The Public Student Loan Forgiveness Rescue Hasn’t Gone Well So Far

Five months in, that website is no model of clarity.

For instance, one paragraph tells borrowers that they must submit a public service loan forgiveness application and wait to be rejected (for payments that were not in a qualifying payment plan) before being potentially eligible for relief. The very next paragraph, however, tells them that they do not need to wait before submitting a request under the temporary plan.

Jolie von Suhr, a psychologist in a state psychiatric hospital in Lakewood, Wash., who was in an ineligible payment plan for years before realizing she had a problem, said the site’s conflicting information left her both perplexed and afraid.

“It kind of sounds like you can submit them both at the same time, but I’m not sure,” she said. “I’m so anxious now about doing anything incorrectly that could get me booted out of consideration.”

In fact, you do not have to wait for a public service loan forgiveness denial in order to request consideration under the temporary expanded program. I asked if the department intended to clarify this on its site and received assurances that it “will continue to review communications to borrowers and will adjust them as appropriate.”

Some eligibility determinations are easier to make than others — rejecting people who have not made 120 payments or who were in an ineligible loan, for example. The Department of Education’s loan servicer often has a tougher time producing an accurate count of months of repayment.

Plus, it now has to account for a rule under the temporary program that applies to people who thought they were in the right kind of repayment plan but found out much later that they were not. They are eligible for the temporary program only if their most recently monthly payment and the one they made 12 months before their application were higher than what they would have paid if they had been enrolled in a qualifying repayment plan. Yes, it’s complicated, and clearing this hurdle may require documentation.

The Education Department seems tired of bearing blame for all of this.

“We implement the programs Congress creates,” said the department’s press secretary, Liz Hill. She added that the forgiveness program and the temporary program were “poorly constructed programs, the rules of which are highly complex and difficult for students to navigate.”

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