- Jacob Currence, 41, made years of extra payments through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
- He contacted his servicer, MOHELA, in August to get refunded on those payments, but hasn’t had any luck.
- He said he’s spent hours on the phone only to receive different information from customer service each time.
Jacob Currence has spent nearly two decades working in public service — and he’s paid off his student loans far longer than needed to qualify for debt relief.
He never thought getting his money back would be so hard.
Currence, 41, took on about $13,000 in student loans for his Bachelor’s degree in 2005, and he had nearly paid it all off by the time he took on another $15,000 in loans in 2018 for his Master’s degree. Since his undergraduate education, Currence said he went right into public service work as a teacher for health and physical education, and he decided that pursuing an advanced degree in administration would allow him to make a bigger impact. He now works as an assistant principal.
Given his career in public service, Currence wanted to take advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which forgives student debt for government and nonprofit workers after ten years of qualifying payments. In October 2021, President Joe Biden’s Education Department announced a one-year waiver that allowed public servants to qualify for relief even if their payments were not previously eligible for the program due to the types of loans they held. Currence jumped at the opportunity to consolidate his loans into federal direct loans under student-loan company MOHELA to qualify for debt relief.
That’s when things started getting complicated. Currence said a MOHELA customer service representative advised him to ask for a refund on the payments he made during the student-loan payment pause, which began in March 2020. They told him he could then consolidate his loans to get his remaining balance wiped out under PSLF, he said.
“They called it slam dunk,” Currence said. “Slam dunk. They said this is an easy one, it’ll wipe out all the rest of your loans once you’ve consolidated this, so I said okay, great. Let’s do it.”
Since that phone call with the representative in August, Currence said he has spent hours on hold with MOHELA, he has emailed Missouri’s attorney general, where the company is based, and he filed a complaint with Federal Student Aid and the Better Business Bureau. He’s made no progress getting a refund on his overpayments to PSLF. At this point, he said, it’s not about the money. He simply wants MOHELA to follow through with what they advised him nearly seven months ago.
“They have completely led me down the wrong path through this whole process,” Currence said. “I’m a principal at a high school. I get it when people call in and they’re complaining, and the best thing you can do is say ‘I’m sorry,’ because I’ve been given a billion sorrys at this point. That’s all I get out of MOHELA. ‘We’re so sorry this has happened. We’re so sorry. This is not right. We’re so sorry.’ I’m like, I understand that that’s the best you can do at this point. But again, that’s not enough.”
MOHELA did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
‘It’s unbelievable the number of phone calls I’ve made and the different answers I’ve received’
Keith Williams can attest to Currence’s experience. Williams, 47, also told Insider that he was hoping to take advantage of the PSLF waiver before it expired on October 31. He said he made about 20 years worth of payments on his $83,000 balance, and he attempted to contact MOHELA to start the process of getting refunded. It hasn’t been easy.
“Their customer service, like how they’re handling people and how this is all occurring, is a disaster for people and is it needs to be fixed,” Williams said.
According to Federal Student Aid’s website, borrowers who made over 120 qualifying payments and met the employment certification guidelines to PSLF are entitled to a refund. “It may take longer to get your refund, depending on processing times in other parts of the government,” the guidance states. “Payments made to a prior servicer may take more time to process.”
After Biden announced up to $20,000 in student-debt relief in August, Federal Student Aid reiterated that borrowers who made payments during the payment pause could get a refund by contacting their student-loan servicer. The process was estimated to take six to 12 weeks, and borrowers with a balance below $10,000 would get refunded automatically.
On top of the broad debt relief, the Education Department has been working to implement the PSLF reforms and changes to targeted repayment plans, leaving borrowers with questions on where they stand. But Congress failing to increase funding for Federal Student Aid has left the department and servicers with limited resources to answer borrowers questions in a timely manner.
“It’s unbelievable the number of phone calls I’ve made and the different answers I’ve received to everything,” Currence said. “It’s almost mind blowing, and to be completely honest, I understand they bit off way more than they can chew. They don’t have the proper number of people to be able to service all of this.”
Both Currence and Williams believe they’ve done just about all they can do to try to get answers on where they stand with their payments and refund status — and they’re even considering taking legal action should the stagnancy persist.
“I have too many problems on my plate to deal with that issue,” Williams said. “But if they don’t tell me what the hell’s going on, I think that’s the the only thing I’m going to be able to do.”
The Education Department is making slow progress
When Insider previously asked the Education Department for comment on whether it oversees the refund process, it pointed to guidance posted on Federal Student Aid’s website that outlined the general process to request a refund.
With PSLF, reforms are underway — albeit slowly. Since it announced the limited time waiver for PSLF in October 2021, the Education Department said it has approved 453,000 borrowers for debt relief. Other borrowers who submitted their applications prior to the October 31 expiration will continue to have their forms processed.
Additionally, the department announced permanent PSLF reforms last year. They included simplifying criteria to qualify for the program, along with a one-time account adjustment to give borrowers one more shot to ensure their payments are up to date even if they missed the waiver deadline. The implementation of that adjustment was recently pushed back to 2024.
All of this comes as millions of borrowers are waiting to see if the Supreme Court will uphold Biden’s broad student-debt relief plan. But for Currence, he’s not even relying on that relief going through. He just wants the payments he has made for nearly two decades to be accounted for.
“I don’t really see this Biden relief making it through the Supreme Court,” Currence said. “If it does, fantastic, but at this point, I just want MOHELA to fix what they’ve messed up.”
Are you facing challenges getting a refund on your student-loan payments? Is there anything you would like to share about your student debt? Share your story with this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.