Trent and Somer are the first couple in history to both get tax-free student loan forgiveness through the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) program. Learn about how they qualified, their journey to forgiveness and their advice for those looking to do the same.
In today’s episode, you’ll find out:
- How much student loan debt Somer and Trent graduated with
- How they managed to get Direct Loans
- What it was like for Trent to consolidate his loans in the late-2000s.
- How Trent ended up with five years not counting toward TEPSLF
- How Somer was signed up for the wrong repayment plan
- When their loans went to FedLoan Servicing
- How changing your name can cause student loan problems
- Why Trent’s TEPSLF was a little harder to process
- Trent’s reaction to finding out his student loans were forgiven
- Somer’s emotions when she saw her loans had also been forgiven
- Somer’s thoughts on why loan forgiveness isn’t just free money
- The steps to qualify for TEPSLF
- Trent and Somer’s advice for those going for TEPSLF
Like the show? There are several ways you can help!
- Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or TuneIn.
- Leave an honest review on Apple Podcasts.
- Follow on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn
Feeling helpless when it comes to your student loans?
- Try our free student loan calculator
- Check out our refinancing bonuses we negotiated
- Book your custom student loan plan
Episode 43 Transcript
Travis Hornsby [00:00:01]Welcome to an episode of the Student Loan Planner Podcast that is going to go down in history. We have the first couple on the show today to ever get not only one of their loans forgiven tax-free under a loan forgiveness program, but both of them got their loans forgiven tax-free. Welcome to the show, Trent and Somer.
Somer [00:00:24] Hello, it’s good to be here.
Trent [00:00:25] Thanks for having us, Travis.
Travis [00:00:26] Why don’t we start off with Somer, then we’ll switch to Trent. Why don’t we just have you, Somer, tell me a little bit about yourself. So, what kind of job do you do? What region of the country do you live in? And just kind of tell folks, tell our listeners, a little bit about yourself.
Somer [00:00:40] I work in the Southeast region, and I’m at one of our SCC Universities. I work for assessment and strategic planning. So I do a lot of number crunching and data analysis for a university.
Trent [00:00:55] And I teach at a high school in the South as well. And I also coach. I’ve been teaching — this is my 13th year now.
Somer [00:01:06] And I have been in higher education for about the last 15 years working in university settings.
Travis [00:01:14] OK, cool. So basically, Somer, you’re in higher education. Trent, you’re in, like, high school education. Is that right?
Somer [00:01:19] Yes.
Trent [00:01:19] Correct.
Travis [00:01:20] OK. So y’all are basically the exact people that loan forgiveness programs are supposed to help.
Trent [00:01:25] Yes.
Somer [00:01:25] Yes.
Trent [00:01:25] That was the plan.
How much student loan debt Somer and Trent graduated with
Travis [00:01:26] OK, so tell us a little bit more about your backgrounds, you know, in terms of how much did you owe when you graduated from school and what kind of programs did you study.
Somer [00:01:35] Well, I’ll go first. I started out — I was one of the few students that “made it,” so to speak. I came from a single-mother home below the poverty line growing up and went to a private institution in upstate New York for my undergraduate degree. I had a lot of Pell Grants but then also other student loans for undergraduate that were with private companies — because at the time, there were not subsidized loans for people in my situation, I guess, outside of the Pell Grants. And I did receive the maximum on that. So I had taken out for undergraduate some Navient loans and I think Sallie Mae loans. Sallie Mae is now Navient. I think Wells Fargo and Sallie Mae is what the loans that I took out [were], and I had been paying those off.
Somer [00:02:26] But then when I started graduate school, I was on a fellowship from my Ph.D. program. But it did not cover all the funding that I needed to survive and live and have an apartment and a car and everything that was needed for just survival like that as an adult. And so I had to take out extra loans while I was in graduate school, and that is the portion of the loans that have been forgiven at this point. Whereas my graduate school, I kind of graduated undergrad with about $80,000 in loans. I’ve paid back the majority of those now. But on top of the undergraduate loans, I was paying graduate school loans back, which were upwards of $80,000 as well.
Somer [00:03:09] So, total loans when I came out and finished all of my education, I’m looking at $140,000; $160,000 in loans, which, when you equate that, it comes out to be about more than a mortgage payment for a home. And so that was very oppressive. And for the last 10 years, as I’ve been working full time for an institution, I was making very large payments on both my undergraduate loans and my graduate school loans. After 120 payments, now we’re sitting here and I’m debt-free on the graduate school loan. I still owe a little bit on undergraduate, though.
Trent [00:03:46] And for me, I was one of those college students that kind of knew what they wanted to do but wasn’t really sure. Discussed things with my parents. I thought about education out of the gate but kind of questioned it because of the salary and “could I support my family on a teacher’s salary?” So, I went a different direction for undergrad. Went on to get my master’s and throughout that time, my parents helped me as much as they could. But I needed to go the student loan route.
Trent [00:04:21] And went to get my masters, and I got that in sport management. Was thinking [of] working in an athletic department somewhere. But it was when I was in that graduate program that I met Somer, and as our relationship grew, she told me go where your heart leads. If you want to be an educator, if you want to be a coach, it doesn’t matter how much you make, we’ll be all right. And with her encouragement there, I went back for another master’s degree in education so that I could pursue that dream and that avenue.
Trent [00:04:58] So, that kind of curvy route to where I am now, those added years of education really piled on the debt — the student loan debt, having two master’s degree degrees and then that bachelor’s degree. So, when I graduated with a degree in education and was about to start my teaching, I borrowed $89,000. Before we were forgiven, had paid back $31,000 on that. But that was thanks in part to the Income-Contingent Repayment plan that you were supposed to be on.
Travis [00:05:35] That is just so fascinating. So, how much did you just have forgiven tax-free in dollars?
Trent [00:05:41] I had $85,000 forgiven.
Somer [00:05:45] And I had $76,000 forgiven.
How they managed to get Direct Loans
Travis [00:05:49] Wow, that is so cool. I actually looked through your NSLDS (National Student Loan Data System) data to verify this. So listeners, this is a 100% verified story here. I didn’t just get an email from a couple of people that said that they had their loans forgiven. Trent and Somer are really gracious and proved it. And we’re using their first names obviously to protect anonymity. But I thought there was some really fascinating things that I saw in that kind of summary of the history of your loans.
Travis [00:06:19] So, we’re going to talk through this as part of this episode — just so that listener out there [who] might be in the same shoes as y’all, kind of coming up, you know, sort of God’s work in the world, trying to struggle to make ends meet, trying to live the American dream, so that person can get their loans forgiven, too, if they’re eligible.
Travis [00:06:36] So, y’all got loans forgiven under the TEPSLF program — Temporary Expanded PSLF (Public Service Loan Forgiveness), which is a little bit different than the PSLF program. So we’re going to talk about that a little bit. Tell me about when y’all took out the debt, y’all kind of took out all Direct Loans in, like, the early-to-mid-2000s, right? Is that — And maybe you can tell me a little bit about that journey in terms of, you know, who you took the debt out with — what that debt looked like kind of in the first few years.
Somer [00:07:06] For me, all of the Direct Loans that I took out were at my university where I was doing my graduate schoolwork. I will credit financial aid at that university for this because they did counsel me and said, “You don’t want to take out any Wells Fargo or Sallie Mae because of interest rates and things like that.” They said, “Get the Department of [Education] Direct Loans.”
Somer [00:07:34] And so I was — I got the maximum amount of Direct Subsidized Loans that was available, which was about half of what I needed. And then there was the unsubsidized loan portion that you could also take out, which was about the same amount as the subsidized.
Somer [00:07:52] So I took out an equal amount of subsidized — Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans. And I think that may be available only to graduate students. I’m not quite sure because that was not an option when I was an undergrad, to take those Direct Stafford Loans out.
Somer [00:08:08] So, I got those loans in graduate school, and that’s where all that money kind of piled up into. And it was the same system. I went to the same financial aid officer for each of those years. I took out what I could take out, based on your student load and whatever rules they had. So, she they steered me in that direction. And I think with Trent, I think — We went to the same institution, so it was probably the same thing there.
Somer [00:08:35] And with that, because of the type of loan it was, that’s why we’re where we are right now, being able to be in the forgiveness program. Because if it had been another type of loan, a private loan, we wouldn’t. Those don’t qualify.
Trent [00:08:50] And same story for me. I knew I needed the student loan help. So we talked to financial assistance at the university we went to — or that I went to. And they pointed us to the federal Direct Loans. So I took out the maximum amount I could throughout the years I was in school. [Took out] those.
Trent [00:09:13] And then once I graduated, I knew I needed to kind of clean up that debt. And my parents had talked to me and educated me some on the consolidation process and the importance of doing that. So I looked into and I called Direct Loans to see about consolidating all of those loans throughout the years — to clean it up, get it into one lump sum, get it locked in at a specific interest rate so I would have an idea of what I would be paying back consistently as I headed into my career.
What it was like for Trent to consolidate his loans in the late-2000s.
Travis [00:09:49] Trent, what was it like consolidating your loans back in, like, the late-2000s? That’s super rare.
Trent [00:09:57] It was really quite easy. Called Direct Loans. I asked them what I needed to do, and they said they could handle it over the phone. They talked me through it and told me the interest rate I could lock in, that they would just put it together in a lump sum. And that’s what I would see when I would check in every month, when I would make my payments, that it would take all those previous loans instead of them being separate entities. And just consolidated it — like the word says, it consolidated it into one lump sum for me to check out and see that number going down a little bit as we made our payments.
Somer [00:10:36] And I think for me also, I don’t remember actually making a phone call. Like, when I finished and it was time to start paying after grace periods and all that stuff, after no longer being enrolled and then having to start paying back, Direct Loans themselves were just like, “OK, you’ve got these 20 loans. Here’s how much you owe each month.” Which was an astronomical amount. And then I later had to call them and say, “I can’t live on this and pay you what I’m paying you.” And that’s kind of how I ended up on the Extended Repayment Plan.
Travis [00:11:12] Yeah, that’s really a fascinating situation, looking at your data to see what plans you were on back in the day. Basically, Trent consolidated, and Somer, you did not. And so it’s so fascinating to see this tax-free loan forgiveness work from both directions because Trent had it a little bit more set up where it’s a little bit — you know, it’s little bit easier for the loan servicers to handle it when it’s only a consolidation loan. Whereas Somer, you kind of left those loans set up in the original way that you got them, which, you know, you borrow basically every time you need the money. That’s why you end up with 20 loans, right?
Travis [00:11:43] Consolidation was just super hard to do back in the day. And Direct Loans, in terms of the servicer for that, I looked through the data. So it looks like Direct Loans — ACS (ACS Education Services), a company called ACS is one of the big companies that managed Direct Loans back in the day.
Travis [00:11:56] To just talk about how special y’all’s situation truly is: It’s really amazing because you had to have been at a school that had the Direct Loan programs. Not every school offered Direct Loans back then. In fact, only about 20% of borrowers even had Direct Loans before 2010. Those financial aid people — I don’t know if you can track them down or anything, but I hope you get them a gift card to some restaurant or something.
Trent [00:12:20] Absolutely.
Travis [00:12:20] Because the schools actually in some cases, I believe, would get kickbacks by offering some private loans and some FFEL (Federal Family Education Loan Program) loans from different banks. And I’m not sure about the structure of those kickbacks, so I probably should do some more research on that. But the schools had huge incentives to offer private loans instead of those Direct Loans because, you know, when I went to undergrad, I went to an SCC school, too. I can say mine: University of Florida.
Travis [00:12:44] And they had, you know, in the lobby of the university, I think it was, like, Wachovia or something that, you know, had the preferred checking account offer. You know, orientation for the first-year freshmen, everybody’s like, “Sign up for a Wachovia checking account, and you get your credit card through us, too.” And they were, like, linked to the all the on-campus dining halls and everything.
Travis [00:13:06] And so, it’s basically like our university was kind of shoving down our throats, like, “You should use this place.” You know? And it’s because of the kickbacks, you know, I think. And then, you know, Wells Fargo took them over, and then Wells Fargo became the one everybody used.
Travis [00:13:20] So, golly, you just got so lucky. I just wonder what y’all think about being so lucky as to have been steered towards those Direct Loans and just happening to be in the right place at the right time to get those.
How Trent ended up with five years not counting toward TEPSLF
Trent [00:13:30] I’ll share where we went. I don’t have a problem with that. We went to the University of Alabama, and I do feel very blessed with the administration that I dealt with there, with the people that helped with the financial aid part and just with helping me in general through those years. That was a huge blessing.
Trent [00:13:51] Now looking back on it, the fact that we, or that I especially, was in Direct Loans, had Direct Loans and that that was part of what the basis for this forgiveness that we received, is that just worked out. I did not initially think anything about my loans being forgiven. I just thought it was part of the American dream. You know, hey, if you don’t get scholarship, you’ve got to get student loans, and it’s just part of life. And you go off, and you start your career. And you’re paying back student loans, just like a lot of people have a car payment or a mortgage. And that was just going to be part of my life and my future.
Trent [00:14:31] And then when I got out into my career and when I started teaching, I started to research and look into this loan repayment, and I found out about Public Service Loan Forgiveness. That was in 2007, 2008. So I called Direct Loans to try and set up or make sure that I was doing what I needed to be doing to be considered for this when the time came.
Trent [00:14:59] The people did not — The people I talked to did not have a lot of answers for me. It was such a new program that they had just started it in 2007. I asked if there was any paperwork that I needed to fill out or anything I needed to do on my end. They said, “No, there’s no paperwork” because nobody could qualify for it yet. I asked about payment plans and making sure I was on the right repayment plan, and the initial person I talked to said they could set me up on the correct plan. And they didn’t specify what that was. I just said, “OK, well, set me up. I want to make sure that I’m taken care of as far as this goes.” And I probably called two or three times to make sure.
Trent [00:15:44] And then I forgot, or I left it and let it sit for about five years. And after five years, I was curious how much progress I had made. By that time, my loan had been passed off to MOHELA (Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority). And I called and MOHELA said, “You don’t have any payments towards Public Service Loan Forgiveness.” And I had been making payments for five years.
Trent [00:16:08] So whoever I initially talked to, they didn’t really have any answers. They had not set me up with the correct repayment plan as I had thought. I was on a Graduated Repayment Plan initially. So I was devastated — paying five years in, knowing I needed to pay 10 for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness. It was almost, or what it essentially was to me at that point is, well, now I’m starting from scratch. And now I’ve got 10 more years that I’m going to have to pay on this Income-Contingent Repayment plan.
Trent [00:16:46] What I found out is the Income-Contingent Repayment plan lowered my monthly payment significantly — almost more than half. So I was even more frustrated because I had been paying more than I needed to be paying for five years, and those payments weren’t going to count towards this forgiveness. But then I got on the right track after my loan switched to MOHELA, and I finally checked my progress.
Trent [00:17:14] So I would say to anyone who is trying to go this route, do not be afraid. Don’t be shy. Don’t be nervous. Call your loan servicer. Check on these things. Make sure you’re on the right repayment plan and do it frequently. That would be my advice to people as far as that goes.
Travis [00:17:36] That’s really interesting with the consolidation. You did that in 2008?
Trent [00:17:39] Correct. So I think I consolidated in 2007 and called about the PSLF in 2008.
Travis [00:17:48] OK, so some inside baseball here about that. The IBR (Income-Based Repayment) plan did not exist until 2009. Whenever new legislation is created, there’s a rulemaking process where all the departments kind of open it up to the public and figure out what they’re going to be talking about or what the rules are going to actually be.
Travis [00:18:04] So, first of all, you’re a genius for calling them. I mean, nobody was doing that back then. The fact that you called them, you know, they just kind of made something up and kind of thought that would be OK. Nobody knew anything about this program, basically. So, the earliest you could have been on IBR would have been around 2009. So, that’s kind of how you ended up on that Graduated Plan, just trusting them and letting it sit for the five years.
Travis [00:18:26] And then these loan servicers, sometimes they’ll go out of business, or they’ll sell portfolios to other servicers. And so that’s kind of how it transferred to MOHELA, probably. ACS probably just said, “Hey, we’re not going to do this anymore.” And MOHELA bought out their servicer contract or something like that.
Travis [00:18:40] And I tell you, you know, I mean, MOHELA — I’m not surprised. I hate to say that because would you believe that I had a case — somebody emailed me once where they showed that the MOHELA rep told them if they made too much income or something that they would be kicked onto the standard three-year plan. And I sent him an email back, and I said, “Tell him they’re smoking something because the standard three-year plan does not exist.”.
Travis [00:19:04] And this person was so sure that they were going to be kicked onto the standard three-year plan. And I just said, like, “You know, I’m sorry, but you’re so freaking wrong. You need to talk to your supervisor to get corrected.” So, man, MOHELA just does not handle income-driven repayment very well in my experience, so I’m not too surprised about that.
Travis [00:19:22] So also, another note about that consolidation: Trent, did you know that consolidation loans — you couldn’t even consolidate to Direct Consolidation Loans unless you had only Direct Loans prior to 2010. So, say you had a bunch of those FFEL, kind of bank-guaranteed loans that some financial aid group gave you. You wouldn’t even be able to get them on Direct Loans before 2010. So, golly, that’s such a rare situation.
How Somer was signed up for the wrong repayment plan
Travis [00:19:46] So, we’re kind of caught up to the early 2010s period, right? So, you found out that you weren’t getting any credit towards PSLF for those five years. You know, Somer, did you have a similar experience? I mean, was there a point where you found out that you had had no credit towards PSLF? When did that happen for you?
Somer [00:20:02] For me, right after I completed all my graduate schoolwork, I took a job with a university. Not the same university I’m at now, but I was — I took this job in May. So, for the last 10 years, I was with another university. But the way it was described was that universities did not qualify for PSLF, that it was, like, only teachers in that segment. And so I actually believe that, since I had an administrative job and not a faculty job, that I wouldn’t qualify.
Somer [00:20:38] So, when I took my job in February of 2009 and I was off my grace period and had to start paying back, at that time, I was still making payments to Direct Loans, the actual Direct Loan people. And then at some point, Education Financial Services bought my loan, and then my money was going there. When I called them, they were actually really good to work with. We needed some financial forbearance because we were moving and setting up jobs. And we had two young children at the time, and it was difficult financially for two people just starting their careers and having two children.
Somer [00:21:20] But when I called Direct Loans, they — IBR was available, but I was actually nervous with my salary that it was going to be more than what the Standard Repayment was. And I said, “Listen, I can’t afford Standard Repayment. You know, we’ve got kids in diapers here, and we’ve got day care to pay.”
Somer [00:21:36] So they say, “Well, we can offer you an Extended Repayment Plan, which is basically — you’re going to be paying on this for 30 years, like a mortgage. And that would bring you down to” — I’m going to say this number: $589.03 a month was my student loan payment. OK? Let that just sit in with everybody and what they — that’s more than our car payment. OK? $589 a month. And so I said, “Well, that’s the best we can do on that balance.”
Somer [00:22:05] My original loan amount balance when I graduated graduate school when I left was $97,271 before any interest. That’s what I graduated with. And so on that $97,000, I was paying $589 a month to Direct Loans, and I just figured, well, this is going to be, like, 30 years of my life.
Somer [00:22:26] Now Trent was going with the Public [Service] Loan Forgiveness. He’s a teacher. Yeah, that works. You had to be in a title whatever school, and all that was working. And he kept saying, “I think you need to switch.” And I honestly told him — I said, “I’m not going to go through all this if I go to IBR and then it drops down and then I’m stuck paying my loans for 40 years instead of 30.” You know what I mean? Because the income-based would have decreased my monthly payment probably substantially. But at the same time, I don’t want to be 70 paying my student loans. So, I was like, “I’ll just take my lumps and pay my 30-year note.”
Somer [00:23:06] It wasn’t until maybe two years ago when rumors of the TEPSLF was starting. And I said, “Well, I don’t have my 10 years in yet. So I’ll just keep paying, and I’ll keep working. And as soon as I hit the 10-year mark with 120 payments, then I’ll worry about filing my paperwork.” And so that’s where I was at, was just on an Extended Repayment.
When their loans went to FedLoan Servicing
Travis [00:23:28] When did y’all’s loans end up at a FedLoan Servicing, if ever?
Somer [00:23:33] FedLoan Servicing, the way I understand it, does not take over your loan until you apply for the PSLF. I waited until I had my 10-year mark. I started in February of ’09 at my institution. I didn’t get it done in March but in early April. Like, the first week of April, I was like, “OK.” I think my first payment to Direct Loans was in fact in March of 2009 because I started in February. And I was like, “Please let me pay you next month. I haven’t gotten paid yet.”
Somer [00:24:09] So, from March ’09 to March ’19 was 10 years. So, in the first week of April after I checked that little box, I went to the website for the PSLF application, and I had my employer sign the certification and everything. And then I submitted my PSLF application, of which I knew I was going to be rejected because I was not on an income-based repayment plan. I was on Extended Repayment, so I knew it wasn’t going to go through. But I also knew from my husband doing all this research that first you got to apply, get denied, then go to TEPSLF.
Somer [00:24:46] So, I applied in April, and it took until about June for PSLF to get back to me and say, “Your employment has been verified for the last 10 years. Your employer qualifies for the program. However, you have zero qualifying payments.” Which was untrue. They actually — PSLF could not find my loans. They said I had zero loans at all in the system. And I was like, Well, the National Loan database says I do, and I’ve been paying it every month. So there [are] loans.”
How changing your name can cause student loan problems
Somer [00:25:21] So here was. And this is a very good example for married couples — for men. You’re lucky. Count yourself lucky. When I took my loans out, I took them out in my maiden name. When I paid them back, they were paid back in my sort of maiden, half-married name — because I tried to change my name with Direct Loans. And some of the loans changed the name. Some didn’t. They were like, “Send in your marriage [certificate].” It was a bunch of stuff. And I was like, “Listen, I don’t care what name you have on it. I’m just paying my bill.”
Somer [00:25:52] The National Student Loan database had me as my hyphenated name. So, my full four names — first, middle, maiden, married. But Direct Loans had first, middle, married. So, the Direct Loans — the Educational Financial Services that I was paying every month — wasn’t connecting with the National Student Loan database somehow. The PSLF was connecting with the National Student Loan database and not actually Education Financial Services. So FedLoan was communicating with National database but not Direct Loans.
Somer [00:26:28] I got the letter back saying, “Yes, you have qualified employment. No, you don’t have any payments.” So then I had to call Education Financial Services, and, like, I was like, “Guys, you know you’re taking my money. I know I’ve got plenty of loans. How come I’m not in the National Loan database? Like, what’s going on?”
Somer [00:26:48] And so, it was just a very simple name thing. So I had to go to my FSA (Federal Student Aid) ID — my FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) ID — and go in there and type the new name — like, first, middle, maiden, last. And then I also went to Education Financial Services and made them make sure it was first, middle, maiden, last. The exact same way. No hyphens or anything.
Somer [00:27:12] And then all of a sudden, they connected. So then PSLF said, “Oh yeah, we see that you have loans. But you still — you were on the wrong payment plan.” So, at least we were on the right playing field now. Everybody sees where the money’s at. That happened in June. And so as soon as they acknowledged that, “Yes, you have loans in the National Database” and since I had applied for PSLF, that’s when FedLoan Servicing went and scooped up my loans from Educational Financial Services and took them. So then my Educational Financial Services login — it showed a zero balance, and I was like, “Wow, something exciting just happened.”
Somer [00:27:55] But then FedLoan sent me an email saying, “Welcome to FedLoan. We are now servicing you.” I actually never tried to switch to FedLoan. It was an automatic — like, when I applied for the PSLF, FedLoan took over everything that was in the National Student Loan database and said, “These are ours now.” And that allowed it to connect and that allowed me to make payments into PSLF.
Somer [00:28:19] Now, they actually said, “Oh, you’re on the wrong payment plan. Call us and get on the right payment plan.” But I knew that I already had 120 payments and that I was applying for the TEPSLF. So. So, I just said, “Leave me where I’m at. I’m not going to talk to you right now.” After that process, immediately, the day they said, “Your employment is confirmed, but you don’t have any — your loan payment type is not,” they sent a link to TEPSLF. I signed up for them, and then I got that ball rolling and that went very quickly.
Somer [00:28:53] So, my biggest piece of advice to anyone out there right now that’s kind of been my similar situation as far as you know you’re not on the right payment plan, but you’re almost done: So, say you’ve got 115 payments or something. You’ve been paying for nine years or something, and you’re like, “I think I qualify.” Go ahead now and start the PSLF application. They’re going to send back a letter that says you don’t have enough time of service in, but it will kick it in for FedLoan to take it so that you can see that process better.
Somer [00:29:27] So that — I wish that I had done that, like, maybe February or something and not waited in so late because I ended up paying one extra payment that I’m not sure if I’ll get back because it was not into PSLF and not into FedLoan Servicing yet.
Travis [00:29:43] You probably will. Trent, do you have any comments?
Somer [00:29:47] We have a comment on that. I’m hoping to.
Travis [00:29:49] Oh, yeah. Sorry. Sorry. Go ahead, Somer.
Somer [00:29:50] As far as getting the payment back, Trent paid 121 payments, but he was already in FedLoan Servicing because he’s been in for the last five years since he switched over from MOHELA. And so FedLoan Servicing automatically, once they saw, you know, once it he was approved with TEPSLF, they deposited that extra payment right back.
Somer [00:30:15] For my 121st payment of $589, I called PSLF and because I didn’t make it to FedLoan Servicing — I made that payment to EdFinancial Services. So they have to contact EdFinancial Services to say, “That was cleared. You need to pay us back somehow.” So, I don’t know how long that’s going to take, but maybe by Christmas.
Why Trent’s TEPSLF was a little harder to process
Trent [00:30:42] For me, this has almost been an obsession for me since I found out about the program, and then especially when I found out I’d spent five years with none of my payments going towards PSLF. So, I’ve been steadily researching, and in 2017 was when I switched over to FedLoan. I had read, I think in December of 2016, about FedLoan Servicing being the provider, the servicer that would handle PSLF. So, I went ahead and contacted — I think I just did it through email — contacted the people I needed to switch it over from MOHELA to FedLoan Servicing.
Trent [00:31:30] And then at that point, I was very diligent in making sure that I had all of my employment certifications in place. I worked in four different school systems, so I kind of had to go chase some employment verifications. And thankfully, I’ve worked for some really good school systems whose HR departments are really good. And they were able to certify that I had worked and when I had worked.
Trent [00:32:04] The kicker there was, though, when we had moved between places, my teaching contract or my working for that system would cut off in different months. So even though teachers are contracted for the year, my work — my employment — cut off at certain dates. So, there were hiccups along the way where FedLoan did not count those months’ payments towards PSLF — or TEPSLF.
Trent [00:32:39] So, between the months of forbearance where my loans were transferred between companies and then the couple little months where I was between school systems before a new contract picked up and where the system had cut off the other one when I told them I was moving, I probably had six or seven months where I’d paid that didn’t qualify. So I had to pay a little bit extra on the back end.
Trent [00:33:09] But I hounded TEPSLF as soon as I found out about it. I applied for PSLF last year. Got denied. And then I felt like I had made the total number of payments for TEPSLF, and that’s when I found out about all these little hiccups along the way because they sent me a number back that was quite different from my calculations. And I just continually — And quite frankly, I probably send the email to TEPSLF about four times. I was thinking I was there. I was thinking I was there.
Trent [00:33:45] And again, thankfully, my current HR department — I kept having to say, “I need employment verification” because they only accept your Employment Certification up to that date that they receive it. So if you work another month, you’ve got to have certification that you worked that month. So, I probably told my HR department three times that I think this is the last time. I think this is the last time.
Trent [00:34:11] And then finally in July of this year, it was that last time. So they had sent me the numbers of where I was at. I knew where my 120th payment was coming. And as soon as I made that payment, I talked to my HR department. I said, “I need my Employment Certification. Can y’all please get this ASAP?” They did. I sent it in and then received an email probably within seven days saying that you were being considered for TEPSLF.
Trent [00:34:43] And then I got excited because my wife, Somer, she had just had hers forgiven a month prior, so we knew it was real. We knew this wasn’t some figment of our imagination or something that was off in the distance that was unachievable. Somer’s was forgiven. I got super excited about the potential of mine getting forgiven, and there not being some crazy reason — “Oh yeah, you’ve got all your payments, but now you don’t qualify for this reason.”
Trent [00:35:14] It was not like that. They said, “You [are] being considered.” Seven — I guess it was about seven to 10 more days later, they sent me an email — or actually, it’s not even an email. I’m just checking daily multiple times daily, looking at my account to see if I’m going to hit that zero button like my wife had noticed one day, that she saw that zero balance in her account.
Trent’s reaction to finding out his student loans were forgiven
Trent [00:35:39] It was a Friday night. I’m lying in bed. I’m about to go to sleep, but I said, “I just got to look.” It was probably 11:30 at night. And I log [in] on my phone, and I look and see that zero balance. And I just flip out. I’m so excited. It had gone through that Monday. I got the official email notification from them later in that week. I got the official hard copy letter in the mail saying that I had that amount forgiven.
Trent [00:36:10] And it was just this huge, huge relief. Just this huge weight off our shoulders. We’ve got three kids. And I’m — Throughout growing this family, I’m sitting there thinking, you know, if we’ve got all these loan payments, how are we going to pay for the kids to have a car? Help them with a car? How are we going to help them with college so they don’t have the same debt that we’ve got?
Trent [00:36:35] But now, thankfully that we’ve been forgiven, we’ve got that option now. That money has opened up, and now we can help make sure our kids are taken care of better so that they don’t have to go through what we’ve been through. They’ve got a better chance. So we can do a lot of things now just to help our whole family out financially, thanks to this program.
Trent [00:36:56] So I’m super excited that we have politicians that actually enacted this TEPSLF. But it’s probably because how much heat they got for the mess that PSLF was. I wrote my congressman. I wrote [former] President Obama, and I told them my story. I said, “Hey, this is what’s going on.” And from my congressman and even from President Obama or from the Secretary of Education at the time, I get letters back saying, “We’re sorry, but this is what PSLF is laid out as, and, you know, you don’t qualify.” Basically it’s like, “We’re sorry. But oh well.”
Somer’s emotions when she saw her loans had also been forgiven
Travis [00:37:44] Somer, where were you when you found out that you had zero student loan debt, and what were your emotions?
Somer [00:37:48] I logged in — like, wasn’t it in the morning, honey? Like, it was like at — before I went to work that day. Yeah, so FedLoan took over in May. They gobbled up my loans from EdFinancial Services. And so, whenever FedLoan takes over — and this is another good thing for everybody — you’re going to get about a month off of your payment because they’re taken over, and they have to process everything. So, there was no payment due in May.
Somer [00:38:14] So, my FedLoan account when I logged onto to it, they said, “Hey, welcome to FedLoan.” And it said, “Payment due $0.” But I still had that balance of $76,000. So I was like, “OK, so it’s not gone. EdFinancial Services says I have nothing. FedLoan says I have the $76,000, but the payment is still zero.” So I was just excited in May that I didn’t have a payment — because we moved across town in May and moving is expensive, even if it’s just across town. So, I had that month off.
Somer [00:38:43] And then during June is when the paperwork started processing, and I got denied and reapplied for TEPSLF. And then I got approved for TEPSLF and forgiven the first of July. So, there [were] no other payments. But I did look that morning. I did look that morning, and I was like, “Oh my gosh. It’s zero.” You know? And then I was like, “What’s going on? I can still see a balance.”
Somer [00:39:07] So then I started stalking it, like, regularly until the balance went away. And I didn’t believe it. And I will say, the day that I looked, my balance went from $76,000 to, like, $5,000. They had paid off all of my 20 loans except one, and I was like, “That’s weird.” I said, “Maybe there’s a cap. Maybe they’ll only pay for $70,000. I don’t know.” Like, I really didn’t know. And I was just so excited and overwhelmed that that much was gone. So, my bill went down from $589 a month to $46 a month, and I was like, “Oh my gosh.”
Somer [00:39:48] And Trent told me — he said, “Honey, I think you should call them and ask them about that one loan. Like, why didn’t it get forgiven too?” And I said, “Oh my gosh. I’m just so excited.” I said, “I’m nervous to call because I don’t want them to say something like, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t have forgiven it’ or something.” You know what I mean?
Travis [00:40:04] We take it back.
Somer [00:40:06] And I was just so overwhelmed and happy about the $70,000. But there was the one left, and, you know. So I get to work, and I’m like, “I don’t have anything to lose here.” So I called FedLoan, and I said, “Well, I was just approved, and it took all this away. And I still have this one loan out of all the 20, you know, for like $5,800.” And I was like, “Can you explain this to me?”
Somer [00:40:32] And she goes, “Oh, that’s really odd. I don’t think that should be like that.” She goes, “Let me send this over to a supervisor.” She said, “I’m pretty sure that this will go to zero balance as well because it wouldn’t make sense if all the others qualified that this one won’t qualify.”. And so sure enough, like a week later, it goes from $5,800 to zero. And I got another letter from FedLoan that time saying, “paid in full.” You know, I was elated over the $70,000, but now it was $76,000.
Somer’s thoughts on why loan forgiveness isn’t just free money
Somer [00:41:00] But I do want to share something because I think there could be — there could be others listening on the podcast thinking, “How can this help me?” And then there could be others just that come across it thinking, “Well, these are those people that get all their loans paid off.” And, you know, I’ve seen some comments on social media like, “Young people — millennials — getting loans paid off so they can have manicures and Starbucks.”
Somer [00:41:26] Let me tell you: We’re a family with three kids that did the best we could to get educations, to be professionals. My original loan amount — so I calculated these numbers just to kind of really, really see — was $97,000 — $97,271. I paid for 120 months for 10 years. I paid $589 a month, so my total payments that I paid back were $70,683.60. That’s what I paid back over 10 years.
Somer [00:42:02] I feel as if I’m not taking from the government so much, too, if that makes any sense. Like, I did pay. I paid a heck of a lot of money over 10 years into the system, and the balance forgiven was $76,723. So basically, because of interest and — Somebody is getting rich off interest. The government is getting plenty of interest money from our student loans, which people have a lot of feelings and opinions about.
Somer [00:42:34] But you’re seeing $97,000 with interest ended up being $146,000 — well over $146,000. And of that $146,000, I paid half of it, you know. And Trent has very similar figures. So what the — The actual original that forgiven was about $27,000. But over 10 years, there was still $70,000 paid.
Somer [00:43:01] So it’s not that we just said, “Oh, we’re going to take, and then we’re just not going to pay back.” I mean, we were good, upstanding citizens in a middle-class family that worked really hard. And we did pay. You know? So this is a system that is designed for people like us. I mean, we’re not out here, you know, blowing our money or anything.
The steps to qualify for TEPSLF
Travis [00:43:20] And what an amazing story. I mean, so for somebody else out there that’s trying to qualify for PSLF, the steps are apply for PSLF and get denied. And then once you [get] denied, you’ve got to send an email to TEPSLF at MyFedLoan.org. And you can only qualify if you have all Direct Loans. If you were employed 10 years, you know. And you were making payments during those 10 years that you were employed at a qualifying not-for-profit or government employer. And then the last little hiccup is your last 12 months of payments had to have been the same or more as what your payment would have been if you were on an income-driven type of plan.
Travis [00:43:57] And so that $587-a-month payment, Somer, that’s kind of why you qualified. And I looked at your forms. You had this uninterrupted stream of payments, you know, for those 10 years. I can see why yours is a little bit easier to process than Trent’s because Trent had a little bit of a “bounce around servicers and trying to get the right answers and getting onto the right income-based program.”
Travis [00:44:18] So, y’all both qualified in different ways, which is so interesting. And only about, I think, 500 people in the country have gotten this. So, by virtue of y’all being married and both getting this, I feel like y’all are probably the first couple in America to have their loans forgiven tax-free, which is just freaking cool.
Trent and Somer’s advice for those going for TEPSLF
Travis [00:44:33] So, to the people out there that are fans of paying off their debt or maybe they think, you know, getting the forgiveness is, you know, immoral or something or people just want to follow that Dave Ramsey plan to pay their debt down to zero, you know, would you — what kind of encouragement would you give somebody else [who is] trying to get the PSLF program?
Trent [00:44:49] I would say this is something that the government has put in place because they understand the work that people in public service do. And it’s almost, like, just a little thank you is kind of how I’m looking at it in our case. It’s a huge thank you, just because the amount of loans that we’ve got.
Trent [00:45:08] I would say just stay steady. Follow the process. Don’t give up and follow those tips. Between you, Travis, and then what you’re doing with the Student Loan Planner, with Dave Ramsey, there [are] a lot of good resources out there to help Americans and to help those college graduates and just people in general to make sure they’ve got a strong financial standing, that they can go off into the future with.
Trent [00:45:39] You know, maybe it’s tough right now, but there are things in place that can help you out. And you may think that that’s not possible, but it is. We’re an example of that — that, you know, these programs may seem like they’re tough at first to qualify or to get through it. But if you stick with it, it is there for you. Take advantage of it. And then, you know, ask for help if you need to.
Travis [00:46:05] That’s great. Somer?
Somer [00:46:07] I think the same. And I think for the married women out there, just to kind of make sure that name change is right. It did cause me problems, you know, maiden versus married name — to kind of get that right. Apply for PSLF as soon as you can to get FedLoan to go ahead and take over that process. It makes it much smoother.
Somer [00:46:30] And like, with what Trent did it is he started — He started applying to PSLF early, you know. And they said, “Oh no, you still have a few more.” Well, just go ahead and get your paperwork, and let them tell you that you need five more payments. And then it’s already in the system.
Travis [00:46:45] So the last question I’ve got for you: We’ve never done a forgiveness yell on this program before. So I’m going to do a countdown. And at the end of the countdown, I just want y’all to yell “we’re forgiven.” OK? Three, two, one.
Trent and Somer [00:46:58]We’re forgiven!
Travis [00:46:59] Whoo! Heck, yeah. All right. Don’t spend it all one place. And I’m so proud of y’all. Thank you so much for what you’ve done for our listeners, getting to hear that it is just going to resonate with so many people emotionally. This is going to give people so much hope and so much promise for the future. So thank you so much, Trent and Somer — both for the work that you do and then thank you so much for being willing to help our listeners and give them hope that this program is real. And y’all are living proof that it actually happens.
Trent [00:47:33] It’s our pleasure. Thank you, Travis.
Somer [00:47:34] Thank you.