By Allie Bidwell, NASFAA Senior Reporter
ATLANTA—The Department of Education (ED) on Tuesday announced that it will launch an online tool next month to help borrowers interested in applying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
During a session held at the annual Federal Student Aid Training Conference in Atlanta, ED officials said the tool will help borrowers better understand the PSLF program, inform them of any necessary or suggested actions to take in order to qualify, help them self-assess their eligibility using employment information, and help them decide which form to submit—an Employment Certification Form (ECF) or an application for loan forgiveness.
The tool will not, however, assist borrowers in submitting either form. It will instead populate a fully-completed PDF that borrowers can save and have signed to submit on their own later on.
The announcement comes as lawmakers, government agencies, and consumer advocates have criticized—and sued—both ED and its contracted servicer for the PSLF program, FedLoan Servicing, for allegedly causing borrowers to lose their benefits and for not clearly explaining the requirements to become eligible for loan forgiveness.
Congress allocated $700 million over two years in the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending bill for ED to reconsider denied PSLF applications on a first-come, first-served basis—an initiative dubbed Temporary Expanded PSLF (TEPSLF). The initiative would expand the list of qualifying repayment plans to include the Graduated Repayment Plan, Extended Repayment Plan, Consolidated Standard Repayment Plan, and Consolidated Graduated Repayment Plan. A borrower’s application would be reconsidered, according to ED, if it was previously denied because “some or all of the payments were not made under a qualifying repayment plan for PSLF.” ED will also reconsider pending applications for borrowers who made payments in a non-qualifying repayment plan.
Lawmakers have also pressed ED to provide more detailed data on the implementation of the PSLF program, while other groups, including NASFAA, have asked for more information on exactly which borrowers may be able to benefit from the loan forgiveness program.
ED officials on Tuesday said, however, that any data collected thus far might not give an accurate picture because borrowers are not required to submit ECFs. More than two-thirds of borrowers who have submitted at least one approved ECF, for example, have only submitted one form. Just 5 percent have submitted four or more. Of those borrowers who have only submitted one ECF, the average period of employment covered by the form is nearly five years, and borrowers take on average nearly a year and a half before submitting another ECF.
“Borrowers are waiting to submit ECFs until they are further along in their PSLF journey than we would like, and they’re not submitting these annually,” an ED official said Tuesday, noting that the department has “far less insight than we would like” on applicants.
Publication Date: 11/28/2018
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