What helped this attorney qualify for public service loan forgiveness? Diligence—and social media
Like many seeking public service student loan forgiveness, Jeffrey Morgan says he got bad information from student loan servicing centers. However, thanks to Twitter and Reddit—and perhaps his experience as a government lawyer dealing with bureaucracy and deciphering regulatory language—he’s now part of the estimated 5% who have had student loans discharged, MarketWatch reports.
Morgan told the ABA Journal that FedLoan Servicing, which oversees the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, took over as his servicer around 2012.
“At times Reddit was more helpful than FedLoan Servicing. It seems counterintuitive to go to social media for answers, but relying on information from FedLoan was, at times, a crapshoot,” says Morgan, who in May had about $38,000 in student loans discharged. He still has approximately $67,000 in private student loans, which do not qualify for public service discharge.
The program was established in the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007. Those eligible must be government employees; work for a charitable, nonprofit employer that is tax-exempt under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; or be employed by nonprofits with different tax statuses that provide specific services, including public interest legal services.
Employment certifications are submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, which is supposed to provide determinations. However in 2016 the ABA sued the department after some public service lawyers were told they did not work for an employer that provided a qualifying service, despite receiving eligibility confirmations between 2012 and 2014. The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is ongoing.
Besides working for a 501(c)(3) or a nonprofit that provides specific services, those eligible for the program must work in public service for at least 10 years and make 120 qualifying loan payments after Oct. 1, 2007. The department was also sued in 2019 by the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, which alleges that the agency has failed at correctly processing PSLF applications. The lawsuit, also filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that the department has forgiven the loans of less than 1% of borrowers who applied for PSLF.
Morgan graduated from Northeastern University School of Law in 2007. The following year, while working as an assistant district attorney in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, he consolidated his student debt from the Federal Family Education Loan Program to Direct Loans, thinking that would meet PSLF qualifications.
But according to Morgan, in 2010 his loan servicer told him that he was in the wrong repayment plan, and only half of his payments counted toward loan forgiveness. Now an assistant general counsel with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, Morgan then switched to an income-based repayment plan, reportedly on the advice of his loan servicer.
Then in 2018, the federal government authorized the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, for borrowers like Morgan, who had used an incorrect repayment program.
Morgan went to the Department of Education website, and Reddit, for answers on the new offering.
“I wanted to try to get a sense of how many people would be eligible and what kind of success they were having, to try and gauge in my head how long the money would last, and if I would be able to qualify,” Morgan says, adding that Congress initially allocated $350 million for the program, which is not permanent.
Many Reddit posts centered on people being denied student loan discharge, and some posts had incorrect advice, Morgan says. But then other people would weigh in with correct advice. His judgment on good and bad information was partly based on information he took in from the Department of Education website.
Twitter also played a role in his success. When Morgan submitted his employment certification to FedLoan in 2018, not all of his payments were shown. He asked FedLoan for a printed statement of every student loan payment he made, with information about which payments did and did not qualify for public service loan forgiveness, and explanations for the ones that did not.
The servicer’s response, according to Morgan, was that it would take up to 180 business days to investigate.
“I thought that was bizarre,” says Morgan, who then tweeted to @FAFSA, the U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid’s Twitter handle, asking why the servicer couldn’t respond to his request quicker.
“I’d seen them respond to someone else,” Morgan says when asked why he wrote the tweet. Shortly afterward, FedLoan sent him his requested information, which included the payments previously left off. All qualified toward public service loan forgiveness.
“I think as part of the reporting process, that mistake was fixed,” says Morgan, who on May 13 got $38,381.32 in student debt discharged. Not surprisingly, he shared the results on Reddit.
“Some of the comments were, ‘Well of course you understand how to qualify for loan forgiveness, you’re a lawyer.’ It’s not that simple, even if you’re a lawyer,” says Morgan, who laughs when asked if his experience as a government attorney may have helped him figure out ways to cut through bureaucracy and get his problem fixed.
“That thought hasn’t crossed my mind, but it probably helps,” says Morgan, who admits that he could have kept better payment records.
“Anyone trying to figure out when they qualify for TEPSLF should ask for a report of their payments, to figure out where they’re at,” he adds. “Unless they’re keeping meticulous records, which in retrospect I should have done more of, I would say that getting those reports is absolutely necessary.”
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