Editor's Note: On March 20, President Trump announced that federal student loan borrowers would be permitted to suspend payments for at least 60 days without penalty due to the coronavirus pandemic. Borrowers must contact their student loan servicers to take advantage of the benefit.
The UFT launched the Student Debt Relief Program in late 2018 after members told the union the burden of student debt is one of their most pressing concerns. Since then, more than 1,500 members have seen a reduction in their monthly payments and look forward to significant loan forgiveness after 10 years. Here's what you need to know about the program.
How does the program facilitate student debt relief?
It helps members navigate two federal debt relief programs: the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, created in 2007, and the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program (also known as Title I Forgiveness), created in 1997.
Who can use the Student Debt Relief Program?
The program is for UFT members only.
Do you have to be a teacher to qualify for debt relief?
No, you do not. All full-time city Department of Education employees, including paraprofessionals, can take advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. UFT members are encouraged to take advantage of the free phone consultation to see if they are eligible for debt relief.
How do you get debt relief?
Under the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, government employees must make 120 on-time payments over a period of 10 years. Only federal direct student loans, not private loans, qualify for the program. Teachers with certain licenses who work in Title I schools may also be eligible for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program.
What kind of loan forgiveness can I expect if I qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program?
You can lower your monthly payments and reduce the period to fully pay off your loans from 20 to 30 years to 10 years. You'll need to re-certify annually and submit an employment certificate every year to collect credits. If you remain in good standing and make 10 years of payments, you can receive tax-free forgiveness for the remainder of the principal and accrued interest.
What if I have private student loans?
Private loans do not qualify for any federal loan forgiveness programs. They cannot be consolidated into a federal loan either, unfortunately.
How does the federal loan forgiveness program for teachers in Title I schools work?
The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is available to classroom teachers who serve for five consecutive years in a designated Title 1 school. It applies to direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans and all Stafford loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL). Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to get up to $17,500 removed from your balance owed right away.
How can I find out what loan forgiveness programs I may be eligible for?
Navigating your options and applying for the right loan forgiveness programs can be complicated. The Student Debt Relief Program supports and guides UFT members through the process.
The first step is to attend a free 60-minute information session or webinar hosted by the UFT and the National Student Debt Forgiveness Center, an outside company that has formed a partnership with the UFT. It's a good idea to attend an information session if you simply want to know more about the program and determine if it's right for you. Information sessions are held at the UFT's borough offices or in a school near you. You can also log in to a webinar from your computer at home. Find an upcoming information session or webinar.
What happens after I attend a Student Debt Relief Program information session?
After you attend an information session or webinar, you'll be able to schedule a free phone consultation with a loan specialist from the National Student Debt Forgiveness Center. You must be in front of your personal computer during the phone call. During the one-on-one phone call, the loan specialist will go over your personal situation and provide you with an action plan for how to take advantage of federal debt relief programs you qualify for. This free phone consultation has been made possible thanks to support from the UFT.
After your phone consultation, you have two options:
- If you're comfortable moving forward on your own, you can begin filling out forms and applying to the appropriate programs based on the action plan you received.
- For a fee, you can opt to work with the National Student Debt Forgiveness Center, which offers discounted rates to UFT members.
Does participating in the Student Debt Relief Program cost anything?
It's free to attend an information session or webinar, and you'll also be eligible for a free phone consultation. If you choose to use the National Student Debt Forgiveness Center's services after your phone consultation, you will pay a discounted rate of anywhere from $200 to upwards of $1,000, depending on the complexity of your personal situation.
The American Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit against U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for denying loan forgiveness to public service workers. Is it still worth it to apply to the program?
It's true that most of the public service employees who were the first to reach the 10-year mark in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program were ultimately denied forgiveness. Many of these applicants mistakenly believed they were on the right track to loan forgiveness but had the wrong loan type or were excluded because of other disqualifying factors. That's why it's so important to seek guidance from qualified loan specialists like those in the union's Student Debt Relief Program to help you sort it out.
Does the Trump administration plan to eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program?
In his most recent proposed federal budget, President Trump called for the elimination of the program as part of $5.6 billion in funding cuts to the U.S. Education Department. But we've now seen a pattern of Trump budgets that do not resemble the final budget passed by Congress. To wit, Trump proposed cutting the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program in his two previous budget proposals and each time Congress discarded the idea in its final budget.