Higher Education News
I bet many of you have seen ads on Facebook that sound something like this:
“Want Student Loan Forgiveness in Two Weeks? CALL NOW!”
“Apply for Obama Loan Forgiveness in 5 minutes!”
Usually, if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. There are countless ads online from companies offering to help you manage your student loan debt…for a fee, of course. While the U.S. Department of Education (ED) does offer some legitimate student loan forgiveness programs and ways to lower your student loan payments, they are all free to apply for. Don’t pay for help when you can get help for free!
If you’re a federal student loan borrower, ED provides free assistance to help:
- lower your monthly payment;
- consolidate your loans;
- see if you qualify for loan forgiveness; and
- get out of default.
Are you out of a job or not earning very much? The federal government makes it easy for you to switch to a more affordable repayment plan at any time at no cost.
Your loan servicer — the company that works on behalf of ED to collect your payments, respond to your customer service inquiries, and manage other tasks related to your federal student loans — can help you decide which repayment plan best suits you and help you switch at no cost! Not sure how to contact your loan servicer? Find out here.
Before you contact your servicer, check out the Repayment Estimator to get an idea of plans available and see estimated monthly payments.Consolidate Your Loans
If you have multiple loans that you want to combine, you can apply for loan consolidation through StudentLoans.gov. The application is free, and unlike many student loan debt relief companies, there are no extra processing fees.
Some people find it simpler to group all their student loans into a single loan with one interest rate and one monthly payment. Also, if you received your student loan(s) before 2011, you could qualify for better repayment options by consolidating.See If You Qualify For Loan Forgiveness
Loan forgiveness is the cancellation of all or some portion of your remaining federal student loan balance. This is sometimes called a discharge.
Many student loan debt relief companies advertise that they can help you get your loans forgiven. But, what most people don’t know is that they are simply using the ED’s free resources to help you, but are charging you to do so.
You can find out whether you qualify for loan forgiveness due to your job, disability, the closure of your school, or other circumstances.
Your loan servicer also can help you determine if you qualify for loan forgiveness… at no cost!Get Out of Default
If your loan is already in default, debt relief companies will target you with online ads, phone calls, and maybe even letters to your home address. By being in default, you’ve already incurred added interest, and you’re subject to collection fees. There’s no reason to add additional fees by signing up with a debt relief company.
(Note: Debt relief companies are different from collection agencies. Here are the collection agencies ED contracts with.)
If you’re in default, contact us immediately and we can help you get your loans back on track.
There are 3 FREE ways to get out of default if you go through the federal government.How to Protect Your Log-In and Account Information
When student loan debt relief companies offer to manage your loan account, to do so, they will ask you to provide them with your federal student aid log-in information (your FSA ID) or to sign a Power of Attorney. Think about it: your log-in information is the equivalent of your signature on your student loan documents. If you share this information or sign a Power of Attorney, you’re giving a debt relief company the power, literally, to take any action they choose, make decisions for you, and act on your behalf.
And if the debt relief company collects fees from you, but never actually makes any payments on your behalf, you still will be responsible for those outstanding payments and late fees.
You should protect your FSA ID and account information as securely as you guard your ATM PIN.What to Do If You Think You’ve Been Scammed
If you think you’ve been scammed by a student loan debt relief company:
- Contact your bank or credit card company, and request that payments be stopped.
- Change your FSA ID password and contact your servicer and the company you contracted with to revoke Power of Attorney.
- Submit a complaint with:
- The Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by calling 1-855-411-2372. Or, to submit a complaint online, under “Products and Services,” select Debt Collection. Then, choose Get Started. From there, you will be prompted to answer a series of questions to file and submit your complaint.
- Your state’s Office of Consumer Affairs or Consumer Protection, which usually is within or affiliated with the office of the state’s Attorney General.
Remember, there are no student loan companies affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education that charge fees to help you manage your loan repayment. We have many resources available to help you successfully manage your loans for free. Remember, if you have to pay, then stay away!
Alexis Anderson is an intern at Federal Student Aid’s office of communications. She is a graduate student at The George Washington University studying Strategic Public Relations.
The post Beware! You Don’t Have to Pay for Help with Your Student Loans appeared first on ED.gov Blog.
Everyone wants their student loans forgiven. The perception is that very few qualify. But did you know that there is one broad, employment-based forgiveness program for federal student loans? Let me break down some key points of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) to help you figure out if you could qualify.[ 1 ] Work for a government or non-profit organization
Qualifying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness is not about your job, it’s about who your employer is. In order to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you must work for a “public service” employer. What does that mean? Everyone has a different definition.
Employers who qualify based on our definition:
- Government organizations: This includes federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies and organizations.
- Not-for profit organizations: This includes all 501(c)(3) organizations and some other not-for-profit organizations that provide specific public services, such as public education or public health.
Teachers: You may qualify for PSLF even if you don’t qualify for teacher loan forgiveness.
Employers that don’t qualify:
- Labor unions
- Partisan political organizations
- For-profit organizations
You must also be a full-time employee in order to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. For us, that means you either meet your employer’s definition of “full-time” or work at least 30 hours per week, whichever is greater.[ 3 ] Have Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans to qualify)
Not having a Direct Loan is a big reason why borrowers aren’t on track for PSLF. Many borrowers don’t even realize there are different types of federal student loans, so do your homework.
A qualifying loan is a Direct Loan. If you took out our student loans before 2011, there’s a good chance that some or all of your loans aren’t Direct Loans. If that’s the case, don’t despair! You can consolidate your federal student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan and qualify for PSLF.
If you don’t know what loan types you have, read this to find out.[ 4 ] Repay your loans on an income-driven repayment plan
For Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you’ll want to repay your loans on one of our income-driven repayment plans:
- Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE Plan)
- Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE Plan)
- Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR Plan)
- Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR Plan)
Read this to decide which income-driven repayment plan to choose.
You can apply for an income-driven repayment plan on StudentLoans.gov.
If you’ve been making payments under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, those qualify, but you still need to get on an income-driven repayment plan or your loan will be paid off before you can get forgiveness. That’s because Public Service Loan Forgiveness forgives the remaining balance on your loans after 120 payments (10 years), while the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan sets your payment at an amount that will ensure that your loan is paid off within 10 years.[ 5 ] Make 120 qualifying payments (10 years of payments)
Lastly, you need to make qualifying payments—120 of them. 120 payments is 10 years of payments. A qualifying payment is exactly what you think it is. You get a bill. It has an “amount due” and a “due date”. Make your full payment by the due date (or up to 15 days later if you slipped up and forgot to make your payment), and the payment qualifies. If you make a payment when you’re not required to—say, because, you’re in a deferment—then it doesn’t count. The best way to set yourself up for success is to sign up for automatic payments with your servicer.
Your payments do not need to be consecutive. So, if you make qualifying payments, stop, and then start again, you don’t start over.
Lastly, a payment only qualifies if it was made after October 1, 2007, so nobody can qualify until 2017 at the earliest.[ 6 ] Submit the Employment Certification Form early and often
Given the specific requirements of the program, it can be tricky to figure out if you’re on the right track. Good news is, there’s an easy way to find out:
- Download this form and fill it out.
- Have your employer certify it.
- Send it to FedLoan Servicing (one of our federal student loan servicers).
FedLoan Servicing will then process your form and let you know whether your employment qualifies, and how many qualifying payments you’ve made.
Submit the form early and often. We recommend once per year or when you change jobs. Why? Because it means that you won’t have to submit 10 years’ worth of forms when you ultimately want to apply for forgiveness. It also means that you can apply for forgiveness with confidence.Okay, so do I qualify?
Now, let’s put it all together. For any payment to count toward PSLF, you need to meet all of the criteria when you make each payment. That means you need to be working full-time for a qualifying employer when you make a qualifying payment on a Direct Loan under a qualifying repayment plan. If you think you meet those requirements submit this form to confirm you’re on track.
One more piece of good news: unlike some other forms of student loan forgiveness, PSLF is tax-free.
Ian Foss has worked as a program specialist for the Department of Education since 2010. He’s scheduled to be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness in 2021, if all goes according to plan.
The post How to Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness appeared first on ED.gov Blog.
As a kindergarten teacher, I have seen that attending a high-quality pre-K program makes a significant difference in children’s kindergarten success—and later success as well. This is why I am passionate that access to high-quality pre-K should not be a luxury afforded to some, but an invaluable resource offered to all.
From my experience, there are three major advantages students gain from high quality pre-K program:
They have key social skills.
In kindergarten, children constantly work in groups, whether in small teacher-led instructional groups, at activity learning “centers” or at math and phonics stations. In reading and writing workshop and most other activities, they work with partners or in small groups. This requires kids to negotiate disagreements, understand the social conventions of conversations, and balance their needs with others’. In pre-K, children have had lots of experiences like this.
They have pre math and literacy skills.
Most schools are working towards kindergarten students being able to read and solve simple addition and subtraction problems by the end of the year. If a child enters kindergarten with minimal knowledge about the alphabet or numbers, then they actually have to make more than one year’s growth during their kindergarten year. While some children come with this knowledge base, high-quality pre-K helps ensure that no child starts kindergarten already behind.
They are ready for the school setting.
Constructive learning environments require children to do things like raise their hand, locate materials independently, listen to others at group time, and line up and walk quietly in hallways. Children who have attended pre-K have already learned these practices, so I spend less time teaching these behaviors and more time helping children dive into deep learning from the start.
My student Santiago (name changed) provides a great example. Santiago attended the state funded pre-K program on our campus where he learned all of the school expectations and he quickly became a leader when he entered my kindergarten classroom. His social skills and ability to operate in a school environment, coupled with his great foundation of basic early literacy and math skills, allowed him to be an advanced reader by the end of the kindergarten year. With students like Santiago, I can start teaching more advanced reading skills, such as comprehension, earlier in the year and know they are leaving kindergarten well prepared for first grade because they have had a lot of practice reading for meaning.
On the other hand, my student Davis (name changed) did not attend any pre-K program. I spent the first several months teaching him how to work with others, follow multi-step instructions, and pay attention during whole-group lessons. He also had to learn some key basics like letter names, how to write his name, and counting to 10, for example…things other children had learned in pre-K. Children like Davis often require intervention from outside the classroom in addition to targeted support within the classroom to get ready for first grade, and they often continue to need extra help into the next year.
Having children come to kindergarten ready requires that far more children have access to high-quality pre-Kindergarten, and this requires that there be effective pre-K teachers in every classroom. Attracting and retaining these teachers may require an investment of resources, but from where I sit, it is money well-spent to ensure our children are ready to get everything our schools are ready to give them.
Cody Summerville is a kindergarten teacher at Windermere Primary School in Pflugerville, TX.
The post Building a Foundation for Children Starts in Pre-K appeared first on ED.gov Blog.
For millions of Americans, federal student loans and grants open the doors to a college education. That critical federal aid must be used at a school that is (among other things) given the seal of approval by an “accrediting agency” or “accreditor” recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. It’s one of the safeguards in the system. Accreditation is an important signal to students, families, and the Department about whether a school offers a quality education. Accreditors have a responsibility under federal law to make sure colleges earn that seal.
But what happens when the Department stops recognizing an accrediting agency?
It’s a relatively unusual case, but it’s a relevant one today. As part of our regular process for reviewing accreditors – staff at the Department recommended that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (or ACICS) should no longer be recognized by the Department as an agency that can provide schools with an accreditation that makes them eligible for participation in federal aid. For more information on the failures that led to that recommendation click here.
This is not the final word on ACICS – so nothing is inevitable or happens immediately – but this recommendation does kick off a process that students will want to know more about.
I’ll try to answer some of what you might be wondering today – and we’ll continue to provide more information as the process plays out.
How do I know if my school is accredited by ACICS?
Good first question. You can look it up here.
What does this mean for students at ACICS-accredited institutions?
First – don’t panic. As I said, this is just an initial recommendation. Nothing happens inevitably or immediately.
The chain of events that plays out next will take – at minimum – more than 18 months. That means that many of the students who already have started at one of these schools will be able to complete their certificates or degrees before there is a chance of anything changing.
Generally speaking, if you’re near the end of your program or you’re preparing to transfer to another college or university, this news probably won’t interrupt your program.
Maybe it would be helpful if I explain…
What happens next?
The actual decision will be made by a senior official here at the Department. That senior official will consider the staff recommendation released today along with another recommendation by an independent board called the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (or NACIQI) that advises the Department on these issues.
NACIQI meets next week to form its own recommendation.
Once the deciding official has received both recommendations, she has 90 days to review them before making a decision on whether or not to recognize the agency. After that, if ACICS disagrees with the decision, the agency has 30 days to appeal to the Secretary of Education.
What if the Department ultimately decides to end its recognition of ACICS?
If the deciding official (or the Secretary, if there’s an appeal) ultimately decides to stop recognizing ACICS, schools that it has accredited will have 18 months to get a seal of approval from a different recognized accreditor in order to stay eligible for federal student aid. That’s why I said earlier that it will take at least 18 months for this chain of events to play out before there’s any impact on your aid.
Of course, individual circumstances vary greatly. If you’re wondering whether changes in your school’s accreditation status might affect your specific plans, you should reach out to your school for individualized advice.
It’s worth noting here that licensing for some jobs – but not all – may require that your program is currently accredited by a Department-recognized accreditor. Contact your institution or the licensure board in your field to see if this is the case.
Remember, even if ACICS ultimately loses its recognition, schools will have a chance to find a different accreditor for their programs.
Okay, so it will take a while, but what if a school ultimately can’t find an accreditor?
At that point, students would no longer be able to use their federal aid at those schools. Students who want to continue their education using federal loans or grants past that point would need to transfer. Schools also need to have a plan in place to inform students about their options so students are not left scrambling.
What if I want to transfer out of my school?
That’s a decision only you can make, but we have some tools that can help if you decide to transfer. In particular, you might want to check out the College Scorecard to look into other options and see how well those schools prepare their graduates for life after college.
Again, circumstances will be unique to each student and each school, but you may be able to transfer your credits. You’ll want to check with the new school’s registrars.
I just started a program at an ACICS-accredited school. What should I do?
If you’re just getting started, you might be affected if ACICS loses its recognition, especially if your program will take longer than 18 months from the time a final decision is made.
You may want to be in touch with your school to make sure they have a solid plan to pursue accreditation with a different accreditor.
You might also want to do a little research using the College Scorecard. There, you can make sure your school has a track record of preparing its students for successful careers. You can also compare other options if you’re interested in transferring.
I already graduated from an ACICS-accredited school. Is my degree compromised?
Nobody can take away the hard work you put in or the skills you gained. Your school was accredited when you earned your degree, and you’ll never have to return your certificate or diploma.
Remember, even if ACICS ultimately loses its recognition, schools will have a chance to find a different accreditor for their programs.
First, a reminder: Don’t freak out. Nothing is final today, so you’ve got some time. If a school’s accreditor loses its recognition, the school should be in touch immediately with students and share information about their options. And the Department will monitor to make sure that happens and regularly post updates through studentaid.gov.
Whatever you choose to do, please know this: you have a wealth of options in pursuing your education, so don’t stop. Getting a high-quality degree or credential in a field where employers are hiring is still the surest way to provide for your future economic security.
For our part, we’ll keep working to protect America’s students and support them as they work to complete their degree or credential.
Thanks for all the info, but I still want to know more.
You got it. Here’s a more detailed set of questions and answers.
Matt Lehrich is Communications Director at the Department of Education
The post What College Accreditation Changes Mean for Students appeared first on ED.gov Blog.