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