After a decade of careful monitoring of student loan payments, some borrowers about to cancel their loans have found themselves stuck in a cruel final phase: the waiting period.

Public service loan forgiveness borrowers report waiting up to six months for their forgiveness requests to be approved, often without explaining why. Although loan payments are suspended For pandemic relief, borrowers are still worried about whether their approval will be processed before payments resume in October. Plus, they face the stress of knowing that a change in their employment status could upset years of careful preparation.

Data released by the Education Department last week show a backlog of paperwork of around 147,000 forms – although the agency has not released a breakdown of the number of applications from borrowers who have made the required number of payments for discount against those still pending requests that submit annual updates. The Education Department did not respond to questions about the delay.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness, often referred to as PSLF, was created to provide loan relief to borrowers who spend at least a decade working in often low-paying government or nonprofit jobs. Borrowers must make 120 qualifying monthly payments before obtaining their canceled loans.

Amy Cocuzza hit the 120 mark in January, after years of carefully monitoring her progress. She thought hers was a straightforward case: She had worked as a lawyer for a federal agency for 10 years and had submitted annual employment certification forms in recent years that showed she had made the required number of payments.

So when she submitted her application, she had no reason to believe that it would be refused. But as the weeks turned into wordless months, his anxiety grew. She started checking her account five, six, and then seven times a day. There was, after all, a lot at stake. She had planned her entire career and financial life around that promise.

“He just disappears into the void,” she said. “There is no transparency. There is no communication. You hear nothing for months and months. And you start to think, ‘uh oh, did I miscalculate somehow?’ “

In the almost four years since the first borrowers became eligible for exemption through the PSLF, the program has gained a reputation for being a bureaucratic mess. Stories of service agents miscalculating payments or borrowers getting conflicting information about their employer’s eligibility for the program are common. Refusal rates remain high, so even those borrowers who claim to have tripled their eligibility cannot ignore lingering doubts that their loans will in fact not be canceled when they are in this final stage of waiting.

The delay can have a huge mental impact on individual borrowers who wait for months, says Seth Frotman, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center.

“It’s just another insult to borrowers in this system,” he says. His organization is particularly concerned if the government activates payments before the backlog of forms is processed.

In some cases, there is more to the line than just the discomfort of waiting. The program states that borrowers not only make 120 qualifying payments while working for an eligible employer, but that they are still working for an eligible employer at the time their loans are canceled.

This requirement added to the stress for Melissa Pennise of Rochester, NY as she waited. She asked for forgiveness in January. She works in public health at a nonprofit organization and, like most nonprofits, resources can change based on funding from year to year. What if his job had been cut when this year’s budget was established in April?

Fortunately, this did not happen. And she logged on last week to find her $ 104,000 balance canceled.

People who have worked for forgiveness for over a decade want to get on with their lives, she says. “But there’s nothing you can do until these loans run out. “

Over the past few years, FedLoan, the service agent hired by the government to manage the civil service loan forgiveness, has improved a lot in providing borrowers with up-to-date information on their progress towards loan forgiveness, said Pennise. But once she applied, it was much harder to get answers. (FedLoan referred questions about the pardon wait time to the federal student aid office at the Department of Education.)

Borrowers like Pennise have taken Reddit, Facebook and Twitter to share stories about what to expect in the absence of more official information.

It’s not just the people who are at the end of the road who face the delays. Borrowers who attempt to certify their employment or get an updated tally of the number of eligible payments they have made are report similar delays.

Arthur DeVore III submitted his documents to certify his employer in December. He’s still waiting. He also has private loans, so every month when he pays his private loans he calls to check the status of his PSLF employment certificate form. He works for the Equal Employment Practices Commission in New York City. This is a local government agency, so it should be a hard-hitting case.

“I’m frustrated because it shouldn’t take that long,” he says. “What kind of extreme verification process do you have that takes seven months?” “

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Under normal circumstances, according to Betsy Mayotte, founder of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors, which offers borrowers free advice on paying off student loans, under normal circumstances receiving a final loan forgiveness notice in the Part of the utility loan remission typically takes between 45 and 90 days. The timeline is definitely longer than that now, she says, likely due to the disruption caused by the pandemic.

She expects the timeline to shrink again over the next few months. And the government has created a new tool that should help speed up the job certification process if your employer is already in the system as one that has been approved for PSLF. Mayotte says that, for the record, borrowers who used the tool seem to report a much shorter deadline than people who submit their documents by hand.

A simple improvement, in the meantime, would be for borrowers to receive clearer information on the schedule when they request a rebate.

“Even if the schedule is not ideal, it at least sets expectations,” says Mayotte. Right now, instead, some borrowers are reporting that customer service reps say they aren’t allowed to give a timeline. So people repeatedly call for updates or submit multiple applications, which only further clutters the system, Mayotte says.

This corresponds to what Cocuzza went through. When she first applied and asked for a deadline, she remembers being told it could take two or three months. But on subsequent calls to FedLoan, she got inconsistent responses.

“I feel like you could probably call three times an afternoon and have three different stories about what’s going on with your application,” she says.

Despite these challenges, Cocuzza’s is a success. Last week, after 154 days, she logged on after lunch – her second check of the day – to find that her request had finally been processed. His loan balance fell from $ 227,609 to $ 0.

“When I realized the loans ran out, I just started sobbing.”

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