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What it’s like to be cleared of your student loans

Karen Tongson

Courtesy: Karen Tongson

Karen Tongson never imagined the moment she would default on her student loans.

As A professor at the University of Southern California, eligible Los Angeles residents public service loan forgiveness but had heard too many stories of borrowers who didn’t receive the government’s promise of forgiveness to believe she would.

“No one has faith,” said Tongson, 48. “When I told friends and other colleagues that I signed up for this, they said, ‘That’s never going to happen.'”

Looks like they were right: After 16 years of student loan payments, totaling more than $90,000, she’s heard nothing of forgiveness.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007, allows nonprofits and government employees to cancel their federal student loans at a later date. 10 years, or 120 payments. However, the program was plagued by problems, leaving those who actually received relief rare.

According to the higher education expert, only about 8,300 people have had their loans cleared under the program as of June 2021. Mark Kantrowitz. More than 400,000 have applied.

Borrowers in public service jobs often believe they are paying their way to loan cancellation only to find out at some point in the process. that they are not qualified, often for technical and confusing reasons. Lenders have been blamed for misleading borrowers and pass their timelines.

“I noticed that many of the payments I made were not counted,” Tongson said. “And I never understood why.”

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To get an education, Tongson felt she had no choice but to take out a loan. “I don’t come from a well-resourced family,” she said.

She moved with her mother, Maria Katindig Dykes, and stepfather Jimmie Dykes to the United States from the Philippines when she was 10 years old.

Her parents were musicians, but when they settled in Riverside, California, they had other jobs to pay the bills. Her mother worked at K-mart and Sears.

Even though her parents couldn’t save for her college years, they made it clear that they wanted her to study and achieve what they couldn’t. “They emphasize education as a way to move society and class,” she said.

After a few years at community college, Tongson was accepted to the University of California, Los Angeles, where she studied English and eventually graduated from Summa Cum Laude. She then went on to earn her PhD at Berkeley.

Throughout those years, Tongson worked many jobs, including at a local video store. She is also awarded a scholarship, but at most $12,000 a year.

“Imagine trying to pay rent in the Bay Area with such a large sum of money,” she said. “I lived a very oral life.

“There was a time in high school where I lived on the same bag of frozen Costco chicken,” adds Tongson. “I ate it every day, for a month.”

Feeling really uncomfortable having to struggle so much.

Karen Tongson

author and professor at USC

To get that time, she said, she had to borrow about $70,000 in student loans. “It allows me to keep up with my peers educationally,” she said.

That study took her far.

Currently, she is a professor at the University of Southern California, where she teaches courses in English and American literature, race, and Los Angeles food culture. She is the chair of gender and sexuality studies at USC and has published many books.

Even so, she lives on a paycheck, she said, as her student loan payments range from hundreds of dollars a month to thousands of dollars a month. Although her wife, Sarah Kessler, with whom she shares a house in Los Angeles, never takes on student loans and has savings, she doesn’t even have an emergency fund herself.

“I feel really uncomfortable when I struggle so much,” says Tongson. But that is about to change.

Last month, Tongson noticed that her student loan balance had dropped to $0.

Additionally, the US Department of Education refunded her for years of overpayment, which meant she suddenly had about $20,000 in her bank account. “It was pure, pure relief,” she said.

Tongson’s surprise was due to reforms the Biden administration has made and is implementing to the public service debt forgiveness program. It re-evaluated borrowers’ applications and recounted their payments, and as a result it estimated that more than 500,000 people could be virtually forgiven. Many others are also likely to get refunds due.

Tongson and his wife didn’t party or even go out to a big dinner to celebrate. Instead, she transferred $20,000 to her savings account. “This is the first time I actually have savings,” she said.

She hopes that future borrowers on the program can come to expect the promised forgiveness.

“I hope it’s not like winning the lottery,” she said.

To her, that’s just what it feels like.

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/14/what-its-like-to-get-your-student-loans-forgiven-.html What it’s like to be cleared of your student loans

Emma James

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