[ Fighting for you ]

Long Island teacher grateful for huge student debt relief

By Sylvia Saunders



or South Country teacher Loraine Richardson McCray, her student loan debt felt like a life sentence.

“My debt was so substantial — and just kept growing — that I figured I’d die with it,” she said.

Loraine Richardson McCray headshot

Loraine Richardson McCray, Bellport Teachers Association.

All that changed when a colleague suggested she attend an online student debt workshop sponsored by NYSUT.

“The guidance and support was nothing short of divine intervention,” McCray said. “At the end of the process, I had a six-figure balance reduced to zero. No more payments to make — EVER!”

A Brooklyn native, she recalled moving into her SUNY Stony Brook housing with black garbage bags. The first in her family to attend college, she worked five different jobs as an undergraduate but still needed to take out loans. McCray racked up more loans to earn a master’s degree in TESOL and advanced degrees in technology systems and school building leadership.

“As the years went on, I just kept taking forbearance — postponing my payments and hoping my finances would improve,” said McCray, an English as a New Language teacher for 25 years. “But having two children, going through a difficult divorce and struggling to pay the everyday bills, the interest just kept growing to an astronomical amount. Two thirds of my debt was compounding interest.”

The union student loan debt workshop turned out to be her “miracle.”

As part of the live webinar, Martin Lynch, of the NYSUT Member Benefits-endorsed Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp., explained the ins and outs of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which erases the federal student loan debt of educators and other public service workers after 10 years of service and 120 qualifying monthly payments.

She also learned about big changes in the PSLF system, including a union-backed temporary waiver that relaxed the rules and allowed borrowers to get payment credit for certain periods of deferment and forbearance. The Biden administration is cracking down on loan servicers who improperly encourage distressed borrowers to postpone payments through forbearance instead of enrolling them in low-cost repayment plans.

Most importantly, McCray took advantage of free follow-up counseling offered after the webinar.

“I can’t thank Marty enough for his wisdom and patience,” McCray said. “I never felt like I was alone in this very intimidating process.”

McCray said Lynch guided her through loan consolidation and how to fill out the forms and letters to the lender and the federal ombudsman’s office. One of the reasons for McCray’s high loan balance was that she was an extreme victim of forbearance abuse. Cambridge worked with her throughout that appeals process so she was able to get enough payment credits to receive the PSLF.

After several months of back and forth, McCray’s letter from the federal student loan servicer arrived just after the first of this year.

“Congratulations!” the letter said. “You have successfully met the requirements of the PSLF program and your loans have been forgiven. Thank you for your public service.”

“I still can’t believe this is over, thanks to my union,” McCray said.

Get straight answers on student debt

If you are struggling with student loan debt, NYSUT offers online student loan workshops and services in partnership with NYSUT Member Benefits and Cambridge Credit Counseling. Webinars are free for NYSUT members and their family.

With student loan payments expected to resume later this year, it’s a good time to learn more about the various repayment options and how to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. You will also have an opportunity to schedule a free counseling session with a certified student loan counselor.

Register now for a live webinar on March 7, 16, 28 or April 27. Go to studentloans.nysut.org.