When the Fed Loan email came in the middle of the night this summer, social studies teacher Jeff Krautheimer was afraid to open it.
After so many years of frustration and disappointment, he waited until morning to open the email. But this time, the news was incredible: His student loan balance totaling tens of thousands of dollars was gone. Zero.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Krautheimer, a Long Island teacher for more than 20 years. “It was surreal. I showed it to my wife and double-checked my online account.”
For Krautheimer, whose son is starting college at SUNY Binghamton this fall, the timing couldn’t be better. He’s hoping his wife, a New York City teacher, will be getting the same relief soon.
Krautheimer is one of thousands who have successfully applied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness under a temporary waiver available through Oct. 31. The limited waiver enables educators to count old payments, late payments and payments made through a range of federal loan repayment plans.
For years, the PSLF program has been infamous for denying student loan forgiveness to thousands of public servants — dismissing 98 percent of applications due to “administrative errors” and other technicalities. Unions have filed lawsuits and advocated for the federal government to fix the problems and fulfill the bipartisan promise of loan forgiveness. PSLF is supposed to erase the student debt of educators and other public service workers after 10 years of service and 120 qualifying monthly payments.
After unions pushed hard for changes, the Biden administration last fall announced the much-needed overhaul of the program, including the temporary waiver and broad expansion of the kind of payments that count.
Krautheimer credited Half Hollow Hills Teachers Association President Richard Haase, who notified members about the waiver window last fall. Haase put together a pilot group of local leaders who used the American Federation of Teachers’ Summer service to help with the application process. Others applied for forgiveness on their own.
“I tried to apply years ago when PSLF originally came out but was told I didn’t qualify,” said Heather Neary, a Half Hollow Hills special education teacher. “When this waiver opened up, I immediately jumped on it. It sounds like a lot of hoops, but you have to be persistent and patient.”
After more than two decades of $430-a-month payments, Neary was finally granted nearly $50,000 in loan forgiveness. “It feels amazing,” she said. Now, she’s helping her husband, sister and colleagues work through the process, too.
As of mid-August, Haase is nearly halfway to his goal of helping his members save $1 million in loan forgiveness by the end of this year. “Every time a member notifies us they’ve had their loans erased, we send it out to the entire membership so they can see the union making a difference,” Haase said.
He also shares personal stories, including his own success erasing $20,000 in student debt. “After 21 years of teaching, I was paying about $260 a month for what seemed like forever,” he said. “I’d probably still be paying when my own kids go to college if it weren’t for the union’s fierce advocacy.”
The statewide union is working hard to raise awareness and help members navigate the PSLF changes.
To help the many NYSUT members struggling to get out from under crushing debt, the statewide union offers free student loan debt workshops and services in partnership with Cambridge Credit Counseling. Since the pandemic, NYSUT has moved the workshops online, helping thousands with informational webinars and individualized follow-up support. For info, go to studentloans.nysut.org.
NYSUT’s two national affiliates also provide help. The AFT offers student debt clinics, along with Summer, an online student loan management platform, aft.org.benefits.summer. The National Education Association offers links to webinars, FAQs and the Student Debt Navigator, nea.org/studentdebt.
Affiliates are also raising awareness. United University Professions offers virtual clinics every payday Wednesday, uupinfo.org.
Are you eligible?
Public Service Loan Forgiveness erases the federal student loan debt of educators and other public service workers after 10 years of service and 120 qualifying monthly payments.
To qualify, you must have federal student loans and be employed full-time (30 hours or more per week) by a public service employer, which includes all public school districts, higher education institutions and not-for-profits.
Apply before Oct. 31 at studentaid.gov/pslf to take advantage of the temporary waiver. If you haven’t worked 10 years in public service, it is recommended that you apply now to ensure that any payments that did not count prior to the limited waiver are counted toward your qualifying 120 payments.
As NYSUT United went to press, President Biden unveiled a new $10,000 loan forgiveness program for Americans earning up to $125,000 per year, plus an additional $10,000 for students who received Pell grants. Cambridge experts suggest members should pursue both PSLF and the newest forgiveness programs.