When the Department of Education announced a plan to fix the hellish problems with its Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, hundreds of thousands of beleaguered borrowers held their breath.
Since 2007, the program has promised hope for those who pledged to advance the public good. If they made 120 payments on time, their loans would be forgiven. During that time, their balances often grew because of the income-based payments the program required.
The devil was in the details, and the devil often won. Borrowers frequently shared their stories of yearslong bureaucratic struggles. The waiver program announced in October, however, promised to yank open some doors — borrowers could seek credit for categories of payments that were previously ineligible.
And over the last several weeks, the momentum turned: Exhaling borrowers are running into the light, debt-free. “I’m extremely thankful,” Katherine Ojeda Stewart, a public defender in Los Angeles, told me. “But the emotional capital you had to expend took a lot out of me.”
I spoke to six borrowers who, all told, have been freed from more than $800,000 in debt. Their stories chronicle the hope, the disappointment and finally the relief felt by so many.
Assistant State’s Attorney | Wheaton, Ill.
Debt Relief: $200,000
In order to participate in the P.S.L.F. program, you needed to know that it existed in the first place — and many didn’t learn about it for years because the Education Department did a lousy job spreading the word about its potentially life-changing program.
Louisa Nuckolls, 50, was among the lucky ones. She was tipped off early by a defense lawyer who once had a job like hers. “It was around 2008, and he told me that there was this new program where if you work in government for 10 years, you could have your loans forgiven,” she said. “He said that he wished he would have stuck around the prosecutor’s office.”
Administrators in her office soon heard about it, too, and encouraged people to sign up. What, they figured, did everyone in the office have to lose by throwing in with the nascent program?
“They started sending emails around saying, ‘Hey, this is out there — we’re not sure how effective it’s going to be,’” Ms. Nuckolls said.
They were right to be …….