NOTICE | SAVE YOURSELF: It’s time to tame the “go later” pile and tackle student loans

Do you have a “go later” stack? If it’s like mine, it’s right under your computer. It’s a bunch of really important or even not really important things that you need to get to, but not today. My “go later” pile may consist of documents from recipients or mail that has been returned and needs to be resent. Among my favorite things in my latest “get there later” pile spiral are my kids’ two report cards that would take painstaking effort to file in the open filing box next to my desk that has a smartly tabbed marked called “Kid Report Cards.”

The funny thing about the “go later” pile is that the quick task I left for tomorrow starts to take on importance and urgency in my mind, but my determination to complete it s is weakening at the same rate. Then my perception of what it would take to accomplish the task also grew. The “get there later” pile morphs from a series of simple tasks into my personal identity that changes shape as the days go by. One day, I’m afraid of becoming the kind of person who has a pile so big that it will be inaccessible.

Then every 6 months I take a Saturday and empty the “go later” pile. Take that flipped envelope and the extraordinary effort required to pull it out of the “go later” pile. First, I send a text message (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 entering the updated mailing address. Forty seconds are needed to readdress and stamp the letter.

But then the real work on that returned envelope begins. I need to begin the mental unraveling of my past inability and procrastination to do such a simple thing, which can take, say, 200 seconds of negative self-reflection. This is followed by another 500 seconds to google mental health issues and “get to that later” stacks.

But the good news is that in the end, as I clear the “go later” pile, I feel freedom, lightness, and capacity. It is so clear to me at that moment that I can do anything. Run a marathon? Sign me up. I just emptied my “go there later” stack.

I want to challenge all of my readers to make Saturday, January 29 a pile-clearing day in Arkansas. Civil service workers with student loans, I’m looking at you in particular. Yes I understand. Student loans are complicated by the jargon and actions required to qualify for government loan forgiveness. But probably also in the mix are emotional and psychological hurdles to jump through to deal with loans in the first place, which is why loans can fester for years in your “get it later” piles.

The latter likely explains why little action was taken by public service employees in response to the waiver of the Extended Public Service Loans Forgiveness (TEPSLF) that I reported on in October. I thought there would be widespread excitement and thousands of Arkansans rushing to get their loans back on track for full cancellation, to the tune of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

But instead, crickets.

These applications for employment certificates that should paralyze HR services?

No.

The government may know that we have over 40 million student borrowers, many of whom could qualify for forgiveness, but what the government failed to realize when it introduced the waiver is that student loans are big, gigantic “get there later” stacks. Many people feel alone with the burden of their debts and particularly ill-equipped to manage them.

Or maybe the government has completely figured it out.

Think of the October announcement as a nefarious move by the government designed to squeeze more money out of people. Student loans, after all, before covid, brought in billions of dollars in revenue. In an environment of near-zero interest rates for savings, the federal government was collecting 6% plus interest on many of its loans.

Hmmmm, now that I think about it, what an evil genius! Announce a goodwill student loan waiver for these hard-working public servants and get all the credit. Let people think that millions of loans would be canceled for people unwittingly in bad loans or repayment plans, either immediately or in the not so distant future.

Consider Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) holders who, if they had consolidated their loans into an eligible direct consolidation loan when they started their careers at a nonprofit hospital or worked for state, would have been on track for PSLF remission after 120 months of qualifying payments and would have stopped making payments at all for the past 22 months with covid-19 forbearance.

But they never did, so they dutifully paid off that loan under a repayment program that burdened them with that debt for potentially more than 20 years.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » direct loan to qualify for PSLF. I know we said you had to be in an eligible repayment plan for 10 years. Guess what, log on to 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’re in you were – even those who weren’t eligible before – will be counted now. But here’s the catch: it must be done by October 2022.”

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

Faded away. Zero balance.

But the government knows that the October 2022 deadline will come quietly and leave quietly. My prayer for people who missed this opportunity is that they never find out what they missed. Imagine how painful it would be to learn.

But I ask you, readers, how can we do this Saturday a whole lot of compensation here in Arkansas for public servants with student loans? What can we do to help people overcome the mental and technical barriers related to student loans in order to take action?

I posed this question to the Arkansas Student Loans Authority, Tony Williams. He takes care of it every day. Imagine during covid all the Arkansans in student loan default who could have participated in a loan rehabilitation that in 9 months would have brought their loans out of very serious problem state to repayment status – get this, FREE! Yes, no payment required, default.

Here is his very wise response: “People have this idea that if they ignore bad things long enough, they will walk away. But they don’t. This is a case of people ignoring a great opportunity by thinking that it will always be there. But it won’t be.”

Since the announcement of the waiver, I have personally advised or been part of teams advising 60 people in the 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 code red for the state of Arkansas is that there are people right now who could have their loans canceled immediately or at least put on track for short-term cancellation, which will miss this opportunity without intervention. A group of people without student loans seems like a pretty good opportunity for the state economy (unless I can convince all of these people to retire their payments).

If you’re reading this and you work for a hospital, non-profit organization, or government entity and have student loans, how about making an appointment with yourself this Saturday to settle them.

For other readers, consider who you might know in public service with student loans, then push them to action. It’s not just about student loans, after all. This is the “get there later” stack. The stack could take years of mental stress from these loans to pull through.

Sarah Catherine Gutierrez is the founder, partner and CEO of Aptus Financial in Little Rock. She is also the 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 [email protected]