Buzzfeed News’s Anne Helen Peterson on student loan forgiveness, the ostensibly positive topic that nonetheless fills me with more existential dread than anything apart from my own mortality:
The premise of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by George W. Bush in 2007, is straightforward: Working in public service doesn’t pay a lot, and a lot of public service jobs — including teaching and social work — require advanced degrees, which in turn often necessitate hefty student loans. How do you encourage people to train for those jobs, jobs that are essential to society, even when it means taking on massive amounts of debt? You make “loan forgiveness” part of the package. (To be clear, these borrowers aren’t receiving a free education — they’re still paying. Indeed, in many forgiveness cases, what’s really getting “forgiven” after 10 years of repayment isn’t the original loan balance, but all the interest that’s accumulated on top of it.)
From the beginning, the PSLF program has presented itself as deceptively simple: Get on an income-based repayment plan, work in public service for 10 years while making monthly payments, and the remainder of your student debt will be eliminated. That was the promise, made on behalf of the federal government. Yet the program’s apparent simplicity (and the lack of guidelines on how to implement or monitor the program) has now led to the defrauding of tens of thousands of borrowers. That includes students like Jen, who, after years of believing she’d been enrolled in the PSLF program, was told she’d originally been given incorrect information, and her “10-year” clock would start in 2019, at zero.
The bulk of Peterson’s piece is reporting on the broader effects of crippling student loan burdens on an entire generation, but those paragraphs hit pretty close to home. For many of us with postgraduate degrees who work in public service, the monthly payments required by the PSLF program are less than the amount of interest that compounds on our principal each month. I’m nine years out of school, and the total amount owed on my student loans is nearly twice what I borrowed. If the PLSF only forgives interest, I’ll have spent ten years removing the interest that I racked up over ten years.