- Greg Ogden, 64, said he's been paying off his student loans since 1994 while working in public service.
- He said he applied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness but paperwork errors have kept him in repayment.
- He wants to fulfill his payment obligations, but he feels he's paid more than he owed.
Greg Ogden doesn't regret taking out his student loans. He just never anticipated he would be paying them off for so long.
After graduating in 1993 with a master's degree in therapy, Ogden, now 64, said he immediately started paying off his $17,000 student-debt load. At the time, he said, he wasn't too concerned about the balance — he was able to quickly pay off the loans he took out for his bachelor's degree ten years earlier, and he anticipated his second repayment experience would be similar.
But after an unanticipated forbearance period because of his divorce a few years after he started repayment on his graduate-degree loan — in which he was not making monthly payments but interest was still growing — Ogden found his balance was growing beyond what he originally borrowed. Now, he said he owes about $25,000 in student debt, and he's frustrated it's still hanging over his head at this point in his life.
To add to that frustration, he's been working at a nonprofit for his entire career and still hasn't received debt relief through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness, or PSLF, program, which is supposed to forgive student debt for government and nonprofit workers after ten years of qualifying payments. Ogden estimates he's made at least four years of extra payments.
"I have no idea when I'll be done," Ogden told Insider. "I'm happy my wife won't have to worry about this if I die because I guess it can't go after a spouse. But I've had this hanging around my neck longer than it should have."
The issue comes down to paperwork. In October 2021, President Joe Biden's Education Department announced temporary reforms to PSLF, included a limited-time waiver that expired on October 31, 2022, that allowed all past payments — included those previously deemed ineligible — to count toward PSLF progress. Ogden said he submitted his paperwork well before the October 31 deadline, and he even called the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, or MOHELA, the company that manages PSLF, to confirm his paperwork was submitted, and he was told he was all set.
But in April, he said he received a letter that his application was rejected because he had failed to properly certify one of his public-service employers. While the Federal Student Aid office recently made the process a bit easier to certify employment by allowing digital signatures following issues with applications being rejected for minor errors, those reforms are still a work in progress. Ogden said his only option right now is to reapply for PSLF and hope for the best.
"I want to fulfill my obligations, but I would like them to honor the payments that I've made," Ogden said. "My application was rejected because I didn't have the correct dates on all my employment periods. I can't remember the exact time when I started and finished ten years ago on a job, so now I have to go back and find all that information."
'I'm driving blind on this whole thing'
After Ogden's loans were transferred to MOHELA, he said he's been unable to find his payment history to confirm that he's made more than the needed qualifying payments to have his loans forgiven. But he said that aside from the brief forbearance following his divorce, he's "religiously" paid off his debt, but he's unable to get a straight answer from MOHELA to help him figure out how many payments, if any, he still needs to make.
"This is the one debt I wish I didn't have and I don't know how to get out of it," Ogden said. "At no time have I ever been told, 'You have made this many payments and this is how many have left to be finished,' which would be a big motivator for me. I'm driving blind on this whole thing."
Insider previously spoke to a number of borrowers who believe they'd done their due diligence toward PSLF, but as a result of paperwork errors and miscommunication from their student-loan company, they're still stuck in repayment. For example, one teacher who made six extra years of payments toward PSLF is still struggling to get a refund after spending hours on hold with MOHELA to no avail.
The Education Department announced permanent reforms to PSLF beyond the waiver expiration, including a one-time account adjustment to give borrowers one more chance to get their payments updated if they missed the October 31 deadline. But due to a lack of increased funding from Congress, the implementation of those adjustments are delayed, meaning some borrowers are still wondering whether they qualify for full debt relief or should continue making payments.
"It's just a cycle of frustration," Ogden said. "And there should be a different system so people don't have to engage in all these fruitless calls where they can't answer your questions anyway."
Biden's broad student-debt relief is 'a lottery wish'
Along with waiting for reforms to targeted programs like PSLF, millions of borrowers are also waiting to learn the fate of Biden's broad plan he announced in August to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the two conservative-backed cases that paused the relief in February and is expected to issue a final decision on the legality of the relief by June.
Ogden isn't too concerned with the outcome, though.
"If it's given to us, I'd be grateful, but if it's not, I can't control that," he said. "It's kind of a lottery wish. It'd be nice, but I would trade that for them honoring the payments I've already made."
Student-loan payments are also set to resume 60 days after June 30, or 60 days after the Supreme Court decision — whichever happens first — and Ogden can only hope that his payment count is resolved before then.
"When I get on the phone and try to talk to these people, the waits are really long, and because I have appointments with countless clients, I often don't even get through," Ogden said. "And I felt pretty optimistic that this was going to get taken care of in 10 years."
Do you have a story to share about your student debt? Reach out to this reporter at [email protected].