Off the crushing weight of student loans – New York Daily News

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I didn’t win the lottery, but what happened happened very close. The federal government erased my remaining student debt to zero, eliminating hundreds of future payments – changing the way my family can make financial decisions.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers in the public service — people who work in nonprofits like hospitals or local governments, who collectively hold hundreds of millions in student debt — are now eligible for the exact same present. But few people are talking about it – and people need to act fast to take advantage of this program before it expires at the end of October.

Even though I was lucky enough to earn a living wage running a nonprofit legal services organization, I hadn’t been able to significantly reduce my remaining debt. Many others are in more precarious situations than me: they are teachers, social workers, bus drivers, public defenders, sanitation workers, nurses, police officers – the list goes on. They run our city and yet do so with relatively low salaries compared to the private sector.

Those who dedicate their careers to serving others — whether in government or the nonprofit sector — deserve a break from their student debt. This is especially true given the greater share of the student debt burden held by people of color: Black borrowers, on average, owe more than $10,000 more than their white counterparts for their undergraduate loans; for college loans, the disparity is even starker, with black borrowers owing twice as much as white borrowers, or $27,000 more, on average.

In 2007, the federal government created the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (or PSLF), with the promise that anyone could have their debt forgiven if they worked for a nonprofit or government organization during 10 years. To be eligible, a person with a federal student loan simply needs to be working full-time for a qualified employer and making enough qualifying loan payments. The magic number is 120.

But the original program was deeply flawed, and because of byzantine, bureaucratic rules—federal authorities wanted the “right” kind of loans and the “right” kind of payment plans—millions of people who should have been eligible never got any help. Many have often had to restart their 10-year clock after years of making payments the “wrong” way – even though no one has ever told them otherwise.

Fortunately, the Biden administration finally solved that problem by creating the “PSLF Waiver” — a little-known temporary window that allows up to 5 million Americans to have their old federal student loan repayments reassessed. In other words, those who didn’t count before for the 10-year period now might. And that makes them eligible for up to $200 billion in collective loan relief.

For New Yorkers, that translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars in monthly payments that no longer need to be made – and could instead be spent on groceries, fuel, childcare, travel and more. It can concretely help families cope with record inflation.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Some people I talk to ask me if I will also try to sell them an extended warranty for the car they don’t have.

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I understand. We are more skeptical of government than at any time in history, and especially of promises that come on top of broken ones.

But this help is different – ​​and very real. Don’t take my word for it. There are others who share their stories of waking up one day with zero student debt: Diane Caba, who works for the Hispanic Federation, was pardoned more than $150,000. Rod Jones, the executive director of the Goddard Riverside Community Center, has benefited from a remaining debt of more than $200,000 being wiped out.

Even those who haven’t completed 10 years of government service can still get corrected credit for the payments they’ve made, meaning their path to loan forgiveness will be shorter.

Of course, there’s a big catch: the deadline for the waiver period is October 31 — that’s just over 60 days from now.

To help spread the word, I created a nonprofit campaign, PSLF.nyc, and raised a few dollars from foundations and other partners. We offer free webinars to help people learn how to take advantage of this benefit. I urge Mayor Adams, Governor Hochul, and other elected officials and government officials to use their megaphones to make sure eligible New Yorkers know about this incredible opportunity — all at no cost to them.

But the only thing every student borrower should do now is check their status by logging into StudentAid.gov and using the “PSLF Help Tool” to see if they qualify. Although it may seem complicated, it should take less than 30 minutes. It’s much easier than doing your taxes. It’s also much more valuable – and it just might change your life.

Leimsider, former executive director of the Safe Passage Project, is the founder of PSLF.nyc.

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