I got a cool email last week from a reader named Jamie who has had her loans forgiven under the TEPSLF Program. She was lucky enough to have two Direct loans issued in 2001. That’s well before 2010, when everyone got Direct loans issued to them by default. While Jamie had enough credit working full time at a not for profit or government employer, she did not have enough payments based on her income to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
The stories I hear of people like Jamie show why very few people will qualify for PSLF until the next couple of years. Jamie was determined, followed instructions to the letter, and avoided being discouraged during the drawn-out process.
Jamie’s experience is a wonderful case study of how to successfully apply for loan forgiveness under the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) Program.
What is the TEPSLF Program?
Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act about a year ago to remedy some of the mess created by Congress in 2007 when they horribly designed the PSLF program. Under this bill, Congress created TEPSLF and set up a $350 million fund to help folks get forgiveness.
Democrats wanted about 10 times that amount, but Republicans controlled Washington at the time. Hence, they settled on a much lower figure. Furthermore, once that $350 million gets used up, there won’t be additional funds for relief.
TEPSLF requirements make it tough to qualify for forgiveness
TEPSLF forgives debt for borrowers who meet the following requirements:
- Have at least 10 years of full-time work experience for a qualifying non-profit or government employer
- Had Direct federal student loans during this entire employment period
- The most recent payment , as well as the payment 12 months prior,must have been at least what you would’ve paid under an income-driven plan.
- You must apply for PSLF, get denied, the send an email to TEPSLF@myfedloan.org saying you believe you qualify.
These requirements apply to a very small group of folks. When PSLF was created in 2007, less than 20% of borrowers even had Direct loans.
When I received Jamie’s email, I was rather shocked to see her disbursement date said 2001. She not only had to do everything correctly, but she also had to get a little lucky as to what institution issued her debt. Before 2010, Direct loan issuance depended on where you went to school.
Jamie’s experience with the TEPSLF Program
I asked Jamie to share her story with our readers and she graciously agreed, saying that she wanted to help as many people as possible. Here’s our edited exchange.
Q: What was your first step in qualifying for TEPSLF?
A: I sent in my application for PSLF forgiveness on November 10 knowing it would be denied. I did not request forbearance on my application knowing I would be refunded any overage. On the same day I sent the following email to TEPSLF@myfedloan.org with my name and date of birth:
“I request that ED consider my eligibility for public service loan forgiveness. I’m uploading my application for PSLF. I was in the extended repayment plan prior to getting on the IBR plan in 2009 and believe I’ve met all the requirements for TEPSLF.”
Q: When did FedLoan contact you next about TEPSLF?
A: I received an email on November 13 stating that they have received my application and it said it would take 30-90 days to review. Sometime in the middle of November (I don’t know the exact date), I contacted them to make sure they had everything they needed from me. On November 30, I received the following email:
Thank you for contacting FedLoan Servicing!
Your Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Application was received and processed. Unfortunately, your application was denied because you have not yet made 120 qualifying payments for PSLF. Although you do not meet the requirements to have your loan debt forgiven yet, we were able to consider the time verified as qualifying employment.
Your request to be considered for the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) program was received also. Your account is currently being reviewed to determine your eligibility. You will receive a notice regarding the approval or denial after we have completed the review.
Please use the “Contact Us” link through your online account at MyFedLoan.org to submit inquiries via a secure email form. You may also call us toll-free at 1-800-699-2908 to reach our Customer Service Department, which is open Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM – 9:00 PM (ET).
Q: When did you first realize your loans were forgiven?
A: On December 15 or 16 (during the weekend), I checked my account and it showed an account balance of negative $3347.84, although I hadn’t received any notification from them. On December 17, I received the following email:
Q: How long did FedLoan say the refund of your excess payments would take?
A: I saw that the balance was equal to my last 8 months payments. I called them to see how long it would take for me to receive the refund. I can’t remember if they said 60-90 days or 90-120 days.
Regardless, it sounded like it would take at least a couple months. I’m pretty excited because it was almost $19,000 of loans forgiven. I was quite surprised at how quick the TEPSLF process went.
What I learned about TEPSLF from Jamie’s story
One thing I noticed from Jamie’s experience is that she was very efficient in her approach to applying for loan forgiveness.
You’ve probably been on hold before for 20 minutes and experienced terrible customer service. It feels fantastic to get upset or vent but the fastest way to get what you want is to avoid doing that.
Jamie’s email made me feel like she must have had ice in her veins dealing with FedLoan.
For example, when she emailed FedLoan about TEPSLF, she didn’t send a long story about how messed up the program was. She followed instructions to the letter. For example, on FedLoan’s website they tell you follow this model for the TEPSLF email:
Subject: TEPSLF request
I request that ED reconsider my eligibility for public service loan forgiveness.
Name: [Enter the same name under which you submitted your PSLF application]
Date of Birth: [Enter your date of birth in MM/DD/YYYY format]
This looked a lot like Jamie’s email.
I wonder if FedLoan expedites TEPSLF for smaller loan balances
One point is that almost no huge balances are in line for PSLF until 2020. PSLF got passed in 2007. If you were in med school and did everything correctly, you would not have made payments until 2011, which puts you eligible in 2021.
Most of the PSLF and TEPSLF stories I’ve seen thus far have been for folks with small undergrad or one or two-year master’s degree level balances.
I secretly wonder if FedLoan tackles the smaller balances like Jamie’s first. The speed with which they tackled her application for TEPSLF astounded me.
If you know for a fact you had Direct loans only before 2009, you need to apply for TEPSLF and use Jamie’s approach as a template.
The government is giving people refunds for overpaying on their loans
What’s unreal to me is that the government is allowing people like Jamie to continue making regular payments to make doubly sure she qualifies but then refunding the overpayments!
That’s very exciting to me. It means that the government is not only forgiving borrowers’ loans, but they are sticking to their end of the bargain to take no more than required under the PSLF rules.
I’ve seen some pics online of the Treasury Department writing a bunch of checks for the months of extra payments.
It’s absolutely true that TEPSLF could be managed better, but I’m encouraged by stories like Jamie’s.
What TEPSLF tells me about PSLF
If you plan on repealing a government program, you don’t give hundreds of millions of dollars to expand that program.
Yet that’s exactly what Republicans did when they passed the Appropriations bill a year ago.
If PSLF was going away for current borrowers, do you think they would’ve pumped even more money into expanding it?
Jamie’s story shows that while loan forgiveness will be difficult to get in the next few years, it will eventually become commonplace baring some massive change in federal policy.
Borrowers who stay on top of their finances like you will benefit enormously and those who ignore their loans will lose out big time.
If you’d like to get a professional review of your loan situation, we’d love to work with you.
Update from Jamie on 1/18/2019: “I called them a few days ago wondering when my refund would take place. They said it would take about 90 days. Without warning this morning I noticed 16 deposits into my checking account that add up to the 8 months worth of loans they are refunding.”
What do you think of Jamie’s experience getting her loans forgiven under TEPSLF? Do you have questions about the program? Ask below!