A student-loan borrower was promised a $5,000 refund on payments after Biden's broad debt relief. Months later, she's still waiting — and no one is picking up the phone to help.
- Roxanne Dougherty made payments on her student debt during the pause at the start of the pandemic.
- After Biden announced broad debt relief, she asked to be refunded her $5,000 in voluntary payments.
Roxanne Dougherty always made sure she was staying on top of her student-loan payments.
After graduating from a state school in 2014, Dougherty had about $25,000 in student debt — after receiving a Pell Grant — that she started paying off immediately. She missed just one payment on her loans when she first got out of college, and Dougherty said it dinged her credit report right off the bat. Since then, she's always diligent in paying them off as fast as she financially can.
"Even if they say I don't have to pay, I still pay because I'm so afraid of the consequences," Dougherty, 31, told Insider.
That's why she kept on making payments on her student loans when President Donald Trump first implemented the payment pause in March 2020 to give borrowers relief from the financial strains of the pandemic. She wanted to take advantage of the 0% interest on her loans during the pause to make a dent in her balance, and she now holds just over $10,000 in student debt after making about $5,000 in payments during the pause, according to documents viewed by Insider.
But President Joe Biden's August announcement of up to $20,000 in student-debt relief changed things for Dougherty. Federal Student Aid reiterated at the time that borrowers who made payments during the pause could get a refund on those payments by contacting their student-loan servicer. The process was estimated to take six to 12 weeks, and borrowers with a balance below $10,000 who made payments during the pause would get refunded automatically.
Dougherty jumped on the opportunity, requesting a refund in September from her student-loan company, the Higher Education Loan Authority of the State of Missouri.
A month later, she decided to consolidate her eight federal loans into two because she believed it would help her credit. She later worried it would interfere with her refund, so she said she asked to cancel her consolidation request. But after following up multiple times with MOHELA regarding the status of her refund, the only communication Dougherty said she received from the company was that her consolidation request went through.
Now she's left wondering whether she'll get the $5,000 back that she was promised — on top of Biden's broad student-debt relief.
"I'm 31. I'm trying to invest in myself with a home and start a family soon, but we're really limited on how today is with the economy, how things are going with the housing market and all of that," Dougherty said. "Five thousand dollars would really help our situation right now and relieve us of some of the stress that we've been going under since we settled on the home that we just bought."
MOHELA did not respond to a request for comment. The Education Department directed Insider to guidance on refunds posted on Federal Student Aid's website.
'No one is taking the time to help me'
Dougherty is far from alone in her student-debt limbo. Millions of federal borrowers are waiting to see whether the Supreme Court will uphold Biden's plan for student-debt relief, which was paused in November. In light of the lawsuits, Biden extended the student-loan-payment pause through 60 days after June 30 or 60 days after the lawsuits are resolved, whichever happens first, meaning there's a chance payments could resume without relief.
The uncertainty around the relief, and whether she will get her refund, has kept Dougherty making her payments.
"I just don't know if the Biden thing will actually go through, and I've been paying for so long," she said. "When you get out of college, you're told to pay this off until it goes to zero, so that's what I'm doing. I'm just continuing to pay it off. I don't want to pause hoping for something else. If something comes that gives me that relief, then so be it."
But she hasn't relented on trying to get help from MOHELA and other federal agencies to recoup payments she voluntarily made. In January, she called MOHELA twice and could not get in touch with a customer-service representative, she said. In March — six months after she requested a refund — she sat on hold for nearly two hours before having to hang up to coach volleyball.
"No one is taking the time to help me or to listen to me when it comes to MOHELA," Dougherty said. "It's just so bizarre, and it's sad that it resorts to me having to try to find another way."
Insider reported in October on the hours-long wait times with MOHELA that have kept borrowers from getting even just simple questions answered.
Scott Buchanan, the executive director of the Student Loan Servicing Alliance — a group representing federal-loan servicers — told Insider at the time that the Education Department "decides how much resources and how much staff they're going to pay to have on the phones."
"And so this is sort of not surprising in the sense of, if the department doesn't provide any additional financial resources, there's no ability to provide additional staff," Buchanan said.
Biden requested additional funding for the Federal Student Aid office in his recent budget proposal, but given the Republican-majority House, it's unlikely Congress will approve it.
Dougherty has now reached out to MOHELA, the Education Department, the Better Business Bureau, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Student Aid, and the Federal Trade Commission — and none of those agencies have helped her find out what's going on with her refund.
"It just seems like there's something in it for them to not help," Dougherty said. "That's how it feels."
Are you still waiting for a refund on your student-loan payments? Do you have any other concerns with student debt? Share your story with this reporter at email@example.com.
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