- South Carolina
Let me begin our story by sharing our backgrounds. My husband’s parents are both immigrants. His father legally immigrated from Mexico, joined the airforce, and then worked blue collar jobs. It was while he was stationed in Maine that he met my husband’s mother, a French Canadian nurse. His parents did not have the means to provide financial support for education, so my husband relied on student loans. I am the youngest of four children, my mother survived a domestic abuse situation, worked her way off of welfare, and eventually married my stepfather who was an auto body repairman. Like my husband, I had to rely on student loans to afford college. We both earned our masters degree in education.
After we were married in 2000, we sought the advice of a financial advisor to help us budget and manage our debt. We were advised that consolidating our student loans would provide us with more manageable and convenient payments. At that time we were both beginning our careers in our respective schools as a guidance counselor and a teacher. Between the years 2002-2006 we grew to a family of six. With 4 children under the age of four (a surprise set of twins), it only made sense for me to take time off to stay at home. We paused our loans due to the decrease in income. In 2008, the lure of a lower cost of living motivated our move from NH to SC. I returned to the classroom in 2009.
In total, my husband has 23 years of experience as a guidance counselor (his paid internship prior to graduation counted) and I have 15 years as a teacher (medical leave during a high risk pregnancy affected year count), both of us in public schools. In 2009, we resumed our student loan payments under income based repayment. There were months from time to time, where money was tight, living paycheck to paycheck, we had to request forbearance. Of course, they read the terms, but when you are wondering how you’ll pay for groceries, the only thing to do is accept the terms. Unfortunately, our original loan amount of $110,000 has grown to $220,000 (and growing) despite making $138,000 in payments.
I was first introduced to the possibility of PSLF during a phone call to my loan servicer who encouraged me to apply. Their optimism was contagious and I excitedly began the steps to complete the process. It seemed as though I was coming to the end of a long morning of being transferred, visiting websites, and filling in forms when it all came to a screeching halt. The representative on the other end informed me that, because our loans were a spousal consolidation, they didn’t qualify. It didn’t matter how many payments we made, how much we paid in total, or that we worked in a qualifying public service job. It was a dead end.
Several years later, I went through almost the exact same experience, but this time I was cautiously optimistic. However, the representative on the other end assured me that there were new guidelines and I should apply. So I again spent another few hours visiting websites, filling out forms, and being bounced around to different departments. Just like before, dead end and defeat because our student loans had been consolidated. To add insult to injury, it was during this call that I learned with PSLF the remaining balance is completely eliminated, but at the end of the 25 year forgiveness period with IBR the remaining balance is considered taxable income. By the time we reach the 25 year mark with IBR, we will both be retired, in our 60s and our growing loan balance will likely have reached $300,000.
Fast forward to the present, the new waiver and the new guidelines that allow even more people to qualify, but again, we are excluded because of a technicality 22 years ago. Another disadvantage is that during the Covid pause in loan payment, because of spousal consolidation, we didn’t qualify and were required to continue our payments. The stress that this situation has caused is indescribable. Knowing that we have actually paid off our original loan amount and then some, and that there is a PSLF program you could qualify for, is frustrating. The worst part is feeling like you are all alone and no one who has the ability to bring relief knows this problem exists, and that an unavoidable financial tidal wave is fast approaching.