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UFT helps members find student loan relief

Steven Kramer (standing) of Retired Teachers Chapter legal provider Feldman, KraJonathan FickiesSteven Kramer (standing) of Retired Teachers Chapter legal provider Feldman, Kramer & Monaco explains the program to members at an information session on Nov. 14. The UFT has formed a partnership with the National Student Debt Forgiveness Center and longtime Retired Teachers Chapter legal provider Feldman, Kramer & Monaco to help Department of Education-employed members burdened with student debt find, navigate and apply for federal debt relief or the right debt forgiveness program. The average student loan debt balance for a teacher is $40,000, according to a Federal Reserve survey.

Rachael Beseda, a teacher at PS 469 in the Bronx, has more than $90,000 in student loan debt, including interest.

“I could pay off the interest for years and years and the debt just keeps growing,” she said. “It’s a chunk of money that I’m paying every month that I could be using for other things, like saving up for a mortgage.” But instead, she said, “I’m paying money into a black hole.”

Beseda attended the union’s first debt information session on Nov. 14. “There might be light at the end of the tunnel with this program,” she said afterward.

Many debt service companies steer borrowers toward high-interest payment plans that are more lucrative for the servicer — a practice that prompted the American Federation of Teachers, the UFT’s parent union, to sue Navient, the largest such company.

“There are a lot of bad players in this space who’ve taken advantage of people,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said at the information session. “Our promise to our members is that we’re going to try to help — that’s what a union does.”

To participate, educators must attend an informational presentation in their boroughs to learn more about the program. Attendees will then receive an email from the union inviting them to sign up for an appointment for an initial consultation with a UFT advocate. The advocate will explain how to access loan data from the Federal Student Aid website and will then connect each member with a loan specialist. The loan specialist will take over from there to provide individualized assistance. The specialist will examine the type of loans the member has and the member’s current repayment program. Then the specialist will walk the member through potential options, with the goal of helping them maximize the possibility of reduced debt payments and forgiveness of the debt’s principal.

The counseling service from the National Student Debt Forgiveness Center can also provide assistance with debt consolidation and bankruptcy, forbearance applications and negotiations with lenders or collection agencies.

The initial consultation is free of charge, and more comprehensive assistance is available at a discount.

Some New York City educators may be eligible for a program called Public Sector Loan Forgiveness, which allows borrowers who work for 10 years in an eligible public service job and make 120 on-time loan payments to have their remaining federal student loans canceled.

Taina DeLesline-Taitt, a school secretary at PS 485 in Manhattan, gave kudos to the UFT for empowering members against predatory debt servicers.

“They are banking on our not being educated about the process and our options,” she said. “The union is representing its members well by educating them.”

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