November 14, 2019

NYSUT workshops help members navigate student loan debt

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source:  NYSUT Communications
student loans
Caption: Cambridge student loan counseling manager Todd Friedhaber walks NYSUT members through the ins and outs of the student loan world. Photo by Andrew Watson.

Managing student loan debt is confusing — and it can be easy to get misinformed or scammed.

To help our members get straight talk and learn about their options, NYSUT is hosting a statewide series of student debt workshops in partnership with Cambridge Credit Counseling, a non-profit debt relief agency.

“I wish I had this five years ago,” said Saratoga Springs Teachers Association member Sherry Dorrer, who attended an after-school workshop this week. ”I’ve been trying to stay on top of it — but you get a different answer every time you call your loan servicer. There are so many moving parts.”

Dorrer, who plans to follow up with a free one-on-one consultation with a certified student loan counselor, said she found the union’s workshop extremely helpful. “I now feel like I’m on the right track to qualifying for the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program,” she said. Hopefully, she only has seven more years to go.

Under the PSLF program, public servants including educators are eligible to have their student loans forgiven after making 10 years of on-time loan payments. However, the law is so complex that many applicants have been denied because they were enrolled in the wrong type of loan program, failed to file the right paperwork or were given incorrect advice from their loan servicer. The American Federation of Teachers has filed a lawsuit charging the Education Department with gross mismanagement of the program.

student loans
“I wish I had this five years ago,” said Saratoga Springs Teachers Association member Sherry Dorrer. Photo by Andrew Watson.

“It’s so confusing,” said Ballston Spa TA’s Jodi Townsend, who was denied loan forgiveness because she failed to initial a one-letter revision on one of her forms. “Do they make it hard on purpose?”

Cambridge student loan counseling manager Todd Friedhaber said the key is to keep good records and get information from a trusted source. With dozens of loan types and a head-spinning array of repayment options, Friedhaber walked workshop participants through the ins and outs of the student loan world. He explained loan types, and helped sort through various repayment plans and acronyms. He also presented the nuts and bolts of two key loan forgiveness programs — the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness programs.

Friedhaber urged participants to beware of scam relief agencies that try to charge exorbitant fees to help consolidate loans or fill out paperwork. In addition, he cautioned that loan servicers might leave out important information if you ask them for advice. For example, if you’re struggling to make payments, loan servicers may suggest you go into forbearance so you don’t have to make payments for 12 months — but they don’t tell you interest is still accruing and you could find yourself in a worse financial situation next year. Others might encourage you to consolidate loans, without mentioning that consolidating your loans could start the clock over for qualifying payments for loan forgiveness.

“Nothing about this is one-size-fits-everybody,” Friedhaber said. “You have to do your own math to figure out what your best options are.”

The statewide student debt clinic participants will be offered follow-up services with Cambridge to help them sort through their options.

To find a workshop near you, go to