Episode 22: National Security Professional Reveals Personal FedLoan Trainwreck

Alan is a national security specialist living in the D.C. area. He graduated with $120,000 of student loan debt, which had now climbed to $160,000 with interest. His wife is a vice principal with about $40,000 of student loan debt herself. Both are working toward student loan forgiveness — Alan with Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and his wife with Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

Learn about Alan’s struggles with FedLoan Servicing (the servicer in charge of all things PSLF) and how loan forgiveness is unfolding for both he and his wife.  

In today’s episode, you’ll find out:

  • How Alan ended up in the national security field — and what that career is really like
  • What education is required to work in national security
  • When Alan first realized he had tons of student loan debt
  • How bad advice from his loan servicer led his loan balance ballooning
  • How the incentive structures of loan servicer call centers affect the advice you get
  • Why it’s usually best to use your prior tax returns to certify income for income-driven repayment plans
  • How student loans affect married couples filing taxes jointly or separately
  • Alan’s experience with FedLoan Servicing after inquiring about loan forgiveness
  • Why PSLF is usually the better option over Teacher Loan Forgiveness — and how both programs work
  • Why an emergency fund is essential, especially as the student loan debt crisis will likely get worse
  • Alan’s tips for dealing with the psychology of debt

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Episode 22 Transcript

Travis Hornsby [00:00:01]I’m so excited today to have Alan joining us on the Student Loan Planner Podcast. Alan, can you tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself?

Alan [00:00:08] Sure, Travis. I am a federal employee living in the D.C. area in my early 30s, and I’m married with a brand-new baby girl. I’ve had student loans mainly to fund my graduate education, which went towards getting a job in the national security field, which I’ve been doing for the last five years now. Really enjoy my job, but student loans are always that dark cloud hanging over your head that you worry about at this time in life.

Travis [00:00:33] We’re going to kind of keep things somewhat unidentifiable because we certainly don’t want to get you in trouble with anybody over in the national security world.

Alan [00:00:43] Yeah.

Travis [00:00:44] When most people are thinking about that, I think of a bunch of, like, hackers sitting in a warehouse. You know, kind of finding all these hidden clues on all our phones or computers. That there’s like an imminent terrorist attack or something. Like, I guess my view of it is probably like the CSI. How people view, you know, crime scene investigators, which is totally not like that. So is it like that really being in the national security field? Or what is that career field like?

Alan [00:01:05] No, it’s a little more mundane than that. You know, I get the same reaction for people who think that we live like the, you know, “Alias” or “24” lifestyle. But it’s the same as almost any other 9-to-5 desk job. You do a good work. You do it with everyday people. You know, you work on some interesting stuff. But we’re definitely not lurking in the shadows anywhere or anything like that. I’m working at a desk in front of a computer for eight to nine hours a day.

Travis [00:01:26] Ok, at least that’s what you have to tell us publicly.

Alan [00:01:28] Yeah, exactly.

Educational background of a national security professional

Travis [00:01:29] OK. So you’re working, you know, as a federal employee. You’re in the national security field. But you know, you probably didn’t get born into the world like that. So tell us what your experience was like before that, and tell us about what kind of educational background that you had to get yourself to where you’re at today.

Alan [00:01:46] Sure. So I actually made my first foray into this field coming out of undergrad a little bit. So I went to undergrad in Southern California. And you know, undergraduate, four years was kind of spent figuring out what I was interested in professionally and what I wanted to do as a career. And when I got out, I had a couple of jobs that kind of pushed me in this direction. And by chance an old professor of mine who I was very close with had said, you know, if you’re serious about this, it’s a good idea to go to graduate school because a lot of agencies in the national security field prefer that you have a graduate degree. So I just explored programs. I went to a grad program for two years where I concentrated in security studies because this is what I wanted to do. And I ended up landing a job in D.C. right out of graduate school. You know, it was a pretty kind of one, two, three progression from being interested in it coming out of undergrad to going through the grad program to get into the field to ultimately getting in. And I’ve been at the same agency for five years. I enjoy it very much. The work is incredibly interesting, incredibly important in my opinion, and I really can’t see doing anything else right now.

Travis [00:02:51] That’s great. So when you went to your graduate work, tell us a little about that. Was there lots of disclosures about how much things would cost? Did you just assume you were going to get a job, that you could easily pay off the debt? Were you kind of banking on forgiveness when you’ve decided what program to go to? Tell us about your psychology when you were going into graduate school.

Alan [00:03:08] Yeah, for sure. So when I was looking at programs, cost was definitely a big factor for me. I was financing my graduate degree on my own, paying it for myself and definitely looking at loans as a way to cover the majority of the costs, if not all of it. Some programs had financial assistance in-house that they were willing to provide. The program that I picked also had financial assistance, but it was a lot smaller than other programs I had applied to or that I was looking at. So I ultimately chose my program because it was a really good program, and I enjoyed it very much. And I was willing to take on the financial burden when I got to graduate school. And then I had spoken with other people who had gone through the program. They had said, you know, look, if you want to go work in the government or in certain sectors, there are ways to tackle your student loan debt. Some employers will help you pay off your debt. Some employers will give you subsidies. There is — And early on in graduate school, I had heard about loan forgiveness. I mean, probably my first few months in my grad program. So I thought to myself, oh, this is great because if I actually go into this field, there’s a chance that I can have this massive amount of debt I’m about to incur either forgiven at some later point or reduced in a major way. And it wasn’t until I actually got out of graduate school and started managing this on my own and really investigating that I figured out the ins and outs of the programs that are available and what is required to even get on the path to loan forgiveness.

Alan realized he owed a ton of student loan debt

Travis [00:04:35] Sure. Now when did you first figure out that you owed a bunch of money?

Alan [00:04:38] When I did my exit counseling for my loans. All my loans are with the government. They’re Stafford or Direct Loans. And so I remember doing an exit interview when I finished my grad program, and it was one of those surveys or interviews you do online that says, you know, you understand how much debt you’ve just taken on. You understand that there are different programs or different options for paying it off that can be tied to your income or not. And it was really — I viewed it as a, ‘you know what you’re doing, right?’ questionnaire. And I felt like I did to an extent, but it wasn’t until I talked to my loan servicer about what my options were in a phone call that I really understood not how much I owe per se but how long it might take to pay it off.

Travis [00:05:22] That’s great. So when you left school, Alan, how much debt did you have in total?

Alan [00:05:28] When I left my graduate program, I owed somewhere in the ballpark of $120,000.

Travis [00:05:34] Ok, and how much do you owe today?

Alan [00:05:35] Today unfortunately my debt has climbed to somewhere close to $155,000, maybe $160,000.

Travis [00:05:43] Ok, that’s very normal, just so you know.

Alan [00:05:45] That’s good to know.

Travis [00:05:46] Yeah. It just grows and grows because, you know, if you’re paying on an income-driven plan, you’re paying less than the amount that you actually have that’s accruing every month. And so your interest is going to pile up. I’ve seen people that have added hundreds of thousands of dollars on top of what they’ve actually borrowed initially. So you’re actually not in as bad of a shape as a lot of people. Ok, so you’ve got the $120,000 of debt, and then you get, you know, a job in the national security field. What was your first salary right out of grad school?

Alan [00:06:08] Right out of grad school, I was making $50,000. In the D.C. area at the time, that was manageable — but barely manageable. I mean, I could pay my rent. I could pay my bills. I could split cable costs, split internet costs, split grocery costs with my roommates. But $50,000 in the D.C. area at the time was on the wire.

Travis [00:06:33] Yeah. That’s like living minimum wage anywhere else basically.

Alan [00:06:36] Pretty much.

Bad advice from a loan servicer led to Alan’s student loans ballooning

Travis [00:06:37] Yeah, it takes some creativity to survive. So you’ve got $50,000 of income, and you’ve got $120,000 of debt. And your six-month grace period ends. Did you consolidate right away? Did you just decide, ok, I’m going to start making payments? You know, what was the first moment where you realized, ok, I’ve got to get signed up for an income-driven repayment plan?

Alan [00:06:54] So the first moment was remembering my exit interview and remembering the Standard repayment amount that they had quoted in the exit interview. And I want to say that it was somewhere on the order of $1,500 a month. I knew I couldn’t afford that. I knew there was no way that I was going to be able to pay rent, pay [for] groceries, pay bills and loans and have any savings, if not lose money.

Alan [00:07:15] So the first thing I did was I contacted my loan servicer at the time, and I was just very upfront with them. I said, look, I’m a little nervous. I don’t think I can afford to do this. I don’t know if I need to find a cheaper place to live. And really, I had moved in with two friends from grad school, so I was splitting rent about as to a manageable level as much as I could. And the loan servicer was actually really nice about it. He was really understanding. He said, look, there are options that you can take right now to make this a little more manageable.

Alan [00:07:46] And the first thing that he actually recommended was that I basically take a year to not pay anything. And the way he advised I do that is he said, did you make any money the year prior when you were a second-year grad school student? I said no. I mean, I was a student worker in my program working in one of the departments there, but I made maybe a couple thousand dollars in the year. And he said, well, you can file your tax return for that year to demonstrate that at this moment, you really don’t have much income. You don’t have much in savings, and we can essentially recommend that you go a year without making payments. What I didn’t know was that that just meant interest continues piling up, and you do nothing about it. So that by the time that year had passed, well, my loans and my debt got a lot larger.

Travis [00:08:33] So you’re saying he recommended forbearance instead of getting on an income-based repayment program?

Alan [00:08:37] Essentially, because he said the forbearance year would give me a little bit of breathing room or relief to save some money, which I guess at the time, I thought it would as well. I just didn’t realize how much my overall debt would increase. And then once that year of forbearance ended, I contacted them again. They said income-based repayment is the best option for you because, you know, a year later my salary had gone up to the low $60,000s. So I still didn’t have that much money to throw on student loans. My rent had gone up as well. So again, cost of living continues to increase, salary increases a bit. But the loans went up in a major way, and income-based repayment was the only option I had.

How incentive structures at loan servicer call centers affect the advice you’re given

Travis [00:09:18] So let’s talk about that a little bit. So the forbearance thing, that’s been a big point of complaints that have been filed with the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) and a lot of other places that you’ve seen out there that people can file complaints against their loan servicers. So people react to incentives, right? And so the loan servicer had that conversation with you, and these people are having lots and lots of conversations every day. And they’re judged by the length of their phone conversations. So in that length of a phone conversation being the main statistic or one of the main statistics they’re judged on, that means that that conversation that they have a talk with you about income-based repayment, that’s probably a 10-minute conversation whereas forbearance is maybe a three-minute conversation, right. I wonder what your thoughts are on that. Did you get that sense?

Alan [00:10:00] Not really. Again, I couldn’t really tell how candid and forthcoming the servicer was being. Mostly because when I kind of poured by grievances and my concerns out to him, I felt that he was being very understanding. We must have been on the phone for at least half an hour, and he kind of took this very relaxed attitude with me. And you know, his cadence was very friendly. He was saying things like, look, I completely understand where you’re coming from. This is a really difficult situation, to be honest. A lot of people don’t do this, but I think it’s the best way to get yourself on track to save some money to start paying off bigger chunks. Forbearance is probably the way to go. Give yourself a year. And I think I just naturally trusted that dynamic between myself and the servicer. I really liked his attitude, and I liked that — I felt that he was being honest with me.

Alan [00:10:47] It took me a while to really understand, once I actually saw how my debt went up, that maybe that wasn’t the best option at the time. I probably could have made some small payments right away. But it wasn’t until later that I realized that people who had also done forbearance had had similar challenges, and that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea for me.

Travis [00:11:08] Yeah, that makes sense. Well, so it seems like the person in your case might have just given you not the best advice or at least not the complete advice that you needed. But I think that, at least in my experience, at the global servicer level — I actually worked in a call center for about three months. I did a rotational program, and we rotated through different parts of this big financial company. And I got to see what it was like to be in a call center. And wow, it is an intense place to work because usually people only call in this day and age when they’re really upset about something, right. Or they really can’t find something online.

Alan [00:11:39] Oh yeah.

Travis [00:11:39] You don’t get those pleasant calls that’s like, oh, you know, what’s — what is my bank account balance say today, like you did in the 1980s or something. So if you’re a call center person, what’s interesting is you don’t get any reward for doing over and above the call of duty, right. So if I spend time with you and give you an amazing plan or an amazing piece of advice, and I do that 20 times a day, I’m going to get a 5% raise that year instead of a 3% raise. So the flipside of that is if I give you bad information, or if I give you, say like, if I do a couple security violations over and over again, that’s what’s going to get me fired. So you’re not going to get probably rewarded for the good stuff you do, but you are going to get punished for the bad stuff you do. And the bad stuff you do is whatever the management of the call center defines as the bad stuff.

Travis [00:12:27] So it tends to go in these cycles with these call centers where at one point, they’ll say, well, the average length of the phone call is what’s important. Then they’ll focus on first-call resolution. And then there will be a new change in management, and then it will go back to being the average length of the phone call. Right? So it kind of goes between fixing the problem and not caring about the length of the phone call, and then it goes back to the costs, basically, of the of the call center and minimizing those.

Travis [00:12:50] So that’s how the call centers are in general with the federal servicers. They get paid a flat fee per one servicer, no matter what. And they know that there’s, you know, three or four of them that are so big that the government can’t really operate without them. The real threat is that FedLoan will lose all of its contracts, and they would all go to where? Well, you could say that they could go to, like, Nelnet or Great Lakes, which have better customer service scores. And they could probably take the additional volume. But are you going to send it to Navient. I mean, imagine if Navient had all the PSLF contracting. Would people be that much happier? I don’t really think so.

Alan [00:13:21] Oh yeah, for sure.

Why it’s usually best to use your prior tax returns to certify your income for income-driven repayment

Travis [00:13:22] So I don’t know. So just going back and forth about this, it just seems like — So you started off getting, you know, kind of the typical forbearance advice a lot of people get instead of the hey, maybe you could pay based on your income. You were presented with the option — When you did get on income-based repayment, did they tell you to certify based off of your current pay stubs or based on prior tax returns? What did that look like?

Alan [00:13:42] Well they gave me two options, which was the pay stub or current pay form or my tax returns. And interestingly enough, I don’t know if this is common with other listeners or other people who use your services, but they strongly recommended that I use my prior year tax returns. I never fully understood why, but I remember them pushing that recommendation. This was my previous servicer before my loans transferred over to FedLoan Servicing. So that was something that I just — I clung to without thinking and ran with their advice but never pondered why that was the number one recommendation for them in terms of certifying my employment and certifying my salary.

Travis [00:14:20] Yeah. I think it’s because it’s the easiest option because tax returns, a 1040 all looks the same. Whereas a pay stub is probably going to look pretty different depending on what kind of employer you work with. It’s a lot easier to process with a tax return probably. But if you think about it, you’re supposed to include all sources of your income, so you’re supposed to include your wages, your dividends or any other taxable income you’re getting on the side. Rental income. Distributions from businesses. You’re supposed to include all that. So what better place to do that is there than a tax return?

Alan [00:14:49] Yeah, make perfect sense.

Travis [00:14:50] It’s got all of it on there. If you have to sign an affidavit of what you’re making, then you’re still under the same penalty of perjury because you’re supposed to be truthful with it. But it’s still really difficult to put what you actually earn on there. I tell people almost every time, certify with a tax return because it’s the most honest, ethical way to show what you’re making.

Travis [00:15:07] Now, one gray area that kind of frustrates me that I wish that the Department of Education would make a ruling on is if you’re a resident physician and you made $60,000 last year, but now you’re an attending physician and you’re making $200,000, they ask you for your prior your tax return. Obviously, your income now is not same as what you did make in the past, right.

Alan [00:15:26] Right.

Travis [00:15:27] But people certify with those prior tax returns. And right now, we tend to tell the clients to do that because we go off on the theory of, well, you haven’t earned your full year’s worth of attending income yet, or you haven’t earned your full year’s worth of higher income. If you want to take it outside the medical space, you haven’t earned that yet. So I think that the issue with that is it’s a gray area. It’s just not clear because there’s never been a clear answer by the Department of Education as to what is acceptable and what isn’t. So in this gray area, we’re basically kind of just saying, we’ll just use your prior tax return every year. And you know, if you have a drastic drop in your income, then you can report that. But otherwise, just keep using your prior tax return, and just don’t worry about it. I don’t know. It’s not a good system, is it?

If you’re married, student loans affect filing taxes jointly or separately

Alan [00:16:07] Yeah, I mean the challenge that I also didn’t see with using the tax returns is the game changes a bit for me when I got married because now you’re dealing with two incomes. You’re dealing with two sets of student loan debt. And I remember the first year that my wife and I were filing our tax returns, we went and actually talked to a CPA to see what made the most sense in terms of our filing status. And again, I don’t know if this is common with a lot of your listeners, but the CPA said filing separately is going to make more sense for you. Because I discovered that when we tried to file jointly, my loan servicer at FedLoan had then said, well, we’re going to base your payments off of your combined income. And that shot my payments up exceptionally. Same with my wife. We just sat there scratching our heads, wondering, I don’t understand how this is a manageable situation for us because now our loan repayments — or at least the quoted loan amount on income-based repayment plans — is going up so much just because they’re looking at a combined income. Well, ok, we’ll file separately. We lose then, however, a lot of the advantages you get filing jointly. That’s something that I never would have seen coming.

Travis [00:17:11] So you’re currently filing separately for taxes?

Alan [00:17:13] We are. Yes.

Travis [00:17:14] Yeah. So that’s a great thing to talk about because I’ve seen this with a lot with FedLoan. So you’ll file jointly for taxes. And they’ll make a mistake, and they’ll include both of your incomes twice in your loan repayment. So what’s supposed to happen is you’re supposed to take your total in debt, and you’re supposed to take your total marital income. You come up with an IBR (Income-Based Repayment), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Pay As You Earn (PAYE) payment based off of both of your incomes together. Right? So you figure that out at your kind of global marital level, and then you have a payment. Let’s say it’s $1,000 a month, and let’s say you have 75% of the debt. And let’s say your spouse has 25%. So they take that $1,000 a month payment, and they apply it proportionately. So they apply $750 a month to your loans, and $250 a month to your wife’s loans in this kind of theory example. So the issue with that is a lot of times they’ll just say, oh, the payment is $2,000 because they double count things, and they just mess up. So that’s unfortunate that that happened to you.

Travis [00:18:09] Now we’re going to talk about this a little bit later because you have a special circumstance. But I’ll say that probably of the people that hire us, I would say that thinking about getting married or actually getting married and trying to navigate the finances with student loan surrounding that is a huge pain point. It’s probably why nearly two-thirds to three-fourths of our clients are either thinking about getting married or are married because that’s just a big, stressful situation at the end to try to figure out, like, married filing separate, married filing joint. You know, what do you do with my loans? How do I handle my spouse’s loans? What do we do with our retirement plans? Like, should you max years, or should I max mine? And it just — There’s so many different decisions, it makes you just want to throw up. So.

Alan [00:18:47] Yeah, it’s really just one of those things that we never saw coming. And I think if somebody had told me that coming out of graduate school that if you get married, it really complicates your filing status, I won’t say that I will have not considered getting married, for sure. But my wife and I definitely would have talked about it because if we had known this could have complicated our filing situation when tax time rolls around, we may have taken a beat and said, hey, let’s think about the best way to do this where we can continue paying our bills and save some money, if we can at all.

Travis [00:19:18] Well, Alan, I’m personally responsible for breaking up families. So I’ve had at least one client; they were a married couple. I did some analysis for them, and I said ok, being married is costing you $10,000 a year. And they said, ok, cool, we’re going to get divorced tomorrow. And I said, wait what? And they said, well, I mean like, you’re telling us, like, the numbers don’t lie. It’s $10,000 year to be married. You know, to us, being married is like a spiritual commitment. It’s not anything to do with a piece of paper or what the government says. So we’re just going to go down to the courthouse and fill out the, like, you know, the free divorce papers or something. And we’re just going to get it witnessed by whoever we can find. And we’re just not going to worry about dividing the assets and stuff. We’re just going to be married and keep living together and keep going by each other’s last names. And we’re just going to be able to not have to deal with this loan annoyance anymore. And I thought, oh my gosh. So the next 20 minutes I spent trying to talk him out of it. You feel pretty good about your analysis. But then when somebody is literally going to get divorced over it, you’re like, oh my gosh, this better be 1,000% accurate. So.

Alan [00:20:18] That went sideways on you pretty fast.

Travis [00:20:20] Yeah exactly. I was like, oh shoot, what did I do? You know? So for all the families I’ve split up, I prevented many families from actually getting together too. So you know, what will often happen in my experience, very few people actually that are already married say like, ok, we’re going to split just because of this loan thing, you know, and still be married. What I usually see is people that are going to get married will instead do spiritual marriage instead of legal marriage. They will be married. They’ll have a party. They’ll have a ceremony. They’ll invite all their friends and family. They’ll have a rabbi or priest or pastor or justice of the peace, whoever they want. Right? And they’ll do the ceremony, but they just won’t turn in the paperwork. And that’s totally legal. I think in most states, there’s nothing wrong with that. And then that allows you to do filing single, and it might save you a lot of money on your student loans. But you know, most people in my experience, they’re willing to pay that $1,000 a month or more just to be able to say that they’re married legally. It just seems like people just don’t want to deal with the hassle. They’d rather pay more in taxes or more in student loans. So it’s kind of wacko, really.

Alan [00:21:17] Yeah. And we’ve just decided to bite that bullet and go ahead with life as is, which is manageable to say, but we just — We never would have seen that coming in terms of filing status. These are all the things again, like we said at the start of this, that you’d never hear about when you’re first taking on your loans and figuring out how to pay them off.

Alan’s experience with FedLoan Servicing

Travis [00:21:35] So tell us a little bit about your experience with FedLoan. So tell us about the first time you applied for PSLF (Public Service Loan Forgiveness) and what happened, what they came back to you with. So like, the payment count you were expecting and what they actually came back with. And then what you did next.

Alan [00:21:46] Sure. So when my loans transferred from my previous servicer to FedLoan, I remember receiving the notice, and the notice was sent to me because I had inquired about loan forgiveness. So my assumption was that if you apply for loan forgiveness, if you inquire about it or if you indicate in any way shape or form that that’s what you want, your loans either automatically get transferred to FedLoan, or your servicer says we’re going to put you in touch with FedLoan because that’s what they do. I got the notice from FedLoan. I had to do a couple of things upfront. One was I had to re-certify what my income was just so that FedLoan didn’t see any discrepancies or that there wasn’t a major change between them servicing my loans and my previous servicer or my income. That made sense to me.

Alan [00:22:33] The second thing I had to do, which I hadn’t seen before, was certify my employment. And I remember when I researched the loan forgiveness program, I had not heard about that before. The tag line that I remember everybody saying about the loan forgiveness program when I first looked into it was — it’s 10 years of payments, and then your loans are wiped out. It was like the best bumper sticker line you could have for a loan forgiveness program. Ten years, that’s it? There was no mention of consecutive nature of the payments. There was no mention of conditions, of what needed to be certified with FedLoan in order to qualify for forgiveness. So I thought that this was great. I certified my employment. I sent it in. FedLoan recalculated my income-based repayment plan because the third thing that I had to do was again re-file a new income-based repayment plan with FedLoan.

Alan [00:23:19] I did all that, came back, and they said, great. You’re on income-based repayment. We’re your loan servicer. You are applying for loan forgiveness. So we will help you track it. And I thought that was all well and good. So to start out, FedLoan didn’t seem all that different from my previous servicer. The people weren’t as friendly when I called to ask questions, but I didn’t feel any frustration with FedLoan until my first notice came of how many qualifying payments I had made towards forgiveness. Because when I looked at that notice and looked at the number, the first thought in my head is there is absolutely no way the number is that low. And that was the first entry point for me into my now multi-year period of frustration with FedLoan and their accounting practices when it comes to qualifying payments towards forgiveness.

Travis [00:24:11] Yeah. We had an experience — that’s the article that you found us with, the “FedLoan Servicing Cost Us $20 Grand.” So for my wife, when she sent that in and she got that form back, they found that half of her loans had, like, 27 months of payments, and then half of them had one month of payments. And she had been in training for not-for-profit hospital for seven years at that point, and I thought, you know, ok, I could see you being like, ok, we only have record of one payment. Right? And I could see them saying for all of it because they just didn’t get the paperwork from the old loan servicer. Like, that would be rational. And I could see them saying like, oh, you have 27 months of credit on all of it because there was some forbearance that didn’t count. But like, to have it split like that I thought was just the most bizarre thing. So I feel your pain, Alan. So you sent that in, and your payment count was off. Can you say again how much was it off by?

Alan [00:25:02] My own calculation was if I actually started paying back towards my loans after my year of forbearance about five years ago — so this would have been 2014-ish — then by the time I received that notice, which was in 2017, I should have somewhere on the order of two, 2.5 years of payments documented. But, as you mentioned, they split each of my loans out separately, and each loan had 10 qualifying payments towards it. And I didn’t understand that because every time I got a monthly statement from FedLoan whenever I made a payment, they indicated to which loans that payment was distributed. You know, you make one lump sum payment, and they distribute it across whatever loans that you have that you’ve consolidated, which is the other thing that I did right after I got out of graduate school, right after my forbearance year, because it was strongly recommended to me if you had all federal loans or all loans owned by the Department of Education, consolidate them. Ensure they’re consolidated, and it will make things easier.

Alan [00:26:03] So I saw 10 payments and didn’t hit the roof, but said, no, there’s something going on here. And I called FedLoan and said there’s absolutely no way that I’ve made a total of 10 payments. I should emphasize the letter indicated a total in 2.5 years of 10 payments. And I said there’s absolutely no way that’s true. I’ve got documents from my previous loan servicer that show when I made my payments. I kept receipts of everything. And I started to get suspicious and keep track of all this long ago because my wife had started to have problems with her loans and her loan servicer because she was going towards teacher forgiveness. So out of pure paranoia, I said, I’m just going to keep records of everything and ensure that I can do the best accounting of my own abilities. I contacted FedLoan — and this probably was maybe mid- to late-2017 — and said, I think something’s off. I need you to recount my loans because there’s no way I’ve made 10 payments.

Alan [00:27:01] Luckily for me, I received a letter about a month later saying, you’re right, you’ve made more than just 10 payments. You’ve made 10 qualifying payments towards each of these loans, and the number itself actually adds up to 30-ish. So they said, in some, you’re 90-ish payments away from loan forgiveness. And they gave me an eligibility date. Now that was something that I clung to because the eligibility date for planning purposes, you know, if you want to have kids or if you’re thinking of moving, is a big deal. It’s also tied to benchmarks in my federal career in terms of federal service because there are ramifications for federal service when you hit certain benchmarks. Like three years, five years, 10 years in terms of your health care benefits, other benefits, service benefits, what have you. So I was trying to align all these things up on a calendar. I felt good seeing an eligibility date of 2024 because now I felt, ok, this tracks with what I’ve been tracking, so everything’s back on track. I feel good, and that’s pretty much where I left it. In 2017, I thought, ok, we’re on track. It wasn’t until a few months ago that things kind of came off the rails again.

Travis [00:28:13] Ok, let’s talk about that. So things came off the rails in 2017. So what happened in that moment?

Alan [00:28:19] So I was now used to this cycle with FedLoan of every year submitting your W-2 or your tax returns for your income-based repayment plan. I was used to now certifying your employment. And after doing some digging, getting things back on track with FedLoan, I did more research into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. I wanted to know, was I doing everything that I needed to do to get on track for forgiveness? Because this little accounting mistake that I see does not give me the warm fuzzy that I’d like to have. And that’s when I started to learn about the specific criterion for loan forgiveness that apparently had not been communicated well by the Department of Education and other servicers to borrowers. And as I understand it today, there were four key criteria. One was that you work for a qualifying employer, and you have to demonstrate annually that you still work for them. Two was that you have loans that are owned by the Department of Education or the federal government. I don’t know if the federal government part is true. Maybe it’s just Department of Education loans. But I knew that if you had loans with the private servicer, that didn’t qualify for forgiveness. I found that out unfortunately through a friend of mine who tried to consolidate his loans and apply for loan forgiveness and received notice that he would not be eligible because some of his loans were privately owned. The third thing was this 10-year bumper sticker I talked about earlier. They really mean 120 payments — and 120 consecutive payments.

Travis [00:29:47] Well actually, no it’s — Actually, that’s not true. So.

Alan [00:29:49] Oh good.

Travis [00:29:50] It’s cumulative payments. So 120 —

Alan [00:29:53] That’s good.

Travis [00:29:53] Yeah. So 120 payments can actually be broken up. You can go from the government to the private sector, back to the government, back to the private sector and then finish at a charity. And over 15 years. And as always, you’ve got 10 years of cumulative credit, you actually can qualify. So glad to clear that up.

Alan [00:30:08] That’s a huge relief for me because I was concerned that the consecutive nature of the payments was going to lock me into staying in a certain field. If, you know, somewhere down the road, I maybe want to venture into the private sector or what not, I couldn’t. So that’s good to know. And then the fourth criteria, perhaps you can correct me if I’m wrong here, was I remember hearing and reading about income limitations. And I don’t know if that ever was true or is still true today. But I think that’s tied to your income-based repayment, that if you make a certain amount per year that doesn’t qualify for an IDR plan, they just automatically put you on a Standard plan. Maybe you can help educate me there.

Why PSLF is usually the better option versus Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Travis [00:30:46] Sure. So to set the stage for what we’re going to talk about next. Before I get there, your wife is a vice principal and —

Alan [00:30:53] Correct.

Travis [00:30:53] — has about $40,000 of federal debt?

Alan [00:30:54] Yeah $40,000 to $50,000, somewhere in there.

Travis [00:30:56] Ok. And she’s going for Teacher Loan Forgiveness and —

Alan [00:30:59] Correct.

Travis [00:31:00] — is she going for the version that’s $5,000 or $17,500?

Alan [00:31:04] I believe that she’s going for the $17,500. She has had a heck of a time with her own forgiveness mostly because the documentation required for Teacher Loan Forgiveness is much more burdensome, in my opinion, than Public Service Loan Forgiveness. She’s had to chase down previous employers. She has to get specific signatures from specific people from her previous schools. Otherwise it doesn’t count. So it’s been a whole saga in and of itself.

Travis [00:31:32] Yeah. So this is the part where it kind of really makes my blood boil at how foolishly a lot of these programs were put together. And I’m just going to say that. I mean, maybe I’ll make some people mad at me for saying that. If anybody worked in Congress, I’m sorry, but you were all a bunch of idiots when you put this thing together. So Teacher Loan Forgiveness and Public Service Loan Forgiveness cannot count for one another at the same time. So you can’t be simultaneously enrolled in Teacher Loan Forgiveness and Public Service Loan Forgiveness, right. The problem is most teachers are going to pay somewhere between $100 and $400 dollars a month on their loans if they’re on an income-driven plan like Pay As You Earn or Revised Pay As You Earn. And that payment is going to result in a forgiven balance if you have more than $30,000 of debt, if you’re single. It’s a little bit more complicated if you’re married. But that’s just kind of a general rule.

Travis [00:32:19] So Teacher Loan Forgiveness, you have to work five years. PSLF, have to work 10 years. So Teacher Loan Forgiveness, you’re doing all this work to get $17,500 forgiven, but then you still have the rest of it to go that you have to pay. So you do your Teacher Loan Forgiveness. And let’s say you’ve got $50,000, and so you pay a minimal amount. And you get your $17,500 forgiven, which that’s only for very highly qualified teachers and very select specialties, like secondary math and science teachers, special education teachers, that kind of thing. It’s very limited who gets that $17,500 Teacher Loan Forgiveness. Most people get the $5,000 version.

Alan [00:32:55] Yeah. For my wife, what’s been challenging is when she moved to D.C. and got into the education field here, she found employment with a lot of charter schools in the area. That really is kind of one of the big education fields here in D.C. is all the charter networks that have popped up around the city. And unfortunately for her, what made this particularly challenging is that one of her charter schools closed that she had to work at. So finding someone from that charter school — a vice principal, a principal, anybody in the administration — has been challenging in and of itself. You have to track them down on your own. And if you don’t get them to verify that you worked there because you have to demonstrate your five-year window of qualified employment in a public or charter school, whatever counts as qualified, and you can’t find them, or you do find them, you still on your own accord have to get all these documents to them, get signatures on them and do it within a specific time period. So in her case, she’s able to certify her last four years of employment with her current charter school. But that one signature from that one administrator at the charter school that’s now closed is all that’s standing between her and potentially forgiveness. She’s not even sure that if she were to actually get forgiveness or if she were to actually get that signature, is that the only obstacle left for her to get that specific balance wiped out or at least addressed in some way? She just has no clue. And we’ve looked left and right for resources on how to educate us to that.

Travis [00:34:21] Yeah. So here’s what I would be doing in a perfect world. If you could go back, all the way back to the very beginning and change this — you know, you can’t really change what’s been done so far. But what I would have done instead is if you can budget well enough to put aside as much as you can into retirement savings, then instead of having her do Teacher Loan Forgiveness, I would have had her do Public Service Loan Forgiveness from the very beginning. And the reason for that is even though she only has $50,000 of debt and like $100,000 of income or something like that, because you’re a marital unit and you have more, your debt-to-income ratio as a couple is, you know, right around 1-to-1, which you would think is ok, well, you know, I have to worry about my income capping me out. I’m not going to get loan forgiveness, right.

Alan [00:35:04] Right.

Travis [00:35:06] But the reality is your combined Standard plan should be right around $2,000 to $2,200 a month if you include both of your debts at this point. And so say it’s just $2,000 to make the math easy. So if your payment under an income-driven plan is below $2,000 a month, if you’re filing taxes jointly, then remember your payment is allocated proportionally. So you don’t have anything to worry about if your payment is below $2,000. And one way to kind of guarantee that is if you’re contributing a lot of money to your pre-tax TSP and to her 403b, that your income is going to be lower. So if you contribute absolutely nothing to retirement, then I calculated your payment before this, and it would be about $1,300 a month based on your income. So that’s if you’re filing taxes jointly. And so you lose some money when you file taxes separately. The main thing I think for you all would be the child tax credit because that gets cut in half when you file taxes separately.

Alan [00:35:58] Right.

Travis [00:35:58] So that’s a loss of about a thousand bucks. And you might have a very slight increase in marginal tax amount, but it’s not going to be very much. So I would wager pretty confidently that with one child, you’re looking at about $100 a month tax penalty. So you take the $700 you’re paying on IBR, add the $100 for the tax penalty, that’s about $800 a month that you’re paying towards just your loans. Now how much is your wife paying on her loans with Teacher Loan Forgiveness right now?

Alan [00:36:22] She’s on, I believe, a Standard plan that has her around $900 a month. And I don’t know if income-based repayment was actually offered to her, or if she just opted to go for the Standard plan. Because when I’ve asked her about it, we talked about it, her mentality was, I just want to pay this off as quickly as possible in the event that Teacher Forgiveness goes bottom up —

Travis [00:36:45] Doesn’t happen.

Alan [00:36:46] — and yeah, exactly. She just wanted to hedge her bets and say, let me just [pay] this debt down as fast as I can.

Travis [00:36:52] Did she ever consolidate her loans like you did?

Alan [00:36:53] She consolidated.

Travis [00:36:54] OK. So you both got these consolidated loans. So if we could go back from the very beginning, then the $1,300 a month payment — if you’re putting a lot of money into retirement — could be dropped down to only $1,000 a month because you’re shielding your income from the student loan people by putting it into retirement. Let’s say you’re at a $1,000 a month payment, and you’re paying proportionately based on the size of your loans. You’ve got about 75% of the debts. So about $750 would go to yours and $250 would go to hers, and you’d be able to file taxes jointly. Now the other thing that’s cool about that is at this point, she would have had about four or five years of PSLF credit as well. And then for an additional five years of payments for both of you, she could be paying this $250 a month instead of $900 a month. And then at the end of those 10 years, her remaining $50,000 balance, whatever that amount would be, would be forgiven completely instead of having only $17,500 forgiven.

Travis [00:37:46] So one of the things that makes my blood boil about this is the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is actually the worst possible program you could sign up for for teachers that have more than $30,000 of student loan debt. How stupid is that?

Alan [00:38:00] Again, these are the things that you wish you knew before. And we’re dealing with the circumstances as is. But this is the information that we can only find by going to websites like yours and finding people like you because our servicers never communicated that to us. There was never a communication that those were options for my wife. I don’t even know if Public Service Loan Forgiveness was communicated to her as an option by her employer or by her loan servicers because she had been pushed from day one towards Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

Travis [00:38:29] And to be fair, if you’re making $15 an hour, there is zero chance that you would understand the complexity behind this. And if you are given a program that says Teacher Loan Forgiveness and you find out that somebody is in education and is a teacher and is on the phone with you, of course you would offer them Teacher Loan Forgiveness and tell them to do that. Right?

Alan [00:38:51] Right.

Travis [00:38:51] Because it literally — It literally says Teacher Loan Forgiveness. So yes, we can blame the loan servicers, but really, I do think that the biggest burden of guilt of all of this lies on the way everything was designed. It was the kind of thing that was — It was designed with the right intentions, but they kind of set it up to be a disastrous failure. And you know, it’s going to hopefully get better. Hopefully it’ll get more streamlined. Maybe I can go do something different. Become a professional travel blogger. Maybe that space is too crowded, right?

Alan [00:39:20] Yeah.

Travis [00:39:22] So let’s talk about a little bit what you can do now that you have your situation as is. So the problem with consolidation loans is you cannot get onto the Standard 10-year plan and have it count for PSLF anymore. It’s really weird why that is. But if you have Direct Loans that are not consolidated, that Standard 10-year plan is always an option. When you have consolidated your loans, it’s not an option unless you’re on either the PAYE plan or the IBR plan. So Pay As You Earn and IBR. And if you’re on one of those two plans, the payment amount is capped at whatever the Standard 10-year plan is when you hit that. You never have to pay more than that.

Travis [00:39:59] So for your situation, I think that, you know, rather than doing Teacher Loan Forgiveness, I would probably first see if you’re eligible for PAYE, Pay As You Earn, because that’s a 10% of your income plan. And then you can file your taxes jointly instead of separately. And then you could both be on that plan, and she could basically give up on Teacher Loan Forgiveness. That’s something that I would suggest if she is thinking about sticking with the educational field. If she’s thinking about going into the private sector, then maybe the Teacher Loan Forgiveness would actually be a great option, especially if she can get the $17,500. So sure, there is some nuance to it. But if she’s really committed, like, that ‘I’m going to be full time here, you know, in this school district for 20 years,’ then I think that doing PAYE and filing joint to get that cap on your payments would be the way to go. And if you’re still thinking like, hey, you know, I might like to just file a joint, and maybe I’m not eligible for Pay As You Earn. Let’s say that you’re only eligible for Revised Pay As You Earn and IBR because — Did you have any loans outstanding prior to, say, 2007?

Alan [00:41:01] I did not. Neither did my wife.

Travis [00:41:02] So neither one of you did. You should be eligible for it. That would be my first choice because of the cap on the payments. So FedLoan will send you a terrifying document saying you are no longer eligible to pay based on your income. Right? It’s going to be terrifying looking. It’s going to make you think that you committed a crime. And you just basically rip it up and throw it in the trash because if you call, they’re going to tell you to switch to a Revised Pay As You Earn, which has no cap. And then once you’re off of that partial financial hardship, you can’t switch back into the plan to get the payments capped.

Travis [00:41:31] So basically the best thing you can do is just have that plan established really well at the front end and have everything predictable, and you know exactly what’s coming. And then you can be prepared for all this weird misinformation you’re going to get.

Travis [00:41:44] So you — Say you can’t do Pay As You Earn. Then Revised Pay As You Earn would give you a lower payment combined for sure. So instead of paying $900 for her and $700 for yours plus tax penalties, your $1,600 a month payment plus the $100 a month of tax penalties would drop to $1,300 at most if you did filing jointly for Revised Pay As You Earn. Now that doesn’t qualify for Teacher Loan Forgiveness, right, because you can’t use both of them at the same time. But if she’s like, well, it’s such a pain in the butt anyway. And if she finds out that, hey, I can’t even get the $17,500; I’m only going to be getting the $5,000 one that’s more broadly available, then wow, that’s a waste of time. She could just get on that Revised Pay As You Earn plan, and you could too.

Travis [00:42:29] And then what’s cool is, you know, yeah, there’s no cap on your payments, but hey, guess what? Y’all are in public sector work, right? So nobody’s expecting your incomes to exponentially grow unless you left that field, in which case, your debt-to-income ratio would be at a level where you probably would just go ahead and just refinance and try to get rid of it as fast as you can if you’ve got a big income increase, right?

Alan [00:42:52] Exactly. We’re not expecting to make gobs of money in the field of work that we’re in, and that’s fine by us. Let alone when your annual salary adjustment is canceled or, you know, by executive order, just, you know, wiped out altogether.

Why an emergency fund is essential

Travis [00:43:05] Yeah. People fear a lot of things in student loan land. They definitely fear PSLF going away. They fear some executive orders just changing everything. And you really shouldn’t. You know, you can make plans and set up things really well for the long term and just live your life, you know. So let’s talk about any of your friends they got impacted, I guess, with the government shutdown those — a few months back. Did anything happen bad with that within your friend group?

Alan [00:43:29] There were a couple of cases of people who were impacted, not in any way that would render them homeless or put into a financial circumstance from which they couldn’t recover. I think that at least for my friends’ sake, they were able to plan around this situation just because they’ve had to deal with these difficult financial circumstances for years having to manage this amount of debt. But when you’re furloughed or put out of work and you still have to make payments, the biggest challenge is talking to your loan servicer about your situation and seeing if there is a way to either pause or reduce payments when there is no paycheck coming in, and you still have to make payments that are a few hundred if not close to a thousand dollars a month. You feel that pain really fast.

Alan [00:44:10] A couple of my friends definitely felt that. They were able to ride it out until they were able to go back to work, but it’s just one of those things that — Now this is another thing that you have to plan for. What if — and you never think about it really as a federal employee — what if the government gets shut down, or I’m prevented from going to work? But now this is something that you have to take into account when you’re doing all your financial planning is, let’s just say, for example, there’s another issue down the line that forces some sort of standoff, and the government shuts down again. Now friends of mine are going to have to think, well, do I have to step into retirement savings to pay off bills? Do I have to borrow money? God forbid they have to take out other loans. In the case of one of my friends, he did actually have to take out another small loan to pay off some of his debts because he didn’t get a paycheck, and I can’t imagine going through that. But it’s just one of those things that became his reality.

Travis [00:45:02] Yeah. I think that the advice that I like to give people is your emergency fund is an emergency. You need three months of expenses in that thing, and if you don’t have it, you need to beg, borrow and steal and eat ramen noodles until you have it.

Alan [00:45:14] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Travis [00:45:14] And that’s not saying that you pay off all your debts living like that extreme lifestyle. But I think that there’s a couple unforced errors that a lot of people do. So you know, in the D.C. area, obviously it’s super expensive to live there. That’s difficult to get around that. But, you know, buying a car is a decision that is flexible. So in a place like D.C., there’s a lot of people that are constantly trading up to new vehicles. You have a huge supply of really nice five-year and newer used vehicles on Craigslist that you can pay for in cash if you have money set aside to do that. And that’ll save you not having a car payment, right. So you can buy a $6,000 2013 Nissan Altima with 100,000 miles on it in cash from somebody who’s trading up to a brand-new Toyota or Lexus, and all you need is $6,000 to do that. And then you’re avoiding a $300 a month car payment. So I think that if I was in an expensive place to live, like D.C., New York, San Francisco, I’d either try to go no car or pay in cash for one on Craigslist by trying to focus on getting an emergency fund to do that.

Alan [00:46:18] Yeah. And one of the things that my wife and I did moving in this area is realizing how expensive it is, is really cut back on either amenities that we knew we didn’t need or find ways to just reduce costs that we didn’t need to incur. So for example, phone, internet and cable. That’s one thing that you can manage on your own because there are alternatives, especially if you just don’t watch a lot of TV. I mean, I think the one thing that everybody could argue that they need is an internet connection. But do you need 300 channels a month? Not really. The other thing that we looked at was eating out, for example. I had no idea until we sat down and made our own little rudimentary spreadsheet how much money we were spending going out to restaurants, and that’s something that you can control. Like you said, if you can find expenses within your control, that would be the one thing that I would echo. Yeah. You’ve got to tackle that right away because that’s the one thing that makes a world of difference to help you pay off your loans and other debts.

Travis [00:47:05] Yeah. And to be honest, out of the thousand plans that I made or — it’s probably more than that at this point — it’s always cars and housing. I’ve never seen somebody eat their way into deep, deep debt. I will say that yeah, I agree with you: it’s important to cut back in that area. But like, I like to joke too about Starbucks, so a lot of people talk about the latte. All you got to do is cut out your latte. Well, you know, you can drink lattes until your liver fails, you’re still not going to save as much money by cutting that as you would by living in a two-bedroom house instead of a three-bedroom house in a place like D.C.

Alan [00:47:37] For sure. And it was one of the big reasons why my wife and I, when we wanted to buy a home — and again, we’re very fortunate that we are in the position that we were able to afford it. But we knew we weren’t going to live in D.C. There is this cachet and allure to being in the district, and it’s a great city. But when you look at the housing prices, especially for a married couple that wants to start a family, it’s ridiculous. And so we knew from the get-go, we’re not going to be in the district. We’re going to have to look at other areas, and we were lucky enough to find a suburb of D.C. that we really like and find a house there.

Travis [00:48:07] That’s great. So are you the most informed person of all of your friends about student loans?

Alan [00:48:12] I think by virtue of the pain that I’ve gone through with FedLoan Servicing, I must be. I have to say, when I was at a Christmas party a couple months ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, a co-worker, and he was telling me about his grand plan for loan forgiveness. And as he started talking to me about it, I said, I think you’re missing a couple of things. Honestly, you’re not going to get your loans forgiven as quickly as you think. And the reason why I said that is because he was on the same planning basis that I was five years ago, and I just had this feeling that he was going to run to the same pitfalls that I was going to. Oddly enough — and I’m not just saying this just because you’re interviewing me — I pointed him to your website and said, “Dude, go look at this website because there are people out there who are dedicating their careers to this, and you really need to ensure that you’re on track to forgiveness.” I guess I’ve just become within my friends circle, you know, the red flag of student loans, and I’m just waving that banner saying, don’t think that it’s all rosy. Make sure you do your homework because again, had I known the things that I know now five years ago, we probably would have done things a lot differently.

Travis [00:49:12] Yeah, Alan, just let me know where I’m supposed to mail that check to for that. I think, that the reality is my whole goal for this is to create business that can create such value for people for a relatively low cost compared to the projected savings. That’s kind of my vision for this. So if I had gotten ahold of you five years ago, then I think that with your wife’s loans, you probably would have saved a projected, like, $30,000. Right. And then we would have saved maybe four years’ worth of married filing separately penalties and got you a lower payment for your loans, which would probably have saved a couple thousand dollars a year. For your debt amount that’s around, say, less than $200,000, that’s about a $300 flat fee if, you know, somebody reaches out to Help@StudentLoanPlanner.com. I think people should definitely try to do it on their own, don’t get me wrong. But this thing is really easy to mess up. And if you add in marriage, kids, tax filing status, community property states — there’s nine of those non-community property states. There’s all these things that people don’t know that they don’t know.

Alan [00:50:10] Yeah, and student loan debt has just become just the new or at least this generation’s big crisis or big issue to tackle honestly because it’s the one thing that seems to hang over most people’s heads — at least most people that I know. But one of the things that people know the least about — and it’s crazy to me to think that, you know, five years ago, if I had found your website, we could be on different footing, but you know, shoulda, coulda, woulda. I’m glad that we found it now. I’m glad there are people like you out there who are helping because when you are left to your own devices, it is very daunting. It is manageable. My wife and I have been able to manage on our own. I’ve read stories about people who have managed on their own. But it’s just amazing how much people still don’t know about this problem and about at least balancing student loans. And the amount of debt that a lot of people that I know are shouldering coming out of undergraduate or graduate degree programs is insane.

Travis [00:51:03] It’s going to get worse [with] the next recession that we have. So in my experience — I’ve been looking at the data really carefully — the grad school and professional degree people are the ones who really have exploding debt right now because we’re in a positive economy. And so the people with very modest debts are actually paying them off pretty well. And when you have a bad economy, you’re going to have everybody going back to school again. And if it’s under the regime that exists today, I think we’re going to have student loan debt go back to the, you know, 10 to 15% yearly growth rate that we had back in the early part of this decade.

Alan [00:51:32] Yikes. Yeah.

Travis [00:51:32] Yeah, it’s going to be a big problem. Hopefully I’ll be around long enough to see when the thing really blows up because I’d love to help out Michael Lewis when he writes his book.

Alan [00:51:41] Exactly. They’re going to make another movie about it.

Travis [00:51:42] Yeah. I want to be — I don’t know if I want to be the weirdo guy that Christian Bale played. Maybe I’ll be like the, maybe Ryan Gosling. I mean, I can get him to play me or something. You think? I don’t know.

Alan [00:51:53] Yeah, you should start making your cast list right now.

Travis [00:51:55] Exactly, yeah. And you know, another thing I thought about earlier, man, you’re a national security professional. Dude, I commend you, Alan, for not just hacking into the FedLoan database and changing your qualifying payments from 10 to 100.

Alan [00:52:07] I’m not smart enough for that.

Travis [00:52:08] Yeah, I don’t know. Yeah. At least, you can’t you can’t say that you are.

Alan [00:52:12] Yeah.

Alan’s tips for dealing with the psychology of debt

Travis [00:52:13] But you probably are. So any last tips for dealing with the psychology of debt?

Alan [00:52:17] I guess my only tips, my only experience is something that I honestly learned from my wife, which is just take a deep breath. It’s a lot of zeros and a lot of figures to look at on a sheet in terms of what you owe. It feels like this lifetime burden that you’re going to shoulder. But when you talk to professionals who know about it, when you start to manage on your own, you feel better about it. The only tip I really have, though, is be vigilant. Had I not been vigilant with FedLoan, I never would’ve noticed a second accounting mistake again. I’m in the midst of my second audit with them because I believe that they’ve miscounted my qualified payments. Now I’m in the waiting hold period because they have told me that’s going to take about a year, which means by August of this year, I should have a complete recount, but we’ll see.

Alan [00:53:02] But vigilance pays off because, I don’t know, I think once they know that you’re paying attention, they start to pay more attention. And again, keep track of all your payments. Keep track of all your paperwork. Any time you file anything, whether it’s employment certification or your tax forms, put it in a student loan folder. I have my own student loan folder with all the documents that I’ve submitted over the years. And be your own auditor because when the day comes when you expect to have your loans forgiven or you expect to have paid off your debt, I don’t know if this is true or not, I just have the feeling that you’re going to have to verify that with your servicer because you may know before they do. And it never hurts to be your own best advocate. So be vigilant. Take a deep breath, and it’ll all go away at some point.

Travis [00:53:47] Amazing advice. Thanks so much, Alan, for being on the show.

Alan [00:53:49] Yeah. Thank you very much, Travis.

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