Each year, more than 30 percent of people who file a so-called Employee Certification Form, which is supposed to confirm one's public service loan forgiveness status, are denied, according to the Department of Education. And this form is not mandatory for public service loan forgiveness, and so the total number of people denied is probably greater.
These problems are so common that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report in June on the failures of the student loan industry to properly inform people about forgiveness requirements and rights.
"Borrowers have identified a range of student loan industry practices that delay, defer, or deny access to expected debt relief," according to the report.
Since the DOE first began accepting requests in October 2017, some 16,000 people have applied, a DOE spokesman told CNBC.
But fewer than 1,000 people are expected to be eligible.
Jay Fleischman, a student loan lawyer, said he's heard from people who were almost done with that decade of repayment when they first learned that none of those payments counted toward forgiveness.
"They call me up because they want me to help guide them through getting finalized," he said. "And I'm the one who has to be the bearer of bad news: They're going to have to start from scratch.
"I have people cry on the phone," Fleischman added.