I’ve spent most of my legal career in public service as an Assistant District Attorney, non-profit staff attorney, and Assistant Public Defender. Like so many who relied on student loans to pay for law school, I could not have afforded to do the public service I felt called to if not for income-based repayment plans and the promise of loan forgiveness. The longer I worked toward loan forgiveness, the more sense it made to stick with it, even though I had my doubts that forgiveness would ever be granted despite my ongoing compliance with the ever-changing requirements of the program.
I consolidated my loans as soon as possible after graduation, enrolled in a qualifying income-based repayment (IBR) plan, and had my monthly payments direct debited from my account. Every year, like clockwork, I submitted paperwork to certify my employer as qualifying and confirmed the number of payments I had made. Yet, every year I was denied credit for at least some of the payments without reason. Twice, I appealed those denials and won credit for about 18 months of payments—not all, but it was progress.
Then the current administration made it a priority to review and approve applications for PSLF. With some effort, which included hours on hold and calls with the FedLoans helpdesk, I obtained a review of my file including every payment I ever made. As a result, I was credited with all but two months of payments, which meant I had more than met the requirement of 120 “qualifying” payments. It took another 90 days after I received notice that I had met the requirements to finally receive documentation that my loans were, in fact, forgiven and my account balance was $0.
When the notice finally came through, instead of jumping and shouting for joy as I had always envisioned, I broke into tears with relief. I hadn’t realized how heavily that debt weighed on me until it was lifted. I was free to choose the next step in my career without having to factor in whether it would meet the requirements for PSLF, which means I am now able to accept a contract with the Office of the Child's Representative for appointments as Guardian ad Litem and Counsel for Youth.
The document from FedLoans showing a zeroed-out balance on my student loan accounts is now framed and displayed in my home office. If you think you may qualify or are close, I urge you to pursue it as soon as possible. It could be well worth your time!
Shelly Wilbanks is a graduate of Texas Tech University, where she majored in Journalism. While working in IT as a technical writer and volunteering to teach computer skills at a domestic violence shelter, Shelly found what the residents needed most were legal services. She attended law school at night at the SMU Dedman School of Law to become a legal advocate for women and children and has devoted much of her practice to child welfare law.
Outside of the courtroom, Shelly is an avid reader and a member of two book clubs, one which she began in Dallas and continues remotely, and the other with the Colorado Women’s Bar Association.