What is it like to forgive your student loans?

Karen Tongson

Courtesy: Karen Tongson

Karen Tongson never imagined a moment when she would not repay her student loans.

As The teacher at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles eligible the write-off of a public service loan program but had heard too many stories of borrowers not receiving the government’s debt write-off promise to believe it would ever do so.

“No one had any faith,” said Tongson, 48. When I told friends and other colleagues that I had signed up for this thing, they said, ‘This will never happen.’

He seemed to be right: After 16 years of student loan payments totaling more than $ 90,000, he had heard nothing about forgiveness.

The write-off of public service loans, signed by then-President George W. Bush in 2007, allows nonprofits and government employees to cancel their federal student loans after 10 years or 120 payments. However, the program is plagued by problems, making it difficult for people to enjoy relief.

Only about 8,300 people have repaid their loans under the program by June 2021, according to a specialist in higher education Mark Kandrovich. More than 400,000 have applied.

Borrowers in public service positions often think that they are paying the price for a loan cancellation only to find out at some point in the process that they do not qualify, usually for technical and confusing reasons. Lenders have been accused of misleading borrowers and spoil their schedules.

“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 borrow. “I do not come from a family with very good resources,” he 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 moved to Riverside, California, they got other jobs to pay the bills. Her mother worked for K-mart and Sears.

Although her parents could not save money for her college years, they made it clear that they wanted to attend and accomplish things they could not. “They emphasized education as a way of social and class mobility,” he said.

After a few years at a 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 received her PhD from Berkeley.

Over the years, Tongson has worked in many jobs, including a local video store. She was also awarded scholarships, but it was a maximum of $ 12,000 a year.

“Imagine trying to pay rent in the Bay Area with so much money,” he said. “I lived so much with my hand and mouth.

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

I felt really worried about fighting so much.

Karen Tongson

author and professor at USC

To make ends meet, he said, he had to borrow about $ 70,000 in student loans. “It allowed me to keep up with my peers in education,” he said.

This school took her away.

Today, she is a professor at the University of Southern California, where she teaches British and American literature, race, and food cultures in Los Angeles. He is chair of the Department of Gender and Sexuality at USC and has published Many books.

Even so, she was still earning a living, she said, because of her student loan payments, which ranged from hundreds of dollars a month to thousands. Although her husband, Sarah Kessler, with whom she shares a home in Los Angeles, never took out student loans and has savings, she did not even have an emergency fund.

“I felt really anxious to be fighting so hard,” Tongson said. But that was about to change.

Last month, Tongson found that the balance of its student loan had fallen to $ 0.

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

Tongson’s surprise came as a result reforms made by the Biden government in the program of writing off public service loans. It has re-evaluated borrowers’ applications and recalculated their payments, and estimates that more than 500,000 people may be closer to forgiveness as a result. Many others are likely to owe returns, too.

Tongson and his wife did not party or go out for a fancy dinner to celebrate. Instead, she transferred $ 20,000 to her savings account. “This is the first time I have really saved,” he said.

He hopes that future borrowers in the program can simply wait for the forgiveness he promised.

“I hope it does not feel like winning the lottery,” he said.

For her, that was exactly what it was.

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