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The Point: Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program


This week The Point was written by José E. Martínez-Reyes, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Anthropology Department and tenured representative on the FSU Executive Committee

Dear FSU Members,

I would like to take the opportunity as a guest on this week's The Point to talk about a problem that affects many of us: student loans. In particular, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). Many of you are probably aware of it.  Some of you might be enrolled and making payments through it, and some of you probably have no idea that the program exists at all. In the past couple of years, there has been a lot of negative publicity in the media about the roll out of this program that makes it seem as if it's almost impossible to achieve cancellation because of the high percentage of denials. Some of the bad press is warranted, but there has been a lot of misinformation about the process. There are several big changes looming for this program in the near future that hopefully will fix some of the past problems.

I wanted to raise awareness about this program through our Union because I don't believe UMB’s Human Resources has provided any promotion of it to our employees. This program, with all its limitations, is available to UMB employees and could potentially have life altering impacts on many of us. In the absence of any significant policy by the current administration in the White House to provide some relief, this is the only program that can help alleviate the burden of student loan debt.

A lot of the negative press has to do with the chaotic roll out of the program mixed with not knowing how the program works. Ineptitude by the servicer in charge of managing the process was also a big problem. I know it all. I experienced it all because I went through it, but ultimately it worked out and my loans were discharged.

In October 2019, I made my 120th and final payment through PSLF and in April 2020, they were officially discharged. I was elated, as you can imagine, of getting rid of such a burden. As I shared some of the good news to friends over social media, I was surprised by how many friends and colleagues who work in public and non-profit universities had no knowledge of it or had read about the bad publicity and hadn’t bothered with it.  For this reason, I want to highlight and promote this option that can potentially help many of us that have been burdened by student loans.

This PSLF ordeal has been a rollercoaster of emotions, from signs of hope to utter disappointment and desperation. I know I’m not alone in this. I thought I would share my experience. I finished my PhD in 2004. Had my Direct Loans consolidated in 2006 when the Bush administration was going to increase the interest rates. I got into an income-based repayment plan because my new teaching job at a public university in Puerto Rico was not enough to pay a massive loan payment and maintain my family with 3 young children.

In 2008, I learned about the PSLF program. Luckily, I was aware early on that I had to be enrolled in an income driven repayment plan to qualify, so I continued in one regardless of the payment amount or years to complete. In 2012, federal loans were outsourced, and this is when it seems that the program, in part, went into chaos. At the time, there was still a lack of information on how this program would unfold. That year, my loans were transferred to one of the providers, MOHELA. I immediately called MOHELA and they assured me that nothing would change, and I could continue to make qualifying payments towards PSFL. In 2016, I started saying to myself, I should check on my status since 2017 was approaching and that’s when the 10-year mark will begin for people that qualify. So, I called MOHELA and asked how many qualifying payments I had. And they said, “we have no idea. You have to transfer your loans to FedLoan, another servicer that is the only one authorized to deal with PSLF”… OK, I wish I had known earlier--like in 2012!

In order to transfer my loans to FedLoan, I had to submit an Employment Certification Form (ECF) to FedLoan. Several months later, they determined that I qualified for the PSFL program. On January 1st, 2017, my loans were transferred. I called to check on my status and find out how many qualifying payments I had and I almost had a heart attack when the rep told me “you were just transferred, so you are starting from 0”). Are you kidding me!! After my surprise and outburst, I asked if I could speak with a supervisor. The supervisor assured me that the rep was not well informed and that I had to wait for them to do a count and that all previous payments should count but that it would take a couple of months for the results… OK, fair enough, so I waited. (This was my experience. I have also heard from others in the program that there are some good reps and supervisors that have the correct info and others that are still misinformed).

A couple of months turned into 5 months, but on May 2017, they determined that I had 79 qualifying payments and was set to qualify for “forgiveness” in April 2020. That didn’t sound right to me. I knew that I had had a few brief lapses such as when I was moving and changing jobs to UMass Boston in 2008 and had deferred a few payments. So, I knew that my loans were not going to be discharged in 2017, but I was figuring on sometime in 2019 not 2020. I called and requested another review. This one took FOR-E-VER.

The rollercoaster continued… In the meantime, I submitted another ECF to continue to update the status of my payments. The response letter I got this time said that I only had 34 payments!!! (Yes, that many exclamations is needed.) I was livid. How could I go from 79 to 34???

I kept calling and they told me I had to wait a few months for the manual (!!??) review. Some of the responses: “You have to be patient,” “It takes several months,” “a lot of people are in your situation,” “there was some glitch,” blah, blah, blah. In April 2019, almost 2 years for the ‘manual’ review. I got the results and it said that I had 97 qualifying payments still set for discharge in 2020. Long story short, I submitted another ECF and the website and it said that the estimated eligibility date was October 2019. This time it was correct and forgiveness was granted.

Student debt is crippling our society and there must be substantial transformations to end the student loan crisis. We definitely have to keep pushing for more reforms. In the meantime, PSLF is what we have. On the one hand, we have new reforms taking place that should improve program access and processing for many, but on the other hand, we have massive loan transfers happening as several of the debt collectors will no longer be servicing loans. The Debt Collective is urging people to screen shot all of your payments and download any information about your payments before your loans are transferred.

As your rep, one of the ways I want to raise awareness about the program beyond this email is to do a forum for our members in the near future. Let me know about your experiences with PSLF, the good and the bad, and if you would be interested in sharing your experience as a panelist. Email me at

And as our good colleague Jeff reminds us, this is your union. Please let us know at how you think we should support our union comrades around the country—academic and otherwise—as we continue to build our own collective power on campus.

In solidarity,

José E. Martínez-Reyes, Ph.D.

FSU Tenured Faculty ExCom Representative

Associate Professor

Department of Anthropology