2019 PERSONAL SERVICE WINNER

The New York Times

Ron Lieber

A government loan forgiveness program that has proven to be vexing for consumers to navigate was the compelling subject of a multiple-story series by New York Times reporter Ron Lieber. About two-thirds of college graduates now borrow money to complete their degrees, and millions of Americans — about a quarter of the workforce — qualify for the public-service loan forgiveness program (including public-school teachers, firefighters, public defenders and those in the nonprofit sector). Lieber used his columns to cut through the bureaucratic maze surrounding the program and explain how it worked: Borrowers need to get the right kind of loan from the government, be enrolled in an eligible repayment plan, make 120 on-time payments by 2017 and work fulltime in the right kind of job to have their debt erased. The original concept was to make public service more attractive, but Lieber found that many borrowers received incorrect advice. They ended up in the wrong type of loan or in the wrong repayment plan; they often received conflicting answers and advice once they contacted the government’s loan servicer (known as FedLoan). His columns succinctly explained these issues, profiled those who have experienced problems with the program, dissected the Department of Education’s $350 million “rescue plan” to help certain borrowers and offered links to resources and instructions that showed consumers how to apply to the program.

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