Servicers other than FedLoan don’t handle PSLF

I’ve heard a few stories of attendings calling their servicers after making years and years of payments to get started filing for PSLF and being laughed off the phone because of their high salaries.

To be clear, PSLF has no maximum salary.

The master promissory note you signed says this:

A Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is also available. Under this program, we will forgive the remaining balance due on your eligible Direct Loan Program loans after you have made 120 payments on those loans (after October 1, 2007) under certain repayment plans while you are employed full-time in certain public service jobs. The required 120 payments do not have to be consecutive. Qualifying repayment plans include the REPAYE Plan, the PAYE Plan, the IBR Plan, the ICR Plan, and the Standard Repayment Plan with a 10-year repayment period.

PSLF is all about months of qualifying payments made for qualifying loans while working full-time at a qualified employer. As of now (and probably never for old/current borrowers), there is no “needs test” to see if you still deserve to have your loans forgiven even though you’re a “rich doctor.”

Furthermore, the only servicer that handles PSLF is FedLoan. When you submit your first employment verification form (which the Feds recommend doing annually), you’ll be switched to FedLoan if you weren’t already with them by chance.

The other servicers—and probably especially Navient (currently being sued by the federal government for defrauding and misleading borrowers)—have a vested interest in keeping you on the rolls so that they can continue to make money off your payments. When you call the servicer, you’re getting some random employee who is probably making around twelve bucks an hour whose primary role is to provide customer service and troubleshooting with the website, not provide good financial advice. They are much much more likely to deal with somebody on the phone trying to get out of delinquency or default than they are to talk to somebody who is approaching 10 years of payments and is ready for public-service loan forgiveness. Despite the government stating that customer service is a priority, the servicers essentially have no fiduciary duty to work in your best interest.

Since the first loans won’t be forgiven until October 2017, no one can guarantee that there won’t be attempts to limit the damage from the somehow-unexpected popularity of this program, but that hasn’t happened yet and is likely to take some time to occur. Do not take your servicer seriously on this if you think you should otherwise qualify. Just get the paperwork filed out and submit it. Worst thing that happens? Your servicer is changed and you have to set up autopay again.

Your ERAS application photo

You may not have thought about it, but a lot of people are going to be looking at your glamour shot. The program director and any application reader will see it before you’re chosen for an interview.

  • Your interviewers will see it.
  • It’ll probably make it into a big interview day composite along everyone else visiting that day.
  • The residency selection committee will usually blow it up and put it up on the big screen when they discuss you.

So, for better or worse, people are basically going to see it whenever they think about you. While the people who meet you may form additional images, not everyone who has a role in your selection is going to meet you in person.

Once you land a residency, the photo will almost certainly make more appearances in the “meet our new interns” flyer, get plastered around the department, and may even be accessible online. Rarely, it could even be on your badge.

This is all to say, it might as well not be a terrible photo.

And, like your personal statement, it’s also probably best for you to not stand out.

Not that you can’t be incredibly good looking, of course, but rather that the format of your photo should be the usual bland applicant kind where you’re wearing something you’d wear to the interview while sitting angled slightly in front of a miscellaneous grayish or bluish pseudo-cloud background. Please don’t wear your white coat; you’ll look like a tool.

Stands out in a bad way? How about in front of a random white wall in your apartment under harsh lighting taken by your roommate with your phone where you’re too far away like a B-grade passport photo. The instagram-worthy pic of you in a park with your hair in the breeze and a beautiful bokeh background—while better to look at—also doesn’t scream, “I will answer pages promptly at 3 am and like it.”

Just google something like “residency photo ERAS” and see which examples spark joy for you.

Every interview day we’ll get a big pdf emailed to all the residents and faculty with a composite of everyone who’s visiting. Inevitably, there will be one person who stands out with a blurry poorly lit photo. Does it really matter? I very much doubt it (unless it dovetails with other more serious mistakes/poor judgment calls), but I can’t think of any meaningful benefit to choosing this moment to pinch pennies.

If you have the option of paying an extra 20 or 30 bucks to have the photo professionally retouched, frankly, I encourage you to do so. While this is an irritating expense, again, this photo is used everywhere. Even if you do have it retouched, I still recommend taking steps personally to improve it if you have the skills and desire. Photoshop, its free alternative GIMP, or one of the many free or paid photo retouching apps (including the very nice and very free Adobe Photoshop Fix for iOS) will all do the trick to remove stray hairs, razor burn, leftover blemishes or even whiten teeth. In other words, you want to take reasonable steps to ensure that the photo is a good one.

And, of course, #NoFilter.

Betsy Davos: It’s okay for servicers to mislead borrowers

What a mess.

Education Secretary Betsy Davos has decided to roll back two Obama-era memos that were intended to guide servicers in their customer service efforts with borrowers. I discussed one the other week. Now that second shoe has dropped, peeling away the reasonable-sounding requests that basically servicers should be held accountable if “the company had misled or provided wrong information to borrowers or engaged in abusive consumer service” (remember, Navient is currently being sued for this).

Instead, Davos said:

We must create a student loan servicing environment that provides the highest quality customer service and increases accountability and transparency for all borrowers, while also limiting the cost to taxpayers.

Of course, providing good customer service or making sure defaulting borrowers re-enter repayment shouldn’t need to cost any extra public dollars; it only does because the government would have to pay servicers more money in incentives to make up for the loss of their loan sharking business.

This furthers the tension between borrowers and servicers and cements the contention that servicers are actively working against borrower’s best interests. This has already been happening, but now it appears that it will no longer raise any of the red flags it was supposed to.

I’ve spoken with attendings who thought they would qualify for PSLF soon (but hadn’t filed for certification and been switched to FedLoan) call their servicers and get laughed off the phone, being told that they made too much money to have their loans forgiven. Most people reading this site know that’s not how the program works, and servicers like Navient don’t even handle PSLF. But of course, it’s in their best interest to lie and keep reaping payments.

Visions, people, and milestones

Alan Kay on Xerox’s culture back when it was killing it:

A few principles:

1. Visions not goals
2. Fund people not projects — the scientists find the problems not the funders. So, for many reasons, you have to have the best researchers.
3. Problem Finding — not just Problem Solving
4. Milestones not deadlines
5. It’s “baseball” not “golf” — batting .350 is very good in a high aspiration high risk area. Not getting a hit is not failure but the overhead for getting hits.

Doesn’t that sound so healthy and reasonable? Of course, it didn’t last: profit needs and fear can easily trump ingenuity, hard work, teamwork, and progress.

We don’t really fund scientists in the public sector; we fund projects. And outside of politically expedient “moonshots,” we’ve curbed our visions in favor of concrete achievable goals with deadlines.