student loan borrowers to get their loans canceled tax-free through the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The program, launched in 2007, forgives any outstanding balance after 120 qualifying payments for borrowers who take traditionally lower-paying public service jobs.

But the process is tricky. Just 864 of the 88,006 applications filed had been approved as of March 2019, based on the most recently available data from the Education Department. The average amount forgiven: $59,244.
What it takes to get public student loan forgiveness

To qualify for PSLF, borrowers must make 120 monthly, on-time payments while working full time in public service for a qualifying employer. You also must:

Ensure you have only federal direct loans. Some borrowers will need to consolidate into a direct loan. Private loans aren’t eligible.

Enroll in an income-driven repayment plan. Your payments will be a portion of your discretionary income.

Make sure your loans are serviced by FedLoan Servicing, the only company that processes PSLF applications. You can do this by submitting an employer certification form.

Submit employer certification forms to prove you worked for a qualifying government or nonprofit employer while making all 120 payments.

Apply while you’re still working for an eligible employer.

Tomtschik and another successful applicant, Bonnie Svitavsky, a librarian in Washington state, might add another requirement: Document everything.

Svitavsky, a 38-year-old supervising librarian at Pierce County Library, made payments for two years before she found they wouldn’t count toward PSLF. That’s because her loans weren’t enrolled in an eligible repayment plan.

“It was disappointing, to say the least,” she says.

To avoid any future surprises, Svitavsky set alarms to submit certification forms and logged the details of calls to FedLoan.

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https://www.marketwatch.com/story/advice-for-getting-student-loans-forgiven-from-borrowers-who-did-it-2019-10-07

In The News: FTC to pay more than $5.4 million to people scammed by student loan debt relief fraudsters

October 3, 2019

By Jeanette Settembre, Fox Business

The fraudsters, who made off with at least $20 million, were required to pay up under a 2018 settlement with the FTC, the organization announced in a press release Monday.

The FTC alleged that Los Angeles-based companies using names like Alliance Document Preparation LLC, and Post Grad Aid, bilked millions of people trying to reduce or eliminate their student loan debt. They used social media platforms like Facebook to market their fake relief programs and misrepresented that they were affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education or the loan servicers. The defendants falsely claimed that consumers who paid an upfront fee of up to $1,000 were qualified or approved for permanently reduced monthly payments or loan forgiveness.

The FTC is sending 39,734 checks to people who lost their money, totaling $136.48 each on average. The checks will expire after 60 days, the FTC said, noting: “The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or provide account information to cash a refund check.”

Borrowers have reported receiving emails, letters and phone calls offering them financial relief from their federal student loans. In most cases, these companies don’t offer any relief at all and just take people’s money. One of the most common ways fake companies try to swindle those saddled with debt is by claiming they’ll get rid of student loans without the person having to pay it back, for a small fee. The only legitimate reasons for not paying student loans may include permanent disability, identity theft or in some cases, school closure.

America’s $1.6 trillion student loan crisis has some presidential candidates proposing to cancel student debt and make public college free. And state legislatures are cracking down on student-loan companies.

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https://www.foxbusiness.com/money/ftc-to-pay-more-than-5-4-million-to-people-scammed-by-student-loan-debt-relief-fraudsters

In The News: Millennials have an average of $28,000 in debt—and the biggest source isn’t student loans

September 20, 2019

By Megan Leonhardt, CNBC

It may seem like student loans and millennials are inextricably linked. But a new survey shows that education bills are not the leading source of debt among this generation.

Millennials (defined here as ages 23 to 38) have racked up an average of $27,900 in personal debt, excluding mortgages, according to Northwestern Mutual’s 2019 Planning & Progress Study. The findings are based on a survey conducted by The Harris Poll of over 2,000 U.S. adults.

The biggest source of debt? Credit card bills. And that’s a “troubling” trend, Chantel Bonneau, a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual, tells CNBC Make It.

“One issue that a lot of millennials have is that they have not wanted to sacrifice their lifestyle, even though they have student loans or lower incomes,” Bonneau says. “That has left us in this spot where they’ve accumulated a significant amount of credit card debt.”

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https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/18/student-loans-are-not-the-no-1-source-of-millennial-debt.html

 

In The News: Raising the Bar for Loan Forgiveness

September 16, 2019

By Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher ED

In her first significant act as Education Secretary more than two years ago, Betsy DeVos said she planned to overhaul an Obama administration student loan rule designed to protect borrowers defrauded by their college.

Despite her efforts, the Obama borrower-defense regulations took effect last year. But on Friday DeVos capped off a two-year effort by issuing her own rule, which scales back loan forgiveness opportunities for student borrowers.

The new regulations significantly raise the bar for student borrowers seeking debt forgiveness based on claims they were defrauded by their colleges. They add a new three-year time limit for those borrowers to file claims, and each case will be considered individually, even if there is evidence of widespread misconduct at an institution.

Borrowers will also be asked to demonstrate they suffered financial harm from their college’s misconduct and that the college made deceptive statements with “knowledge of its false, misleading, or deceptive nature.”

The collapse of the Corinthian Colleges chain and subsequent flood of debt-relief claims prompted Education Department officials under the last administration to issue the 2016 borrower-defense rule.

Although the rule was a response to misconduct in the for-profit college sector, it applied to all Title IV institutions. And private nonprofit college groups had expressed concerns that their institutions could be on the hook for student claims even for unintentional mistakes in marketing materials. DeVos had made clear previously that she thought the regulations were too permissive, essentially offering borrowers the chance at “free money.”

“We believe this final rule corrects the wrongs of the 2016 rule through common sense and carefully crafted reforms that hold colleges and universities accountable and treat students and taxpayers fairly,” she said in a statement accompanying the rule.

Education Department officials said the new three-year time limit for claims aligns with record-retention requirements for colleges. They said the process will give institutions the opportunity to respond to claims and students the chance to elaborate on claims based on those responses.

The DeVos regulations will save the federal government about $11 billion over 10 years, the department estimates (the federal government shoulders the cost of loan discharge if it cannot recoup funds from the institutions themselves). Consumer advocates argue those savings are created by rigging the system against borrowers.

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https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/09/03/devos-imposes-tougher-debt-relief-standards-student-borrowers-alleging-fraud

 

In The News: Families, Not Just Students, Feel The Weight Of The Student Loan Crisis

September 4, 2019

By Elissa Nadworny, NPR

Middle-income family in debt.

For many college students settling into their dorms this month, the path to campus — and paying for college — started long ago. And it likely involved their families.

The pressure to send kids to college, coupled with the realities of tuition, has fundamentally changed the experience of being middle class in America, says Caitlin Zaloom, an anthropologist and associate professor at New York University. It’s changed the way that middle class parents raise their children, she adds, and shaped family dynamics along the way.

Zaloom interviewed dozens of families taking out student loans for her new book, Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost. She defines those families as middle class because they make too much to qualify for federal aid — but too little to pay the full cost of a degree at most colleges. For many, the burden of student debt raises big questions about what a degree is for.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you describe the world of student debt?

Families have really been transformed by debt, and really by the problem of dreaming about sending a kid to college and trying very hard to pay for it — oftentimes from the very earliest moments of a child’s life. I think what we don’t take account of, nearly enough, is what that experience is like — [what] the experience of trying to give a kid a shot by sending them [to] college means for most middle class families.That’s the thing that I think that we need to be focusing on.

You argue in the book that the idea of going to college is pervasive in American life.

It is pervasive. That message is coming at families from every direction: that being a success in America depends upon the ability to get into college, to get an education and to graduate. But that itself depends on the ability to pay, which thrusts us right into the paradox of it all — which is that on the one hand, young adults and the parents who support them have this very clear goal about getting a college education. On the other hand, that is going to cost them dearly.

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https://www.npr.org/2019/09/04/755221033/families-not-just-students-feel-the-weight-of-the-student-loan-crisis

In The News: Americans are staying silent on student loan debt—and it’s not helping

August 19, 2019

By Megan Leonhardt, CNBC

When it comes to uncomfortable conversations, Americans would rather talk about pretty much anything else — politics, health issues, religion — than discuss their finances.

Yet the money topic Americans voted as most thorny is one that’s constantly in the news: student loans. Over a third of Americans say they see student loan debt as the biggest financial taboo, according to a Harris Poll of over 1,000 U.S. adults commissioned by TD Ameritrade.

A similar survey conducted by the MIT AgeLab and sponsored by TIAA found that 40% of respondents reported they never talk to their family about their student loans. In fact, over half said their families know “nothing” or “very little” about their debt.

Yet you’re far from unique if you’re swimming in student loan debt. Americans have amassed $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, with one in four Americans carrying a balance. And both the prevalence and the effect of student loans is widely studied: the Fed found that 20% of the homeownership decline among millennials (ages 24 to 32) can be attributed to this debt. Other surveys have found that student loan debt is forcing millennials to put off other major life milestones, such as getting married and starting families.

Democratic 2020 presidential candidates are even making student loan debt solutions a core component of their campaigns — promising everything from better refinancing options to introducing more debt forgiveness programs to wiping it out completely.

So why aren’t people talking about their student loans around the dinner table or with friends over drinks? It’s personal, experts say. “Student loan debt may be pervasive and a constant topic in the media and in the political arena, but it’s still debt,” Erin Lowry, author of Broke Millennial Takes On Investing, tells CNBC Make It. “People are fundamentally uncomfortable talking about debt because it’s easy to assume another person is going to pass judgement on your choices.”

And boy do they.

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https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/07/student-loans-are-the-most-uncomfortable-conversation-topic-for-americans.html

 

In The News: Teacher To Betsy DeVos: ‘Why Didn’t You Forgive My Student Loans?’

August 5, 2019

By Zack Friedman, Forbes

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

An educator thought she was on track to receive student loan forgiveness.

She made the payments. She thought she did everything right.

Then, she was told years later that she didn’t qualify.

Here’s what you need to know – and how you can avoid her fate.

New Lawsuit: Student Loan Forgiveness

As first reported by NPR, Debbie Baker, a Director Education at a non-profit organization in Tulsa, Oklahoma, expected that her $76,000 of student loan debt would be forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, a federal program through the U.S. Department of Education that forgives federal student loans for individuals who work in public service.

According to Baker, her student loan servicer – the company responsible for collecting and managing her student loan payments –  allegedly told her for nine years that she met all the requirements to receive public service loan forgiveness. As such, Baker thought she would have all her federal student loan forgiven after meeting the program’s requirements, which she believed she met. However, after making her usual monthly payments under an income-driven repayment program, the U.S. Department of Education said she did not qualify for student loan forgiveness. You can imagine Baker’s reaction.

Now, Baker is a plaintiff in a new lawsuit filed by the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation’s largest teacher’s unions, against the U.S. Department of Education, which is led by Secretary Betsy DeVos. The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that:

  • the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is “grossly mismanaged” and
  • the program, as it’s currently administered, violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
  • the U.S. Department of Education is aware that student loan servicers make misrepresentations to borrowers, which results in borrowers getting rejected for student loan forgiveness and suffering financial and other harm.

Was Baker given the wrong information from her student loan servicer? Was it Baker’s responsibility to understand all the requirements of the program? Is the program administered properly? What is the proper role of student loan servicers – advisors or student loan payment collectors? Many of these issues may be addressed as a result of this lawsuit.

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https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2019/07/15/punlic-service-loan-forgiveness-lawsuit/#217b029c32ab

In The News: ‘I’m Drowning’: Those Hit Hardest By Student Loan Debt Never Finished College

August 1, 2019

By Elissa Nadworny, NPR

Most days, 25-year-old Chavonne can push her student loan debt to the back of her mind.

Between short-term office jobs in the Washington, D.C., area, she drives for Uber. But once in awhile, a debt collector will get hold of her cellphone number — the one she keeps changing to avoid them — and it all comes back fresh. “I’ll be like, ‘Oh no!’ ” she says. “It’s a sad reminder that I owe somebody money!”

In April, she got another reminder when the government seized her tax refund.

All this for a degree she never finished.

Back in high school, she recalls, her teachers and friends pushed her to go to college. And so, without too much thought, Chavonne enrolled at the University of Mississippi and borrowed about $20,000 to pay for it.

Far away from home and in a challenging environment, she struggled — and after three semesters, she’d had enough. Her college days are five years behind her, but the debt she took on is not.

Today, rent, car payments, gas and food are higher up on her list of priorities. And so she’s in default, not paying on her loans.

The one thing that could help Chavonne earn more money, of course, is earning a degree. But because she’s in default, she doesn’t have access to federal student aid that could help her go back and finish. It’s a vicious cycle for Chavonne and millions of other students who leave college with debt and without a degree.

From mid-2014 to mid-2016, 3.9 million undergraduates with federal student loan debt dropped out, according to an analysis of federal data by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news organization.

The default rate among borrowers who didn’t complete their degree is three times as high as the rate for borrowers who did earn a diploma. When these students stop taking classes, they don’t get the wage bump that graduates get that could help them pay back their loans.

The perception is, work hard and pay what you owe, says Tiffany Jones, who leads higher education policy at the Education Trust, “but it’s not manageable even if you’re working.”

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https://www.npr.org/2019/07/18/739451168/i-m-drowning-those-hit-hardest-by-student-loan-debt-never-finished-college

In The News: Feds find potential fraud in student loan repayment plans

July 26, 2019

By Collin Binkley, ABC News

Tens of thousands of federal student loan borrowers may be getting their monthly payments lowered by lying about their income and family size, yet the U.S. Education Department is doing little to catch them, according to a report released Thursday by a federal watchdog agency.

Among the most extreme cases reported by the Government Accountability Office are two separate borrowers who claimed to have 93 relatives in their households, along with 3,300 cases in which borrowers said they had no income even though federal data suggest they made $100,000 a year or more. All were approved for lower loan payments.

Investigators were reviewing the Education Department’s oversight of its popular income-driven repayment plans, which allow borrowers to pay lower monthly rates based on their incomes and family sizes. After 25 years of payments, all remaining debt is wiped clean.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said her agency will conduct comprehensive review of the repayment plans and will refer cases of fraud to the Justice Department for prosecution. She placed blame on previous administrations, saying the problems are proof that “many of the policy ideas previously pursued were poorly implemented.”

“Misrepresenting income or family size is wrong, and we must have a system in place to ensure that dishonest people do not get away with it,” DeVos said. “We didn’t create that problem, but rest assured we will fix it.”

The federal watchdog agency says it identified 95,100 cases in which borrowers were approved as having no income even though it appears they were earning money. Using wage data from the Department of Health and Human Services, investigators found that borrowers in a third of those cases may actually have been making $45,000 a year or more, including some who topped $100,000.

They concluded that the department “does not have procedures to verify borrower reports of zero income, nor, for the most part, procedures to verify borrower reports of family size.” Borrowers applying for the repayment plans can check a box indicating they have no income, and the department generally takes them at their word with no further documentation needed, the investigation found.

If approved, borrowers with no income typically are not required to make monthly payments.

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https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/feds-find-potential-fraud-student-loan-repayment-plans-64575667

In The News: More student loan borrowers carry six-figure balances

July 23, 2019

By Annie Nova

ONE TIME USE H/O: Elisha Bokman

Elisha Bokman has been out of school for eight years. Still, her student loan balance is half a million dollars.

Today, for her doctorate degree in naturopathic medicine and master’s in acupuncture from Bastyr University, she owes $499,322.69.

She and her husband struggled to buy a house because of her debt. Eventually, the financial stress led them to a divorce. “He felt like he couldn’t live his life or do the things he wanted to do,” Bokman, 38, said. She wanted to open her own medical practice, but she said her student debt prevents her from getting a business loan.

“It really effects the remainder of your life,” Bokman said. “There’s no out.”

Around 178,000 graduate students owed more than $100,000 in the 2015-2016 academic year, up from 51,000 in 2003-2004, according to Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of SavingForCollege.com. In the first quarter of 2019, over 6% of all student loan borrowers owed more than $100,000, up from 5.4% in 2017.

Recently, Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed forgiving student debt. Warren’s plan would reduce people’s tabs by up to $50,000, whereas Sanders’ would erase it all.

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https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/12/she-owes-500000-in-student-loans-giant-balances-are-on-the-rise.html