Like millions of others in the U.S., Kristin had to take out student loans in order to afford her post-secondary studies. While more privileged than many because her family was able to help her pay for much of her undergraduate degree, by the time she graduated from Saint Louis University with a Masters of Social Work, Kristin had racked up around $60,000 in student loan debt.
As a newly minted social worker, Kristin had been told that working for a nonprofit or government entity would mean she could apply for the Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. PSLF is supposed to forgive the remaining balance on your federal loan after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments—as long as during that time you worked full-time for a qualifying employer.
Fortunately, Kristin landed a job right out of graduate school with a nonprofit. Six months later, her loan servicer began sending her bills. When she called them and asked to apply for the PSLF, she was told that she didn’t qualify because, combined, she and her husband made too much money. Each of them earned around $35,000 at the time. “They offered me a seven-year payment plan (not the 10-year option) for PSLF, of $900/month. With rent and a car payment, I knew this wasn’t doable.” Instead she entered into a graduated repayment plan, which meant as her income increased, so would her payments. Unfortunately it was also a plan that did not qualify her for PSLF.
According to Kristin, “over the next 13 years I would call my student loan servicer and ask if I now qualified for PSLF, hoping something had changed, but was always told that the repayment plan I was in didn’t qualify and the payment plans that they wanted to put me in to qualify were way more than I could afford. I continued to make payments, occasionally putting my student loans in forbearance during specific life events, like during maternity leave for my two kids and when my husband lost his job. My monthly payments barely just covered interest on my loans, which was 6.5%. I never saw my student loan balance decrease.”
Once Kristin’s kids were out of daycare and started at the local public school, she made a plan to prioritize paying off her student loans. “I had a plan to pay them off in 7 years and I started to make those payments, about double the payment that was required.” Then COVID hit and The CARES Act put student loans in deferment and at 0% interest rate. In spite of the deferment, Kristin continued to make payments for a while so that she could take advantage of the 0% interest. But, on October 6, 2021, the Biden Administration announced that they were making changes to PSLF and were going to expand it through the PLSF Waiver. She applied immediately.
Within 30 days of application, Kristin received notice that she was eligible for the PSLF Waiver and that the payments she had made through the graduated repayment plan for over a decade were eligible. Her student loans were then transferred from her current student loan servicer to FedLoans. About 30 days after that transfer, Kristin was notified by FedLoans that she had made 99 of the 120 payments needed to qualify for the PSLF Waiver. As she was looking through the payments, however, she realized that there were payments from her very first student loan servicer (2008-2011) that were not included. “I had to go back to FedLoans and tell them that they were missing payments. I also requested the payment history from both the 1st servicer and my 2nd servicer. This confirmation took a while—about 6 months—but by April 2022, I was notified that not only had I made all 120 qualifying payments for the PSLF Waiver, I had actually overpaid by about 20 monthly payments!”
“Then I waited.” She was told that it would take about 90 days for the balance on her loans to be forgiven, but she waited roughly 120 for the process to be finalized. “At the end of August 2022, I received word that my student loans were completely forgiven and 2 weeks later I received a check from the Department of Treasury for the overpayment. I’m still waiting for my credit report to be updated to show the $0 balance!”
Having gone through this experience herself, Kristin knows firsthand how stressful it can be, but also how much the details matter. Her advice to the Working Credit participants she counsels? “Be prepared to be patient but also be proactive! It took a while, but the best news I now know to be true is that you do not have to make 120 consecutive payments to qualify. If you made payments, then stopped and started again, those payments that you did make will qualify.”