'It’s a Very Challenging Process to Get Through'
Emergency management specialist in nuclear and radiological emergency response
National Nuclear Security Administration, Energy Department
What do you do?
My name is Jeff Galan, and I work for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. I'm an emergency management specialist, and I do nuclear and radiological emergency response.
How did you first find out about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and what made you decide to pursue it?
Well, you know, I've been working for the government for 17 years, a little bit over, and had always heard that this, you know, loan forgiveness system was out there. But anytime it looked at it, it just didn't make much sense, and it never looked like it would help me out. So I really didn't pay much attention to it. I'd look occasionally, but then in the last year or so, the Biden administration had come out with the new waivers, and my office actually started talking about it. One of my coworkers, my boss actually, was applying for it and encouraged us all to look back at the system, and see if we might be eligible.
So it sounds like you sort of just had been paying off your loans for a while, and then sort of came back and realized, I might just be able to qualify for this, even though you, you know, weren't necessarily working towards it specifically.
I graduated back in the '90s and had student loans since the '90s. And it was, you know, I had like a 30-year loan, and I was a good 20-plus years into it, so I maybe was only about four or five years from paying it all off. I had always looked at the system, but the qualifications and the payment terms never made any sense. They were actually punitive in some ways. And so I just continued with my normal, you know, Sallie Mae, student loan payments for decades.
Interesting. Well, obviously, you're in a little bit different position from a lot of the people that we've been talking to, but do you think that this program, you know, might help attract people into public service?
Yes, definitely, now that it's got some more, let's say, logic behind it, or it's a little bit more understandable, and you can actually qualify for it. So you know, we'd always heard through the grapevine that, oh, don't even bother, you can't even qualify for it. So I never bothered. But now that we hear this, yeah, it's actually interesting. I actually have kids in college and one in graduate school. And I've pointed it out to them, saying, “Hey, look, you know, you're going into industries that this might work out for you. So pay attention to this, start reading into this.” So it's kind of odd that even though I used it to help pay off my student loans, I've already started talking to my kids about the benefits of it and looking at, you know, a job with the federal government or other, you know, governmental entities.
Can you talk a little bit about sort of that experience trying to navigate this whole bureaucracy almost at the end of the process, as opposed to someone who maybe is coming out of school intending to use this?
Like you said, I kind of came into it a slightly different way. And, yeah, it was out in the news that there was this new waiver. So I started looking at this to see if, you know, I could actually now benefit from it, even though it hadn't, hadn't been really applicable before. And so I started doing research again to see if I might actually qualify, and to say that it was confusing is an understatement. And, you know, I feel bad for people coming right out of school trying to understand the system, because it is quite confusing. And it took me many hours of reading and research to kind of finally figure out the correct way to go through the process. So, yeah, when you said bureaucracy, yeah, that's, it's, sadly, a very paperwork and rule intensive process. It had a positive outcome for me in the end, but it was a slog to get through it.
What was the hardest part? What were some of the biggest hurdles, trying to figure this all out and get your ducks in a row?
Well, first, understanding the application, I have a law degree, and I had trouble understanding the terms. And it was so difficult to understand that the application itself was confusing. And whether it applied to me or not was confusing. And I'd say the probably the most challenging thing throughout the entire process was getting additional information. There was, you know, a 1-800 number you could call to ask questions. And I probably called four times throughout the process. And I never waited less than an hour to get through to someone. And only one time did one of the people actually have helpful information. The other three times they really didn't understand the process, either. So that became very frustrating with the lack of information, and the lack of being able to understand it and or have someone help you understand it.
So I guess what ultimately ended up happening, you know, were you able to get the remainder of your loans forgiven?
Yes, actually, just in the last two weeks, it finally came through. Yeah, it was probably, I started the process around September, or October when I started looking into it and starting the application process. And it just came through last month, right at the end of May.
If you don't mind my asking, how much got forgiven?
Right around $8,000. So that was good.
And you said without this program, you said you'd be paying that off over the course of a couple more years?
Yeah, I was scheduled to finish paying my student loans when I would start paying my kids student loans. It literally worked out to the year I was going to finish my student loans when I started paying my kids. So it was sort of, yeah you kind of shake your head at this point. It’s quite a system we have.
Is there anything else that we haven't covered that you think we should know?
No, again, take your time, look at the system. Try to get help. It does work. It’s a very challenging process to get through. But stick with it because it does work in the long run.