Student Loan Forgiveness Success Story

AFSCME has many public-sector and non-profit members working to complete this complex program. Leigh McIlvaine, an Oregon AFSCME member working for the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development worked for a non-profit for over ten years, and recently transitioned to public employment, both of which qualify for student loan forgiveness.

For those interested in the process Leigh gives her insight and experience in the below interview: 

How long did it take for you to successfully get your loans forgiven?
“In total it took about 11.5 years. It was a lot of trial and error at first. As of today, I was able to get $58,000 in loans forgiven, and I have another application in progress that will forgive an additional $19,000.”

What are the key successes to completing the program that you can suggest to others?
“Make sure you have Direct Loans and that you are on the right kind of payment plan. You have to be an active participant to successfully complete the program. Stay on top of messages from your servicer and track your communications with them. It’s important to track who you spoke to, what was discussed, and what actions need to be taken next. It’s like going to the dentist, no one wants to go, but going has a positive impact to your future.”

What kind of tracking would you suggest others do? Did you have a system that helped you keep on track?
“I would suggest tracking your qualifying payments on each loan, save your student loan bills, any correspondence with your servicer, and save all your bank statements to show proof of payment. I tried to download all of my banking and student loan documents every year during tax season and keep them somewhere safe because it’s easy to lose track of things after 10 years. You also need to send your employment certification form to your servicer every year, and after that you’ll get confirmation that the previous year’s payments count toward forgiveness. It’s important to check for mistakes at that time. Waiting too long can make it much harder to fix. The more systematic you are, the more success you’ll have completing the program.”

Can you give a broad overview of the process so folks know what they might expect?
“When you submit your first employment certification form two things will happen: First, the Department of Education will confirm whether your employer is eligible for PSLF, and second, it will trigger the transfer of your loans to Fedloan Servicing, which is the company that is contracted to help people work toward loan forgiveness. From there you’ll start making payments, and you’ll start your tracking system. As the 10-year mark approaches, you can ask for a full payment record to see how close you are. If you’ve completed your 10 years of payments, you’ll submit your official PSLF application. For me, it was about 90 days later that I received a congratulations letter and my online account reflected my loans were forgiven.”

What are some other important things to keep in mind?
“Even if there are changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, people who already have federal Direct student loans are grandfathered in, so they can’t be disqualified from this. Also, the CARES Act enacted a forbearance for all borrowers with federal loans. That means that even though most people aren’t being billed for their monthly loan payment right now, every single one of those months count toward PSLF anyways. I know a lot of people are frustrated with this program because they thought they spent years on the wrong payment plan, but if you’re in this situation you may qualify for loan forgiveness anyway under an amendment to the law by applying for Temporary Expanded PSLF (TEPSLF). It’s also important to remember that there are different escalation techniques if you’re struggling getting answers or progress with your servicer, including the Office of Consumer Advocacy or the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman.”

Why is taking advantage of student loan forgiveness so important?
“Giving your career to non-profit or public-sector work is admirable, and people should take advantage of this benefit. It’s still a long process that takes a lot of work and a lot of payments, but it also has other financial benefits, besides forgiveness at the end. People working toward PSLF are going to have lower monthly payments because they are determined by your income level, and you can make those payments even lower by putting additional money towards retirement every month. So the more you save for retirement, the lower your monthly loan payment will be. It’s a win-win. People in non-profit and public sector work should also take advantage of this option not only to help your future financial situation but because this is an important tool to help us work toward equity and economic justice. Women, people of color, and low-income individuals are more likely to have to borrow more and carry student debt longer, and that’s not fair.” 

Was the process worth it?
“It was definitely worth it. The moment I logged into my account and saw $0 on the majority of my loans made all the tracking, phone calls, and payments were completely worth it. I would highly suggest people take advantage of the program.” 

What should people do if they want to learn more about Public Service Loan Forgiveness?
“There’s a lot of good resources now to help you understand the program at, including the new PSLF Help Tool. I wish that had been around when I was figuring all this out ten years ago. The most important thing that people can do right now is fill out their Employment Certification Form, because it will help to get you on track.” 

Congratulations Leigh!

If you’re interested in receiving AFSCME’s free student loan forgiveness workshop, please reach out to your Council Representative for more information or contact the SMART Center at [email protected].