Jared Weegmann, 37, got $323,000 in student loans forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.
He said that he would not have been able to pay off the debt had he not enlisted in the Navy.
His success story is rare — many borrowers have struggled to get relief through the program.
Jared Weegmann no longer has a six-figure student-debt load hanging over his head.
After getting his undergraduate degree from a public Florida college, Weegmann, 37, decided he wanted to go to law school — and the only way he could do so financially was by taking out student loans. But after graduating University of Miami’s law school in 2012 with around $200,000 in debt, the most important thing for him at the time was getting rid of that debt one way or the other.
“This debt will never be repaid,” Weegmann said. “I just remember thinking, the only way this is ever gonna get off me is if I immediately start some public service job.”
Weegmann is referring to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which is intended to forgive student debt for public servants, like government and nonprofit workers, after ten years of qualifying payments. He saw the Navy as a viable option to start the clock on his public service in 2013, and at that point, his estimated year for loan forgiveness was 2024.
But President Joe Biden’s Education Department implemented a limited-time waiver last year to allow previously ineligible payments to count toward PSLF progress. That was instrumental for Weegmann — on January 2, 2023, he received a letter from student-loan company MOHELA informing him that his $323,000 student debt load had been fully forgiven.
“We completed our review of your repayment and qualifying employment history under the PSLF Program rules including the limited PSLF waiver, and awarded PSLF credit based on these requirements,” the letter to Weegmann reviewed by Insider said. “We determined you have successfully met the requirements of the PSLF Program and your loans listed below have been forgiven. Thank you for your public service!”
The waiver allowed Weegmann to count one year of payments on student loans he made during his time as a personal trainer at the YMCA, which is a nonprofit, and he said that when he “got the letter that says your loans are completely forgiven, it was amazing.”
But he wishes it didn’t take enlisting in the Navy to get that relief.
“It was basically indentured servitude to pay off my debt,” Weegmann said. “You have to take on a lot of stress, but I learned a lot too, and it gave me a good, stable job to get to have money to make the investments that are going to propel me into the future.”
“But I don’t think that the juice is worth the squeeze or the payoff, if getting the degree is worth it,” Weegmann added. “Because if you don’t do public service, you’re going to be saddled with that debt. I mean, how long would it take to pay that off? Probably never.”
Weegmann stressed that his diligence in his PSLF paperwork was key in getting his loans forgiven. He would frequently call his loan servicer to ensure his payments were up to date, and he said that verifying his employment every year was helpful in ensuring all of his progress in the program was being accounted for.
But many other borrowers who have been diligent with their paperwork and have been in public service for far more than ten years are still waiting for their loans to be forgiven. Leading up to Biden’s presidency, 98% of borrowers who applied to the program were being denied over a range of administrative errors, like writing the date in the improper format or missing a signature on the paperwork.
For example, one borrower told Insider in 2021 that even after 40 years of public service, flaws in the program kept him from getting the relief he thought he was eligible for.
So in October 2021, the Education Department unveiled the limited-time waiver that expired on October 31, 2022 which allowed borrowers to get closer to forgiveness, and following the waiver’s expiration, the department announced permanent reforms to PSLF, including a one-time adjustment to borrowers’ accounts if they missed the waiver deadline.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona touted the changes on Twitter in January, writing that “higher education should lift you up, not weigh you down. Thanks to changes we’ve made to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, everyday Americans can reach dreams they put off for far too long. That’s something to celebrate.”
Some borrowers aren’t quite ready to celebrate. MOHELA, which acquired all PSLF accounts last summer, is taking months to go through the waiver paperwork. Some borrowers have even been improperly denied as the company sifts through the applications.
Another layer of difficulty, as Insider previously reported, is that borrowers who have simple questions about their PSLF payments can’t even reach customer service representatives at MOHELA. Weegmann said he would “have to leave my phone on for two or three hours just to wait to get a hold of somebody to answer the phone.”
Right now, many PSLF borrowers are on MOHELA’s schedule — and there’s no clear timeframe for relief.
Some borrowers who take on significant debt for advanced degrees, like law or medical school, are able to land high-paying jobs that allow them to pay off debt quickly. But as Weegmann said, it’s not that easy, and he’s not sure if he would have pursued that degree if he could go back in time.
“I don’t know that being saddled with that kind of debt is beneficial,” he said.
Insider previously spoke to another borrower who was told that going to law school would set him on an immediate path to high earnings, but even after passing the bar exam he had difficulty finding a job and is now saddled with $347,000 in student debt.
“Whoever told you that lawyers have instant tickets to the middle class, that maybe existed 10 or 20 years ago, but that doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. “It’s not the same job market anymore.”
Amid all the PSLF challenges, though, success with the program can be life changing. One borrower Insider spoke to last year got his $20,000 debt balance wiped out — giving him the financial freedom to quit his job and run for office. He said that “running for office absolutely would not have been a possibility if PSLF didn’t process my application.”
Read the original article on Business Insider
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