More than half a million public sector workers in the United States are set to have their student debt erased under a revamped debt forgiveness program. But for people hoping to take advantage of the federal initiative, getting those loans forgiven takes persistence, said one person who has successfully used the program to get rid of tens of thousands of dollars in student debt.
“I spent hours on the phone with the federal loan service company I was using,” said Karen Tongson, professor of English, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Southern California. , who told CBS News she once owed $73,000 in school loans. . Even after making payments for 16 years, she was still liable for $47,000 due to interest on the debt, she added.
Last year, however, the US Department of Education erased Tongson’s remaining balance under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, or PSLF, launched in 2007 under then-President George W. Bush.
Initially, the effort looked like a textbook case of bad public policy undermining a potentially important goal. Although the program promised to wipe out student debt for government employees after a decade of payments, 99% of those who applied were told they weren’t eligible, according to a 2019 report. report of the Office of Government Accountability. Many Americans, say the program has never worked for them.
But after revamping the PSLF last year, the Biden administration said the effort will help more than 550,000 teachers, members of the military, first responders and government workers get out of student debt.
“First of all, don’t be intimidated by this and don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Tongson said as he encouraged eligible borrowers to apply for relief under the PSLF. It’s about being “very persistent in calling and insisting on talking with someone,” she added.
To qualify for loan forgiveness under the PSLF, an applicant must be employed full-time in a federal, state, local, or tribal government agency or nonprofit organization. The applicant must have direct federal loans that are repaid under an income-based repayment plan.
“The key is to make sure you speak to your employer’s human resources department so you know how to get your verifiable employment forms for loan forgiveness as soon as possible,” Tongson said.