If you have federal student loans under the Direct Loan program and work full-time for a qualifying employer and pay under one of the income-driven repayment plans for a decade, you might be able to get your loans forgiven. Getting Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) can be a long road of at least 10 years. But for student loan borrowers, total loan forgiveness is worth the wait. And along the way, you want all your monthly payments to count toward the required 120 qualifying payments.
Unless you start the PSLF program the moment you enter repayment after school, FedLoan Servicing will look at previous payments to determine if they qualify. For one of our readers who filed after four years of working in public service, it was truly a fight to get their student loan payments count fixed.
4 years of payments — and only 25% of them qualified
Thomas and Christine submitted the proper employment certification forms after Christine made 48 qualifying payments on her student loans. FedLoan Servicing accepted the application for PSLF and listed the number of qualifying payments as 12.
It was horrifying for the couple, to say the least. Only receiving credit for about 25% of the payments already made on the student loans immediately set them back on their road to forgiveness. They were not about to let that happen. Instead, they found a way to fix their payment count with the following steps.
How to fix your PSLF payment count, one hoop at a time
If you’re pursuing forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, you want every payment to count. Below are the steps Thomas and Christine took to get their payment count fixed. This isn’t the only instance of a wrong payment count when on a qualifying repayment plan, and similar tactics have been used before.
Step 1: Contact FedLoan and submit for a manual recount
Thomas and Christine began by first contacting FedLoan. They were persistent, and their call was transferred several times before receiving a helpful representative.
The representative explained that this situation isn’t all that uncommon when loans are transferred to FedLoan or when you apply for PSLF.
There was likely one of two causes for the miscalculated payment count:
- The account was placed on “paid ahead” status, or
- The automated computer program that FedLoan uses miscalculated the initial qualifying payment count.
The next steps were to have “paid ahead” status permanently blocked and request a manual recount.
The representative told Thomas and Christine it would take three to six months for the recount and helped Christine submit a request for both of these items.
Step 2: Follow up with FedLoan
After six months passed, they hadn’t heard anything from FedLoan. It was time for a follow-up to check on the status of the recount. The representative told them to “just keep waiting.”
Every month for another six months, they called FedLoan and were met with the same response. When just over twelve months had passed since the initial request, it was obvious FedLoan wasn’t going to work with them in a timely manner. Thomas and Christine decided it was time to find another avenue for fixing their payment count.
Find a congressional caseworker
The first two steps aim to work with your student loan servicer and follow all suggested channels on the website. However, if you receive no help despite being persistent with communication, it may be time to find a congressional caseworker. They may be able to help out with federal student loan programs and IDR plan issues with PSLF.
Step 3: Find out who your local congressional caseworker is
Thomas knew from his previous career that every congressional office has at least one caseworker.
The caseworker’s job is to help constituents interface with federal agencies. Typically, this involves helping individuals with Social Security, Medicare and Veterans Affairs (VA) requests. But they can also assist with inquiries, such as for student loans and federal student loan repayment.
The best way to find your congressional caseworker is through your congressperson’s website. You can identify your congressperson by entering your zip code on the “Find Your Representative” page of the U.S. House of Representatives website.
From here, navigate your way to the website and find the contact page.
Step 4: Submit a request for a status check
Caseworkers aren’t able to give advice on behalf of federal agencies — and they can’t fight your battle with a federal agency. But what they can do is perform “status checks.”
This means they’ll contact the agency (FedLoan Servicing) on your behalf and inquire why things are taking so long. Sometimes, caseworkers have direct contacts at federal agencies and can actually get some results.
On the contact page of your congressperson’s website, look for the wording “Help with Federal Agency.” Use this link to submit your initial request. Respect the caseworker’s time and only submit the basic details.
Here’s an example of an initial request:
“I’m working toward PSLF. FedLoan Servicing is not accurately tracking my payments or responding to my request for a more accurate count. I’m requesting your assistance to do a status check. Could you please have a member of your staff who handles casework contact me?”
You can also call the congressperson’s office for the initial request.
Step 5: Sign a privacy disclosure, give details & say thank you
After submitting your request, the caseworker will generally reach out to you. In Thomas and Christine’s case, the caseworker asked them to sign a privacy disclosure form and requested a few more details.
When supplying the caseworker with additional details, follow the general guide below:
- Thank them for agreeing to assist you
- Give contact information beyond your email address
- Supply them with your student loan account numbers (your SSN will be included on the release form, so no need to include this in the email body)
- Explain the background of your situation; keep in mind that some caseworkers may not have helped with student loan issues and aren’t PSLF experts
- State the actual request for the caseworker — for example, “Can you please request a status check with the U.S. Department of Education on our behalf?”
- Thank them for their help
After the caseworker makes inquiries, thanking them again goes a long way. Although it’s optional, members of congress often choose to keep caseworkers on staff to help individuals navigate things exactly like this. So sending a “thank you” can encourage the congressperson’s office to continue with this service.
A note or small gift under $50 is a great way to give back. You could even go so far as to send a note to the local newspaper expressing your gratitude for the caseworker’s assistance.
Finally, progress was made on the payment count
Thomas and Christine laid out these exact steps listed above and got results for fixing their PSLF payment count. Within one week of submitting a request for a status check, they heard back from a caseworker.
The caseworker reached out to the U.S. Department of Education, which then reached out to FedLoan Servicing. The caseworker continued to update Thomas and Christine as the case progressed.
Within four weeks, an updated payment account was completed by FedLoan. This updated payment count had nearly all payments marked as qualifying for the employment period of the previous five years. All it took was some additional prodding from an outside source to get the PSLF payment count adjusted.
What if you need more than a response to an inquiry?
Thomas was simply waiting to hear back for a request. If your situation is more extreme than a miscalculated payment count, such as entering into a dispute with FedLoan Servicing, then consider hiring a student loan lawyer. They are there to help with situations that have escalated beyond inquiries. These type of situations are not a caseworker’s job anyway.
If you’ve been rejected for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, look into Temporary Expanded PSLF to see if your Direct Loans qualify and if you can get any portion of your remaining balance forgiven. If making payments is a burden, look into deferment and forbearance. Additionally, make sure you’re under one of the four income-driven repayment plans like IBR, ICR, PAYE or REPAYE. This makes your student loans more affordable than on a 10-year Standard Repayment Plan and is one of the program requirements for PSLF.
The key is to make sure your federal Direct Loans and your monthly payment amount are actually going toward forgiveness.
We would like to sincerely thank Thomas and Christine for sharing their story and allowing Student Loan Planner® to publish these steps to help others on their way to student loan forgiveness.