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Student loan forgiveness could help thousands of Utah grads

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Major changes are coming to the U.S. Department of Education's Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that could have a big impact on Utah graduates.

The program created in 2007 was meant to provide student debt relief to workers in public service fields, like teachers and paraprofessionals, but it has been plagued by bureaucratic issues making it difficult to qualify.

Changes announced this week allow eligible borrowers to complete a waiver to count all their payments toward the forgiveness program, regardless of the loan program or payment plan.

Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, said the department is ready to right the wrongs of the past.

"We want to make sure that we're doing everything in the agency to protect our borrowers, our students," Cardona pledged. "We serve our students. We have to make that clear, not only in our talk, but in our actions. You've done so much to help our community. You were made a promise, and it's now our turn to deliver on that promise."

Under the Public Service program, qualified graduates can have the remainder of their student debt forgiven.

Utah's average student debt is about $18,000, considerably lower than the national average of $29,000, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

Brad Asay, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Utah, said lenders often used complex rules to block graduates from participating in the federal forgiveness program.

"The lenders were making it extremely difficult," Asay contended. "They'd say, 'Oh, you didn't fill this out correctly. Now you don't qualify.' And so, anything that was supposed to be forgiven automatically now turns into a loan. That's the way that they made money."

Asay noted both Utah and the national AFT provide assistance for teachers and other educators on how to deal with the loan forgiveness program.

In addition to the federal program, Utah has several debt assistance and forgiveness programs.