- Jared Weegmann, 37, received $323,000 in student loans forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.
- He said he would not have been able to repay the debt if he had not joined the Navy.
- Its track record is rare – many borrowers have struggled to get relief through the program.
Jared Weegmann no longer has a six-figure student debt on his head.
After earning his bachelor’s degree from a Florida public college, Weegmann, 37, decided he wanted to go to law school — and the only way to do it financially was by taking out a student loan. But after graduating from the University of Miami Law School in 2012 with about $200,000 in debt, the most important thing for him at the time was to get rid of that debt one way or another.
“These debts will never be repaid,” Weegmann said. “I just remember thinking the only way this will get rid of me is if I get a government job right away.”
Weegmann is referring to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which aims to forgive student debt for public employees such as government and nonprofit workers after ten years of qualifying payments. He saw the Navy as a viable option to start the clock for his civil service in 2013, and at that point his estimated loan forgiveness year was 2024.
However, President Joe Biden’s Department of Education introduced a limited-time waiver last year to allow previously ineligible payments to count towards PSLF progress. That was crucial for Weegmann — on Jan. 2, 2023, he received a letter from student loan company MOHELA telling him that his $323,000 student debt had been forgiven in full.
“We have completed our review of your repayment and qualifying employment history under the rules of the PSLF program, including the PSLF limited waiver, and have granted PSLF credit based on those requirements,” the insider-verified letter to Weegmann said. “We have determined that you have successfully completed the PSLF program requirements and your loans listed below have been forgiven. Thank you for your public service!”
The waiver allowed Weegmann to count a year of student loan payments he made while he was a personal trainer at the YMCA, a nonprofit organization, and he said when he “received the letter saying your loans are fully taken, it was great.”
But he wished it hadn’t been necessary to enlist in the Navy to get that relief.
“It was basically forced labor to pay off my debts,” Weegmann said. “There’s a lot of stress to take on, but I’ve also learned a lot and it’s given me a good, stable job to have money to make the investments that will take me into the future.”
“But I don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze or the payoff if it’s worth graduating,” Weegmann added. “Because if you don’t do public service, you’re going to be saddled with that debt. I mean how long would it take to pay that off? Probably never.”
Success through the government loan forgiveness program is rare
Weegmann stressed that his diligence with his PSLF paperwork was key to forgiving his loans. He frequently called his loan servicer to make sure his payments were up to date, and he said the annual review of his employment was helpful to ensure all his progress was reflected in the program.
But many other borrowers who have diligently done their paperwork and have been in public service for well over ten years are still waiting for their loans to be forgiven. Prior to Biden’s presidency, 98% of borrowers who applied to the program were turned down because of a variety of administrative errors, such as: B. Writing the date in the wrong format or missing a signature on the documents.
For example, in 2021, a borrower told Insider that even after 40 years in public service, failures in the program kept him from getting the relief he was entitled to.
Therefore, in October 2021, the Department of Education introduced the temporary waiver, which expired on October 31, 2022, allowing borrowers to move closer to forgiveness, and after the waiver expired, the Department announced permanent reforms to the PSLF, including a one-time adjustment to borrowers’ accounts if they miss the waiver period.
Education Minister Miguel Cardona announced the changes on Twitter in January. Write that “higher education should build you up, not weigh you down. Thanks to the changes we’ve made to the Government Loan Forgiveness program, Americans can live dreams they’ve put off for far too long in everyday life. This is something to celebrate.”
Some borrowers aren’t quite ready to celebrate just yet. MOHELA, who acquired all PSLF accounts last summer, is taking months to go through the waiver papers. In fact, some borrowers were wrongly denied while the company reviews the applications.
As Insider previously reported, another difficulty is that borrowers who have simple questions about their PSLF payments cannot even reach MOHELA’s customer service representatives. Weegmann said he would have to “leave my phone on for two or three hours just to wait for someone to answer the phone”.
Right now, many PSLF borrowers are on MOHELA’s schedule – and there is no clear timeframe for the relief.
“I don’t know if it’s an advantage to be burdened with such debt”
Some borrowers who take on significant debt for graduate degrees, such as law or medicine, can get high-paying jobs that allow them to pay off debt quickly. But as Weegmann said, it’s not that easy, and he’s not sure he would have gotten that degree if he could go back in time.
“I don’t know if being burdened with that kind of debt is an advantage,” he said.
Insider previously spoke to another borrower who was told that law school would put him on an immediate path to high earnings, but even after passing the bar exam he’s struggled to find a job and is now on $347,000 burdened with student debt.
“Whoever told you that lawyers have instant tickets to the middle class, maybe that was 10 or 20 years ago, but that’s not there anymore,” he said. “It’s not the same job market anymore.”
However, amid all the PSLF challenges, success with the program can be life-changing. A borrower Insider spoke to last year has paid off his $20,000 debt — giving him the financial freedom to quit his job and run for office. He said that “if the PSLF had not processed my application, running for office would have been absolutely out of the question.”