- Cherie Vaughn, 57, has $44,000 in student debt after working in public service for decades.
- She’s waiting for her PSLF paperwork to be processed to receive debt relief.
- But she’s worried her account will not be up to date before student-loan payments resume this year.
Cherie Vaughn, 57, anticipates she’ll have to resume student-loan payments in a few months alongside millions of other borrowers.
That’s even after serving nearly three decades in public service, making her eligible for full loan forgiveness.
After Vaughn graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1993, she went right into public school teaching. She later decided to pursue her master’s and doctorate degrees in the field over the next decade. From all of those degrees combined, she held about $72,000 in student loans, and after decades of payments, that balance now stands at $44,000, according to documents reviewed by Insider.
Given her decades-long experience working in public service, Vaughn applied for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which is intended to forgive student debt for government and nonprofit workers after ten years of qualifying payments. She made use of the limited-time waiver President Joe Biden’s Education Department implemented in October 2021, which allowed borrowers to apply past payments, even those previously deemed ineligible for the program, toward relief.
That’s just what Vaughn needed, given that she originally had loans that were not held by the government and did not qualify for PSLF. She consolidated her debt in federal loans, applied for PSLF, and submitted all required documentation, but her payment status continues to state she has seven more years of payments to go.
“When you go into teaching or any public service job, honestly, it’s not for the money,” Vaughn told Insider. “So it’s very disheartening when you think that you’re entering your career and you’re going to be able to take advantage of PSLF and be able to release it in ten years, but now I’m still waiting and it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do.”
Vaughn is one of many borrowers waiting for MOHELA, the student-loan company that manages PSLF, to process her paperwork and update her payment count. The Education Department announced earlier in May that 615,000 borrowers have gotten $42 billion in debt relief since October 2021 due to the temporary waiver, and while it said it will continue processing paperwork for borrowers who submitted before the deadline, Vaughn said she’s worried the backlog won’t be resolved in time for the student-loan payment resumption this year.
Currently, payments are scheduled to resume 60 days after June 30, or 60 days after the Supreme Court issues a final decision on the legality of Biden’s broad plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers — and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona confirmed last week that his department is preparing for that resumption, with or without the broad loan forgiveness.
“I am hoping that something changes but I obviously have it in my head that the payments are going to restart, and to me it just seems just bottom line really unfair,” Vaughn said.
‘I’m not asking for anything I didn’t think I was going to get 15 years ago’
After Biden announced his broad debt relief plan in August, two conservative-backed lawsuits succeeded in pausing the implementation of that plan in November. Now, millions of borrowers are waiting for a Supreme Court decision on the legality of the relief — expected by the end of June — which will determine whether they have to resume payments with or without an up to $20,000 reduction to their balances.
But that’s not top of mind for Vaughn right now.
“I’m not asking for anything I didn’t think I was going to get 15 years ago or 20 years ago,” Vaughn said. “I guess I’m just looking for the actual public service part of this loan forgiveness. I’m not asking anybody to wipe anything clean for me other than just what I was promised, what I thought I was going to get.”
Vaughn said she’s called MOHELA and emailed the company a number of times to attempt to get any updated information on the status of her payments, and after spending nearly two hours on hold waiting to speak to a customer service representative, she said she was told that “we’re still in the process.”
“My fear is that we’re going to get to the end of the loans being frozen and we’re going to start back to payments again and I’m going to continue to pay,” she said.
Insider has previously spoken to other borrowers experiencing difficulty getting help from MOHELA, particularly when it comes to PSLF. But a core cause of the challenges that borrowers are facing is a lack of funding — while Biden requested increased funding for Federal Student Aid, Congress held the office’s funding at the same level as last year, and the long customer service wait times are a result of limited resources
That funding will also be crucial in carrying out Biden’s plans to overhaul the student-loan servicing system in the coming years and improve the customer service experience for borrowers. But the first task at hand, Vaughn said, should be fulfilling a promise made decades ago to people who spend their careers in public service — especially before they are thrown into repayment once again.
“I’m too afraid to commit to a long-term investment of any kind because I don’t know if I’m going to have a loan due soon,” Vaughn said. “The money that I would be spending on student loans well exceeds the ten years of qualifying payments, and that could have gotten toward retirement or put to better use than sitting in limbo.”
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