Paying extra on your student loans seems like sound advice. The more you pay down a loan, the sooner you’re out from underneath its burden. However, there’s one case where paying extra on student loans can be a big mistake.
When student loan overpayment is a problem
You’ve likely heard of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) if you have student loans. This federal student loan forgiveness program is a cornerstone option for many who pursue careers serving others in their community.
PSLF, along with most forgiveness programs, operates with stringent requirements. One such requirement is the number of qualifying payments you must make. You’re required to make 120 qualifying payments on your student loans. Qualifying payments don’t need to be made consecutively, but if they’re made in the full amount each month, it will take 10 years to reach full loan forgiveness.
But making an extra payment on PSLF student loans can be a mistake. Paying ahead won’t get you to the point of forgiveness any sooner. In fact, pay ahead status elongates the amount of time it takes to receive forgiveness.
Why paying extra on student loans with PSLF doesn’t work
If you’ve made extra payments, even by a few dollars, your account will be marked as “paid ahead.” Here’s an example of what that may look like.
Let’s say your regular qualifying monthly payment is $300. This payment has processed, and you decide to make an extra payment of $200 that month. The account can be marked as “paid ahead.” The next automatic monthly payment will then be taken out for $100. Meaning the next month's payment is less than the monthly payment due and won’t count as a qualifying payment toward your PSLF plan.
The loan servicers make money based on the length of time they service your loan. Thus, they have no incentive to help you pay the loan off faster. This is why the “paid ahead status” is automatic rather than being a request.
The team at Student Loan Planner® has run across this very scenario a number of times in consultations. One reader wrote in that they switched to PSLF after two years of making on-time payments with FedLoan Servicing. But once they sent in the proper verification, FedLoan showed only four qualified payments for those two years, despite the reader being on a qualifying payment plan. Since the reader made extra payments during this time, their account was placed on “paid ahead status.”
Not only is paying ahead messing up your number of required payments, it’s also taking money out of your pocket that would otherwise be forgiven. It may feel like a smart choice in case PSLF goes away. However, doing so really won’t help you in the long run if your account is marked as paid ahead. Don’t make the extra payments — just stay the course.
If you’ve paid ahead, this is something you’ll want to correct as soon as possible.
How to correct paid ahead status under PSLF
The good news is that you can stop making extra student loan payments. You’ll want to correct the pay ahead status so you can get back on track.
First, it’s a good idea to check and see how many qualifying payments you’ve made. You can check the number of payments by logging into your account and clicking on the details of each loan. If you’re already enrolled in PSLF, you’ll be logging into FedLoan Servicing.
Next, if you’ve set up automatic extra payments on your student loans, cancel this while you’re logged into your account.
Then, if you’re marked as paid ahead status, you’ll need to make some phone calls and get this corrected. Begin by calling your student loan servicer and asking to make the payments count toward PSLF.
Know which payments they are and have your records in front of you when you make the phone call. You must also ask your servicer to put a note on your account so you’ll never be put on “paid ahead status” again.
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What to do if you have trouble resolving the paid ahead status
You may hit a brick wall with your student loan servicer. It will then be up to you to keep advocating for yourself and move up the chain.
You can start by calling the parent company. In the case of FedLoan Servicing, this is the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). In each of these phone calls, ask to speak to a borrower advocate.
Your student loan servicer can fix this, but if it doesn’t, you should file a report with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). In the past, the CFPB has been very helpful in these types of situations.
If you enter into a dispute or the problem goes unresolved for some time, you can reach out to a student loan lawyer for assistance.
Keep track of your PSLF status and seek help
Student loan forgiveness requires some effort and follow-up in the form of paperwork and tracking. Once you correct the pay ahead status, keep track of your PSLF progress. Student loan servicers make mistakes, so it's important to advocate for yourself and seek help when needed.
You may want to consider scheduling a consultation with a professional on the team at Student Loan Planner®. We can assist you in reviewing your loan status and developing a payoff plan that allows you to reach your life goals.
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