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How I got thousands of dollars in federal student loan payments refunded with 2 phone calls

August 25, 2022, 4:16 PM UTC
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In the midst of President Joe Biden’s unprecedented student loan forgiveness announcement Wednesday, I noticed another form of relief on the federal student aid website: that I could get all of the payments I made on my federal loans during the coronavirus pandemic refunded. 

Having paid nearly $3,000 during the pause—and being eligible for the president’s $20,000 in student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients—I jumped at the opportunity to get some of my money back. Even if I was skeptical that I would actually be able to get the refund.

The government’s website informed me that the refund wasn’t automatic. I had to contact my student loan servicer directly to request the relief.

That’s where things got a little complicated. In May 2022, I was informed that I was one of millions of borrowers whose student loan servicer was changing. When I heard the news that my payments would be refunded, I assumed I had to contact my original student loan servicer. 

I logged on to my computer to review my payment dates and amounts with my old servicer. Shoot, I couldn’t log on—both my new and old loan servicer websites had crashed owing to high volumes of traffic as borrowers scrambled to find out more details on the president’s forgiveness plan. 

Panicked, I logged in to my bank account to find the payment transactions I had made. Luckily, I could account for at least seven, but my bank account only shows transactions dating back 24 months to August 2020. The student loan payment pause started in March 2020 and was extended for one last time through December 2022. 

I was missing six entire months’ proof of payments. 

Oh well, I thought. Any refund is better than no refund. I jotted down the dates of payments, the confirmation numbers, the amounts, and whether they were made on business days or the weekend to try to determine what the posting date might have been. I was prepared for a lot of pushback from the servicer, because I honestly thought they would not want to pay out. 

In spite of my skepticism, I called my old servicer anyway. After waiting on hold for nearly half an hour, a representative finally answered. “Your loans were transferred to a new servicer, we cannot access any of your payment information, I’m sorry,” said the representative.

But I was determined to get my refund, so I called my new servicer as a Hail Mary. 

After waiting on hold for over an hour, I felt ready to give up. What was a couple thousand dollars anyway, I thought. 

And that’s when the representative answered. Flustered, I read my spiel. 

“My name is Kaitlyn Koterbski, my loan was transferred to you in May. I just waited on hold with my old servicer, who told me to call you. I am just wondering if I can get a refund? I have done all my research, and I have the confirmation codes and dates of payment. I think I have a good idea of when the payments posted, I just am missing six months of payments,” I said all in one breath.

“I just requested your refund,” she responded simply. Just like that, without any proof needed, I was told I would be getting the full amount of payments made during the pandemic refunded to me. 

After two hours of researching and preparing, was it really that easy? I felt relief, like I’ve never felt before. Warm tears fell down my cheeks, and I could barely breathe, let alone express my full gratitude for what this act means to me. 

I am a first-generation college graduate. I applied for the FAFSA on my own. I was a Pell Grant Recipient. I wasn’t someone who was used to receiving help, at least not without a fight. 

But in just five minutes, I was told I would be getting a phone call from the servicer to update me when it sends the check in the mail. The money I worked so hard to earn as a full-time college student working 30-plus hours a week, sometimes even two or three jobs at a time, was coming back to me. 

Thousands of dollars, back in my bank account. And that’s before the president’s Pell Grant forgiveness.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching the mail closely for that check.

How will student loan forgiveness affect you and your finances? Please email reporter Alicia Adamczyk to be featured in a future article.