- Public service student loan borrowers have reported problems reaching their loan company, MOHELA.
- Insider spoke to two borrowers who said they were on the phone for hours to no avail.
- This prevents them from getting clarification on their payment progress via PSLF.
Instead of celebrating the launch of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness request earlier this month, Nathan sat in his Washington, D.C. home, spending three hours on hold with MOHELA, the company that handles his loans.
As a Marine Corps veteran, Nathan – who asked that his last name be withheld for privacy reasons – wanted to be sure he was taking advantage of the Public Service Loan Remission Program (PSLF), which cancels student debt for government employees and non-profit organizations after ten years of qualifying payments. MOHELA now manages the entire PSLF wallet, and all Nathan wanted to do was confirm with the company that the payments he made while in service would count towards the pardon.
But what should have been a simple task turned into a time-consuming ordeal that has yet to be solved.
“The first time I tried to call, the estimated wait time was 144 minutes,” Nathan, 29, told Insider. “The second time I called it was a 149 minute wait. And more recently I tried to call and it was 50 minutes. And each of those times I didn’t get the time to wait. I thought it would be a faster call. And one time I was on the line for almost three hours.”
Nathan has still been unable to reach a representative to help ensure his PSLF payments are up to date, and that leaves him in a bind with just days to use a PSLF waiver expiring on October 31 which allows past payments, including those previously deemed ineligible, to count toward forgiveness progress.
Although MOHELA did not respond to a request for comment, Scott Buchanan, executive director of the Student Loan Servicing Alliance — a group representing federal loan officers — told Insider that the companies have no control over how how well they are staffed and how quickly they can help borrowers. .
“The [Education] The department decides how much resources and staff they’re going to pay to have on the phone,” Buchanan said. by number First, the amount of information they give us, but also, second, what resources they give us. And so it’s not surprising in the sense that if the department doesn’t provide additional financial resources, they are unable to provide additional staff.”
Regardless of who is to blame for the long wait times, it leaves Nathan in a precarious financial situation.
“I’m in this period of uncertainty not really knowing what’s going on with my student loans,” he said. “I’m not even trying to call and ask about student loan forgiveness. I just want to know simple things.”
“It has become practically impossible to reach them”
Kate faces a similar dilemma. As a civil servant in Alabama, she said she had about six years of progression in the PSLF and after transferring her loans to MOHELA, it was time for her to recertify that her employer worked in a field of public service. So she filled out the same form she had been sending for years and wanted to confirm that MOHELA had received it, but she said “it has become practically impossible to reach them”.
“They threw me into a kind of loop where the automated phone service said, ‘We seem to have some sort of problem,’ over and over again,” Kate, 40, told Insider. She asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons. “So I called several times over several days to see if this issue was resolved and I would eventually reach someone, but that never happened.”
After trying to reach a representative, Kate said she later received a notice that her employer had failed to complete the information required for recertification, which she said was incorrect, but still hasn’t been completed. able to contact MOHELA to solve this problem. Now his action plan is to resubmit the form and hope that this time it will be processed.
“Some of these payments are part of the expiring vacation, and if I can’t pass before the expiration date, I lose the ability to have those additional payments count towards the cancellation of my public service loan, which is concerning,” Kate said. “And it goes beyond a simple technical error to a real problem that may not be able to be solved later if I miss a deadline because I can’t meet them.”
Aissa Canchola Bañez, senior adviser for policy and strategy at the advocacy group Student Borrower Protection Center, told Insider that borrowers experiencing these difficulties should file complaints with the Department of Education.
“The best way to change these practices is to shine a light on how egregious and systemic some of these service failures are on the part of MOHELA,” she said.
Keeping track of all her documents and noting when she called MOHELA, and for how long, is what Kate plans to do to prove that she did her best to submit her documents before the deadline.
“Restarting payments is a major concern”
Neither Kate nor Nathan know how much they will have to pay monthly once student loan repayments resume in January. Nathan said he spoke to his former loan officer last year about his monthly payments, and they told him that without an income-driven repayment plan, he could pay around $900 a month.
“Restarting payments is a major concern,” Nathan said. “$900 a month isn’t really feasible and would be extremely detrimental because it’s so much money.”
While the student loan payment pause has been extended several times, Biden has made it clear that the pause through the end of December is final and borrowers should be prepared to resume payments in January 2023. Along with the rollout of the application process, which borrowers have until December 2023 to complete, the administration also proposed a new income-based repayment plan that would make monthly payments more affordable.
Canchola Bañez said Biden’s “bold move” to help borrowers “is an opportunity for us to really make sure the student loan system is working as intended and in the way that gives borrowers the protections they need.” are entitled under federal law.”
While Nathan and Kate are grateful for the broad debt relief, their main concern is making sure their time spent working in public service is accounted for.
“The fact that I’m just stuck and uncertain about my financial future as inflation and my rent go up…I don’t know what I can do in the near future,” Nathan said.