Almost 27 million borrowers with federal student loans are set to start repayments in February, but some have succeeded in erasing their debt through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF).

The program ran into trouble a few years ago, and fewer than 5% of applicants were approved for loan forgiveness despite tracking their payments for a decade, as required.

Yvonne Dowell, a Baltimore mental health counselor, was initially denied, but she reapplied after the Biden administration overhauled the program this fall. She recently found out not only did she qualify for loan forgiveness, but she was also reimbursed for the 18 months of payments she made after her first application.

“When I was denied, I was devastated,” Dowell recounted. “So, I do know that in the past, it did not work. However, by all means, know that things have changed, and they have revamped that program. And the program works.”

Dowell wants to spread the word to help others benefit from the PSLF limited waiver, which expands the types of qualifying payment plans and loan programs. Student borrowers have until Oct. 31 of next year to apply.

With a starting public-sector salary in the mid-30s, Dowell struggled to pay off her student loan at more than $200 a month, while also putting her children through college. She contended groups like the American Federation of Teachers should be applauded for their work to help change the program. It ultimately ended her debt, which totaled more than $70,000.

“This program will help single mothers that are paying to go to school,” Dowell emphasized. “And anyone that’s in an income that’s going to cause a struggle and has to take that student loan out to pursue their dreams.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., joined with Senate colleagues asking the Biden administration to continue waiving interest on federal student loans for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. The pandemic moratorium on federal student loan payments expires on Jan. 31.

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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