The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program Works!

Photo credit: David Goehring, CC BY 2.0.

We’ve run a few Billfold stories about the complexities of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and nearly all of them have included the very real concern that, even after ten years of payments and public service work, those student loans won’t actually be forgiven.

But the system works! Or… it worked for this guy! As Ron Lieber at the The New York Times reports:

[…] there is at least one person who has made the 120 qualifying payments and now has a zero balance as a result, thus joining a very small club of the forgiven. He is Michael Mitchell, a 47-year-old New York City musician turned clinical social worker and counseling psychotherapist. For years, he also had a proofreading side hustle, which helped him turn the interpretive back flips necessary to analyze the program at its birth in 2007. In the ensuing years he navigated a system so confounding that it recently drew $350 million of additional federal money to help the many people in incorrect repayment plans who were stymied by the complexity.

What did Mitchell do differently? Instead of relying on summaries of the program, he read the 14,712-word H.R. 2669 (110th): College Cost Reduction and Access Act multiple times, ensuring he understood exactly what he had to do to qualify for loan forgiveness. Of course — and I do recommend reading the entire NYT piece to learn his story — he still had to deal with system changes and bureaucratic errors on his route to loan forgiveness, including an error that erased several years of payments before it got fixed.

Lieber notes that all of this required an astonishing amount of work on Mitchell’s part, and suggests… well, you can read it for yourself:

Mr. Mitchell said he felt a bit weird about being one of the few successes so far. He knows he was lucky that he had the right loan and repayment plan at the outset and lucky, too, that he did not have distractions, like children, that might have kept him from devoting so much time to staying on track.

I’m very curious whether Mitchell called children “distractions” or whether that was Lieber’s turn of phrase. Either way, feel free to discuss the story — or your experiences with PSLF — in the comments!


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