MILWAUKEE — A week after President Joe Biden announced his student loan forgiveness plan, the deadline is fast approaching for a much lesser-known program that forgives even more debt for borrowers who are utility workers . It is now easier to get program approval, but you must submit your application within the next two months.

The Civil Service Loan Forgiveness Program has been around for 15 years, but until last year many government employees and nonprofits struggled to get approved due to strict requirements. Now that those requirements have been relaxed through a temporary waiver, thousands of people who have made at least ten years of payments are seeing their student loans forgiven.

There are all kinds of public service employees in Wisconsin, from firefighters and police to teachers and social workers. Many of them end up with growing student loan debt. But as Danica Zawieja found out, their remaining balance can be made up through the civil service loan forgiveness program known as PSLF.

“It allows me to continue doing the work that I really love to do,” she said.

Zawieja says she graduated from Marquette University Law School in 2010 with $116,000 in federal student debt. She says that amount continued to climb to $174,000 this year due to interest after making income-based payments while working as an attorney for the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin. Her balance of $174,000 was entirely wiped out this year when she received PSLF endorsement.

“For me, it’s really a path to home ownership,” she said.

Until the temporary waiver became available, Zawieja says it was nearly impossible for her and many others to qualify for the pardon.

“The auto-debit {payment} would be a penny less, so it wouldn’t count as a full payment,” she explained.

According to the US Department of Education, there are 172,000 public employees with federal student loan debt in Wisconsin, but before the PSLF exemption, fewer than 3,000 qualified to have their debt forgiven.

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Emma Crawford of UW-Madison’s financial aid counseling office says that’s no longer the case.

“We are literally seeing billions of dollars in loan forgiveness as a result of this temporary waiver,” she said.

Crawford says the waiver allows public service employees to bundle different types of federal loans into what’s called a direct loan without resetting the ten-year clock of payments. Only direct federal loans are canceled through this program.

“It really makes it easier to account for past payments, which has allowed so many borrowers to go back and get credit for PSLF-eligible payments that wouldn’t normally count,” Crawford said.

In order to gain approval, applicants must have made at least 120 qualifying student loan payments. Crawford says those who qualify get forgiveness for the remaining amount of their federal student debt.

“As it stands, there is no cap on the amount of forgiveness, so whether a borrower has $2,000 in federal student loans remaining or has hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she said.

While Wisconsin is expected to be one of five states to impose the latest round of federal student loan relief that President Biden announced last week, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue says that is not the case. for those receiving public student loan relief.

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