By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications
Ashley Neamtz was determined to get her business degree and after that, get out from under the compounding debt that her hard-earned college education had produced.
She found the answer in public service employment with the state of Texas. She worked first at the Department of Transportation and then joined TJJD, where she’s the Lead General Ledger Accountant.
Her state service qualified her for the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Under that program, if she worked 10 years for the state and made payments on her loans based on her income level, she could have the remaining loan balance forgiven.
“I was skeptical,” she said of the program, which required her to consolidate several loans that she’d accrued over the seven years she went to college. “I thought, they’re going to find some excuse that it (her decade of payments) doesn’t count.”
That’s not what happened, though let’s back up to the beginning.
Life events meant that Neamtz’ college didn’t happen in one neat swoop of four years, nor did anyone help her finance it. When she graduated from high school there was no college nest egg ready. Her family did not have the means for that.
Each year, Neamtz, then Ashley Cutright, took out loans to cover college costs, first at Arkansas Tech University in her hometown, and later in Texas. She had to stop and start with her classes, while married to a military man and raising their first child, and it was seven years before she finished her bachelor’s in Business Administration at Texas A&M Central Texas in Killeen.
After she graduated in 2011, she realized that her patchwork of loans was growing alarmingly, because of compounding interest and despite her regular payments. She remembers paying $500 one month and noticing that $499 was going toward interest.
Another time, she calculated it would take her about 50 years to pay off the growing note, which at the end of 10 years was about 25 percent more than the amount of the loans she had taken out, despite those regular payments.
She had heard stories and read news articles about snafus with the government’s loan forgiveness programs. These periodically highlighted horror tales of people who thought they’d fulfilled their 10 years of charitable or government work but were told that a technicality prevented the forgiveness.
Still, that seemed like the only way out from under a debt that had grown to just over $100,000.
She signed up for the “Income Driven Payment” plan, paid faithfully the prescribed amounts – which came to a few thousand each year based on her earnings -- and watched as the 10-year mark approached.
By then, she’d advanced to a lead position at TJJD, had two sons, ages 16 and 7, and was newly married and expecting a child with her second husband.
With her oldest son approaching college age and their family about to outgrow their three-bedroom home in Georgetown, it seemed like a good time for that college debt to get retired.
And then it happened.
On a Friday night in September, she got an email that noted “there was a change to your loan.”
“So I looked at the paperwork and my balances were zero!” Neamtz said.
“I was immediately on the phone with my husband. He was traveling for work. He was like, ‘Are you serious?’ We were both having a little freak out. That’s a big weight to loom over you for so long.”
The party they’d talked about to celebrate would have to wait, but the mental relief washed over them.
“I feel like a thousand times better, just simple decisions are going to be a lot easier. I’m about to have three kids and I have a 3-bedroom house,” she said, noting that applying for mortgages or car loans is difficult when there’s a big college debt on the books.
“Those loans hold you back from just everyday life,” Neamtz said.
She’s also relieved that the household will be on solid financial footing as her eldest son considers college.
“I was worried about well how I am going to pay my loans and his,” she said. “I’m also not going to let them (her boys) make the same mistake I did. My parents were not financially literate. And I didn’t understand compounding interest. because I didn’t borrow $103,000, that’s just what it ended up being.”
Here's More Information about How to Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness
To qualify for PSLF, you must:
- be employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization(federal service includes U.S. military service);
- work full-time for that agency or organization;
- have Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans into a Direct Loan);
- repay your loans under an income-driven repayment plan*; and
- make 120 qualifying payments.
Steps to get started:
- Find out if your Employer Qualifies – TJJD does!
- Certify your employment each year
- Apply for forgiveness once you’ve met the requirements (see above)
There’s a help tool about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (You may want to get a refreshment and sit down before reading, because this help tool is, ahem, deeply helpful and could make your head spin. But you will get the information you need.)
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs are offering some perks, which expire Oct. 31, 2022. Find out more about these, which as this PSLF Waiver program -- so you can apply before the deadline, if you qualify!