Dear Sen. Warren: I need your help and I honestly believe with my whole heart that you are the only person in our entire country who can help me -- and others like me. It has to do with my student loans; nothing to do with repayment, but everything to do with the red tape attached to getting customer service from servicers. To help you understand how alone I feel I will make a very long story short in order to highlight the gravity of our need to do something about this problem.
Like you, I am a professor. I have three degrees, my terminal one being a doctorate. I can do research. I'm told I'm a pretty good teacher. I have no fear of public speaking. I am an OK dancer, I make a mean meatloaf, and I can figure out the cable remote. I can wake board, surf board, and knee board. Yet, with all of these achievements I cannot figure out how to get the help I need on the consolidation of my student loan debt into the Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program. Is it really that hard to get help with this process, or did I just waste all of that (borrowed) money on three degrees because in the end I'm just an idiot?
Here's where the struggle is very real and no one seems to help me. Around 2011 when I completed my Ed.D., I learned of the Public Student Loan Forgiveness program -- where if someone works in public service for a non-profit (like I do), that she or he can have their federal loans forgiven after 10 years of proper on-time payments. So, like a good borrower I committed to impeccable payments and began to payback Sallie Mae for the money she so graciously loaned me at 7 percent.
Then, two years later, I was having lunch with a colleague who told me it was much more difficult than just paying back my loans. I would have to actively consolidate the loans with a special company known as FedLoan Servicing (http://www.myfedloan.org/) (@MyFedLoan). Man, I was mad that I had lost two years of perfect on-time payments. Sigh. So, in January of 2014, I began the arduous process of bringing three degrees worth of loans from Sallie Mae to FedLoan. I did my research. I made phone calls. I was patient. I was also losing the Bill Clinton-era interest rate I had on my undergraduate loans, so I could not afford to make any mistakes.
The consolidation process is long. It took two months. I felt in limbo. I was in forbearance as I was not going to pay Sallie Mae and FedLoan at the same time. Three months later in March when I got all of my congratulatory paperwork that the loans were consolidated to FedLoan and I could begin my 10-year sentence (or gift, depending on your outlook), I noticed that FedLoan left off 6 doctorate loans, leaving over 30K at Sallie Mae. No one knew why, no one would get an answer why, and they blamed me saying I purposely left them out of the consolidation. When I showed them the original document that included the six loans, FedLoan then blamed Sallie Mae.
This back-and-forth went on for a month with me arguing that there needed to be a solution. In the end, I capitulated and agreed to complete a "loan-addendum" form that added the six loans. That was in April. To this day, January 2, 2015, almost a year later, the remaining six loans have not been added to the consolidation. When I call FedLoan they do one of two things: they either 1) blame Sallie Mae for not releasing the loans, or 2) they say the loans are still being added to the consolidation. This has now been going on for 6 months. I yell and scream and work myself up until I'm frazzled, and then finally get off the phone. Or I'm kind. Nothing works.
I call weekly or bi-weekly and I spend roughly two hours per week trying to get answers. In November, after more research on my part, I discovered the Federal Student Aid Ombudsmen group that helps to reconcile disputes (1-877-557-2575). So, I got them involved. When they actually return my calls, they tell me the same thing -- that the loans are being "processed."
I don't know where else to turn in order to get this resolved. I have asked every single attorney friend I know (all with student loans themselves) what kind of lawyer I could hire to bring closure to my situation. No one knows. None of them know or understand the process. In the meantime, my loans are in forbearance and the interest grows faster than I can pay it. I need ALL of the loans to be at FedLoan so they can be part of the PSLF program. I need this consolidation to be complete.
So, here is where I need your help. I need to know who it is I can call to get through this consolidation nightmare. Surely I cannot be the only one suffering from this red tape debacle. Yet, I feel like I suffer alone. The loan servicers blame each other, the ombudsmen is weak and not helping, the threat of an attorney doesn't seem possible, and I have lost another full year of my 10-year payment program.
I know I'm not in your state, but that's OK. I still feel you are the only person even talking about the student loan crisis. What I hope for at the very least would be a phone call from your office. What I would really like to do is fly to Boston or Washington and talk about this over lunch -- I'll buy. I'd even be willing to fight the fight with you. I'm a good public speaker and can clean up nicely when I need to -- should the TV call. I'm serious though, how can I make it through 10 years of higher education and not be able to figure this out? It should be easier to get answers. I feel for first-generation college students and others who don't have the luxury of time to sit on the phone for hours with these crooked companies.
Mom always said, "They can take everything away from you, but they can't take away your education." This is true. So true in fact, that I can't get rid of it -- with a car or a house as an asset, when financial times get tough we sell those possessions. However, I cannot sell my education to pay off my student loans. I'm stuck with them. Recognizing that millions of others are in the same situation, we need to come up with a solution to at least make the process easier to understand. I could really use your help for my own situation, and I would love to help you/others as well. My Email is firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @cgurrie. I look forward to hearing from you!
If anyone else reading this knows how to help with this consolidation process, I would love your feedback as well. We have to make it easier for borrowers to payback their loans. It shouldn't be this hard to set up a program and repay someone their money.
Respectfully, Chris Gurrie