He began recording all his phone calls with FedLoan, which services loans for people trying to qualify for forgiveness. As he approached 120 months, he also asked for a complete accounting of all of his payments, to check for any discrepancies between his records and FedLoan’s. His diligence triggered an internal review, causing his payment count to temporarily fall into the 50s, wiping out years of credit.
“I had no idea what was going on,” Mr. Mitchell said, while replaying his call to FedLoan for me. “You can hear my heart beat faster.”
“You freaked out and didn’t sleep all night,” Mr. Altschuler added.
All turned out to be fine, and FedLoan restored the payments and submitted his account to the Department of Education for one last review. Weeks passed. Mr. Mitchell kept making monthly payments, just in case something was awry. And on the day I visited his apartment, he logged in and saw the magic number for the very first time: Zero. There was no balance left; after making just over $24,000 in payments over a decade, the federal government had wiped away his balance of roughly $170,000 tax free.
As long as the public-service loan forgiveness program continues to exist, there should be fewer high-wire stories like Mr. Mitchell’s. Awareness will spread further, and people will find their way into the program sooner and face fewer obstacles later on.
That will probably take many years, however. Mr. Mitchell said he felt a bit weird about being one of the few successes so far. He knows he was lucky that he had the right loan and repayment plan at the outset and lucky, too, that he did not have distractions, like children, that might have kept him from devoting so much time to staying on track.
But it should not have been this hard. “I’m always helping my patients figure out how to tolerate uncertainty and not freeze up in an uncertain world,” he said, “and that’s one of the things that has gotten me through this. I didn’t stick my head under a rock because it was freaking me out. I leaned into it.”