That same day, Mr. Shafer got a note from Stephanie Galloway, a FedLoan vice president. “We wish to express our sincerest apologies and regret any inconvenience this may have caused you,” it said.
Just to be certain, we checked his credit again a few hours after I heard from Mr. New, with Mr. Shafer and his wife paying the fee themselves to do so. Indeed, the problem was fixed and his FICO credit scores — which are what most lenders look at when checking up on individuals — were very good once more.
Mr. Shafer, who often hears from other struggling public servants who manage to track down his email address, is glad he did not have to resort to the mail. “There is a level of anxiety that I know people feel when they have to start sending stuff,” he said. “That post office box in Harrisburg has to be one of the most feared and dreaded P.O. boxes in the history of humankind.”
So how exactly did this error happen, and will it happen to others? The origin is not clear, but Mr. New said it would not happen again. “We’ve confirmed that this was indeed an isolated instance and have addressed the root cause within the process so no other borrower should experience any negative issues,” he said in an email.
Seth Frotman, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center and the former student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said he was not that surprised, given P.H.E.A.A.’s history of problems with credit reporting. He reminded me that P.H.E.A.A. had once asked the Supreme Court to spare it from having to abide by the rules that lenders in the banking industry must follow.
“These companies are huge furnishers of credit reporting info, which means that the financial future and credit history and the cost of credit for millions of borrowers are tied up in these companies getting it right,” he said. “This is just one example of the numerous ways in which they are failing at this miserably.”
If you too have run the public service loan forgiveness gauntlet and think you have succeeded, check your credit reports before you throw a party and use your loan correspondence as confetti. If there’s a problem, email me so I can help you get it fixed. That way, your wrecked credit won’t delay a car or home purchase any longer than necessary, and you can avoid waiting around for weeks while someone at a FedLoan post office box deals with your situation.
But before we go, let us lament, once again, the fact that this sort of warning and intervention is necessary at all. Public service loan forgiveness was a program with bipartisan backing. Surely, we can all agree that our teachers and nurses and firefighters should not have to put up with so much to get what they earned.