- Tabatha Wesley made 127 payments on her federal student loans but still did not qualify for the PSLF.
- She almost gave up, but an app called Chipper helped her fill out her PSLF paperwork.
- After being turned down twice, Wesley got $47,000 in canceled student loans through TEPSLF.
Until recently, almost all borrowers who applied for student loan forgiveness through the public service loan forgiveness program were turned down. In 2021, 36-year-old primary school teacher Tabatha Wesley was one of them.
PSLF is a federal student loan forgiveness program that was introduced in 2007 and is open to certain workers in public and nonprofit professions, including teachers, government officials, military personnel, and others. To get your loans forgiven, you must make 120 “qualifying payments” – approximately 10 years of payments – on a qualifying payment plan.
Wesley, who has been a teacher for more than 15 years, chose an extended repayment plan that gave her the lowest monthly payments; she didn’t know the ins and outs of PSLF at the time.
Wesley was denied civil service loan forgiveness while working in qualifying employment
Wesley made monthly payments on his loans for years, hoping to get his loans canceled with PSLF. “After seventh or eighth grade, I reached out to make sure I was on the right track, and they told me I had to change my repayment plan,” she says.
To be eligible for the PSLF at the time of Wesley’s first application, borrowers had to be on one of four income-based repayment plans, or IDR plans. Wesley was not on any of these plans.
From the name, an income-driven repayment plan seems to give borrowers the lowest possible monthly payments, but that’s not always the case. At the time, income-based monthly payments were capped at 15% of the borrower’s discretionary income, their net after-tax income minus fixed living expenses like rent or mortgage.
“Getting the right payment plan was going to almost double my monthly payment,” Wesley says. “I just couldn’t afford a couple hundred extra dollars a month. So for that plan, that wasn’t even an option at that point in my life.”
In 2012, former President Obama revised the income-tested repayment plan guidelines to cap monthly payments at 10% of the borrower’s discretionary income. The student loan forgiveness plan announced by President Biden on August 24 will cap monthly payments on income-based repayment plans at 5% of the borrower’s discretionary income.
While disappointed that she couldn’t get her loans canceled as promised, Wesley simply agreed that she would keep paying. “We teachers don’t earn anything and that’s good – well, that’s not good, but that’s what we signed up for,” she says.
She was turned down for PSLF twice, but approved the third time
In early 2021, Wesley signed up for an app called Chipper, which helps student borrowers access their forgiveness options. Chipper reached out to Wesley to see if she would be interested in getting help completing her PSLF paperwork.
“I explained the same story,” Wesley said. “I told them it was my 13th year making payments, but I still didn’t have the 120 qualifying payments.” Chipper always encouraged her to give it a try, especially since she had already made 127 payments on her student loans.
Wesley’s first two applications fulfilled with Chipper’s help were denied, but she never had hope in the first place, she says.
Wesley’s remaining $47,000 in student loans have been forgiven
In October 2021, Chipper reached out to Wesley again after Federal Student Aid announced the Extended Civil Service Loan Forgiveness Program (TEPSLF). Under a limited waiver, payments made on any repayment plan, including partial and late payments, are now eligible for the discount. The waiver is in effect until October 31, 2022.
“When they reached out a third time, I was like, ‘More power to you,'” Wesley told Insider, but she says she still didn’t think anything would actually happen. I always thought, ‘You’re going to get turned down. And who’s actually fighting the feds? Well, Chipper did it.’
According to records reviewed by Insider, Wesley’s remaining $47,000 in student loans were forgiven in November 2021, just weeks after Chipper filed his third application.
Wesley redirects the money she saves to invest
Now that his student loans are forgiven, Wesley and her husband want to start investing in real estate. To advance in her career and get a higher paying teaching job, she also took out more student loans to get her master’s degree.
“This time I was able to figure out my student debt,” Wesley says. “Now I can tell new teachers who don’t know how to deal with student loans to start organizing their paperwork. It was easy to fight back the first two times I was turned down because I had everything in order. “