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OPINION | SAVE YOURSELF: Time right to tame 'get to it later' pile, tackle student loans

by Sarah Catherine Gutierrez | January 25, 2022 at 2:13 a.m.


Do you have a "get to it later" pile? If it's like mine, it sits there right under your computer. It's a pile of really important or even not really important things that you need to get to, but just not today. My "get to it later" pile might be beneficiary paperwork or a piece of mail that got returned that needs to be resent. Of my favorite things in my latest "get to it later" pile spiral are the two report cards from my kids that would require laborious effort to file in the open file box next to my desk that has a cleverly marked tab called "Kid Report Cards."

The funny thing about the "get to it later" pile is that the quick task I left for tomorrow starts to grow in importance and urgency in my mind, but my resolve to accomplish it weakens at the same rate. Then my perception of what it would take to complete the task grows as well. The "get to it later" pile transforms from a series of simple tasks into my personal identity that shape shifts by the day. One day, I fear I will become the kind of person who has a pile so big it will be unapproachable.

Then every 6 months I take a Saturday and clear out the "get to it later" pile. Let's take that returned envelope and the extraordinary effort required to get it out of the "get to it later" pile. First, I send a text (30 seconds) to my friend who has moved to get her new address. Then I spend 12 seconds opening my excel address book and 20 seconds searching for her name and typing in the updated mailing address. Forty seconds are required to re-address and stamp the letter.

But then the real work on that returned envelope begins. I must start the mental unraveling in my past incapacity and procrastination to get such a simple thing done, which may take, say, 200 seconds of negative self-reflection. That's followed then by another 500 seconds googling mental health disorders and "get to it later" piles.

But the good news is that in the end, as I clear out the "get to it later" pile, I feel freedom and lightness and ability. It is so clear to me in that moment that I can do anything. Run a marathon? Sign me up. I just cleared out my "get to it later" pile.

I want to challenge all my readers to make Saturday, Jan. 29, as an Arkansas pile clearing day. Public service workers with student loans, I am specifically looking at you. Yes, I get it. Student loans are complicated by jargon and in required action to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. But probably also in the mix are emotional and psychological hurdles to jump through in order to face the loans in the first place, which is why loans can fester for years in your "get to it later" piles.

The latter likely explains why little action has been taken by public service employees in response to the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) waiver that I wrote about in October. I thought there would be widespread excitement and thousands of Arkansans rushing to get their loans on track for full forgiveness, to the tune of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

But instead, crickets.

Those employment certification requests that should be crippling HR departments?

Nada.

The government might know that we have over 40 million student loan borrowers out there, with a good portion of them potentially standing to benefit from forgiveness, but what the government didn't understand when it introduced the waiver was that student loans are big, gigantic "get to it later" piles. Many people feel alone in their debt burdens and uniquely ill equipped to manage them.

Or, maybe the government understood it completely.

Imagine the October announcement as an evil government action designed to milk more money out of people. Student loans, after all, pre covid, brought in billions of dollars in revenue. In a near zero interest rate environment for savings, the federal government was raking in 6% plus interest from many of its loans.

Hmmmm, now that I think of it, what evil genius! Announce a goodwill student loan waiver for those hard-working public servants and get all the credit for it. Let people think that millions of loans would be cleared down for people unwittingly in the wrong loans or repayment plans, either immediately or in the no-so-distant future.

Take the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) loan holders who, if they consolidated their loans into a qualifying Direct Consolidation loan when they started their career in a non-profit hospital or working for the state, would have been on track for PSLF forgiveness after 120 months of qualifying payments and would have gotten out of making any payments at all for the last 22 months with the covid-19 forbearance.

But they never did, so they dutifully paid on that loan in a repayment program that saddled them with the weight of that debt for potentially more than 20 years.


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So along comes this waiver opportunity where the government seems to be saying, "Hey, I know we said you had to have a Direct Loan to qualify for PSLF. I know we said you had to be in a qualifying repayment plan for 10 years. Guess what, log into studentaid.gov and consolidate those FFEL loans into a Direct Consolidation loan. Then submit employment verifications for your public service. Then, whatever repayment program you were in -- even the ones that previously didn't qualify -- will now count. But here's the catch: this has to be done by October 2022."

In this utopian world, our FFEL loan holder would spend a Saturday getting their loan consolidation submitted and employment certification paperwork ready to be signed and submitted by current and former employers the following Monday. Then they just wait for that random day a couple months later when a letter arrives with the official news that all the loans are forgiven.

Gone. Balance zero.

But the government knows that deadline of October 2022 is going to come quietly and go quietly. My prayer for folks who let this opportunity slip away is that they never find out what they missed. Imagine how painful that would be to learn.

But I ask you, readers, how can we make this Saturday a pile clearing here in Arkansas for public servants with student loans? What can we do to help people get past mental and technical student loan hurdles in order to take action?

I asked this of Arkansas Student Loan Authority, Tony Williams. He deals with this every day. Imagine during covid all the Arkansans in student loan default who could have participated in a loan rehab that in 9 months would have taken their loans out of a very serious problematic state to repayment status -- get this, for FREE! Yes, with no payments required, out of default.

Here was his very wise response, "People have this idea that if they ignore bad things long enough, they will go away. But they don't. This is a case where people are ignoring a great opportunity thinking it will always be there. But it won't."

Since the waiver announcement I have personally advised on or been a part of teams advising 60 people in public service with over $2 million in loans, collectively. Eighty percent of them were in loans or repayment programs that would disqualify them from PSLF.

What should be a code red to the State of Arkansas is that there are people right now who could have their loans forgiven immediately or at least set on track for near-term forgiveness, who will miss this opportunity without intervention. A bunch of people without student loans sounds like a pretty great opportunity for the state economy (unless I successfully convince all these people to put their payments into retirement).

If you are reading this and work for a hospital, a non-profit, or a government entity and have student loans, how about scheduling an appointment with yourself for this Saturday to get them sorted out.

For other readers, consider who you might know in public service with student loans and then nudge them to take action. This isn't just about student loans, after all. It's about the "get to it later" pile. The pile might require unraveling years of mental stress from those loans to get through it.

Sarah Catherine Gutierrez is founder, partner and CEO of Aptus Financial in Little Rock. She is also author of the book "But First, Save 10: The One Simple Money Move That Will Change Your Life," published by Et Alia Press. Contact her at sc@aptusfinancial.com.


Print Headline: Time right to tame 'get to it later' pile, tackle student loans

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