CLEVELAND — Navigating loan forgiveness for teachers around Cleveland comes with learning harsh realities. Often times, Cleveland Teachers' Union Salary and Benefits Chairperson Cindy Antonio delivers them.
"This is always an issue and they always want to get rid of it," said Antonio, talking about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program being left out of the latest White House budget proposal.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program allows anyone who works for a nonprofit, or at any level of government, and correctly fills out the right paper every year, to get their loans forgiven after 120 qualifying payments, taking most people about 10 years.
"Student debt is a real crisis for our members," said Antonio.
Antonio walks teachers through a powerpoint presentation laying out how to properly attempt to pay back their student loans.
She says teachers go into debt for their education but the money they owe holds them back from hitting big milestones for the rest of their lives.
"Then there's the ripple effect," said Antonio. "They try to buy a house, a car, start a family and we're noticing the crisis more and more throughout the country with the price of college going up."
Taking it away could make it harder for new hires to become teachers in the first place. Experts say Congress will likely make sure it is part of any budget it passes, but Antonio says the threat of taking it away is still scary for the people who use it.
Signing up, and staying eligible for the loan forgiveness has created another set of problems.
"Its a confusing process but it is rules that the government has set up that unfortunately, I think, people get bogged down with doing all the different paperwork," said Antonio.
Anyone looking for loan forgiveness needs to make sure they have the right kind of loan, the right kind of repayment plan, and that they send in the right paperwork every year.
Only then will all the rest of their debt be forgiven, but with so many details to get right, it's easy to get wrong.
CTU started information seminars three years ago because the loan forgiveness process is so complicated that many people were struggling to navigate it.
"I'm running into it daily," said AXA Advisors of Ohio Financial Adviser Alex Solove. "People are saying, 'I've been in the program for 5 to 6 years, I'm almost done.' I take a look at their loans and their repayment plan and I have to break the bad news to them: they haven't even started."
AXA Advisors realized a few years ago that many people who were eligible for the program weren't signing up and many of the people who did sign up were doing it incorrectly.
"The first 41,000 people who enrolled, fast forward, 10 years, 206 of them received their forgiveness," said Solove.
For the rest, that meant a decade of loan payments and the borrowers were no closer to forgiveness.
That's why Antonio and teachers' union started holding four information sessions a year, "getting the word out about how to fill out the application, who to send it to, how to keep up on all your paperwork," said Antonio.
She estimates they've helped more than 300 teachers in just three years. Solove says it's important to make sure you get correct information because loan companies aren't really motivated to help borrowers pay less.
"If they're calling their loan servicer, getting misled, being told they're enrolled properly when they're really not, what's that borrower supposed to do," said Solove.