How to Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

PSLF

Everyone wants their student loans forgiven. The perception is that very few qualify. But did you know that there is one broad, employment-based forgiveness program for federal student loans? Let me break down some key points of PSLF to help you figure out if you could qualify.

[ 1 ] Work in Qualifying Employment

First, you need to work for the right employer—a public service employer. What does that mean? Everyone has a different definition. Ours is based on who employs you, not what you do at work. Here’s what qualifies:

  • Governmental organizations – Federal, state, local, Tribal
  • 501(c)(3) organizations
  • A not-for-profit organization that provides specific public services, such as public education or public health

Here’s what doesn’t qualify:

  • Labor unions
  • Partisan political organizations
  • For-profit organizations

[ 2 ] Qualifying Employment Status

If you work at one of these types of organizations—great! Next, you need to work in a qualifying employment status, which means that you must be a full-time employee. For us, full-time means that you meet your employer’s definition or work at least 30 hours per week, whichever is greater.

[ 3 ] Have a Qualifying Loan

A qualifying loan is a Direct Loan. It’s that simple. Of course, it’s the government, so nothing is actually that simple. There are (or were) three big federal student loan programs:

If you’re not sure which loan program, I can’t blame you—I had 20 loans when I finished graduate school! You can log in to My Federal Student Aid to determine which program you borrowed from. Here’s a tip: if you see “Direct” in the name, it’s a Direct Loan. Otherwise, it’s not.

Don’t have a Direct Loan? Don’t despair! You can consolidate your federal student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan and qualify for PSLF. Not having a Direct Loan is the biggest reason that borrowers aren’t on track for PSLF, so do your homework. If you need to consolidate, check the box in the application that says that you’re consolidating for the purposes of loan forgiveness. It will make your life easier.

[ 4 ] Have a Qualifying Repayment Plan

Next, you need a qualifying repayment plan. All of the “income-driven repayment plans” qualify. So does the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, but if you’re on that plan, you should switch to an income-driven repayment plan right now, or you will have little or nothing to forgive after you meet all of the criteria.

If you’re consolidating, be sure to apply for an income-driven repayment plan because the Standard Repayment Plan for Direct Consolidation Loans almost never qualifies.

You can apply for an income-driven repayment plan on StudentLoans.gov.

[ 5 ] Make 120 Qualifying Payments

Lastly, you need to make qualifying payments—120 of them. A qualifying payment is exactly what you think it is. You get a bill. It has an “amount due” and a “due date”. Make your full payment by the due date (or up to 15 days later), and the payment qualifies. If you make a payment when you’re not required to—say, because, you’re in a deferment or you paid your student loan well in advance—then it doesn’t count. The best way to set yourself up for success is to sign up for automatic payments with your servicer.

Your payments do not need to be consecutive. So, if you make qualifying payments, stop, and then start again, you don’t start over.

I’m sorry to have to mention a random date, but a payment only qualifies if it was made after October 1, 2007, so nobody can qualify until 2017 at the earliest.

Okay, so do I qualify?

Now, let’s put it all together. For any payment to count toward PSLF, you need to meet all of the criteria when you make each payment. That means you need to be working for a qualifying employer on a full-time basis when you make a qualifying payment under a qualifying repayment plan on a Direct Loan.

I know all of you are still thinking—“that’s great, but do I qualify?” Here’s how you find out. Download this form. Fill it out. Have your employer certify it. Send it to FedLoan Servicing (one of our federal student loan servicers). FedLoan Servicing will figure this all out and let you know whether your employment qualifies, and how many qualifying payments you’ve made.

Submit the form early and often. We recommend once per year or when you change jobs. Why? Because it means that you won’t have to submit 10 years’ worth of forms when you ultimately want to apply for forgiveness. It also means that you can apply for forgiveness with confidence.

One more piece of good news: PSLF is tax-free.

Ian Foss has worked as a program specialist for the Department of Education since 2010. He’s scheduled to be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness on October 6, 2021, if all goes according to plan.

39 Comments

  1. part 2: Since 2007 I have occasionally made more than the minimum pymt. At one time the account indicated which pymts qualified for this program and only the ones that were almost $1k qualified. I have made 92 pymts since October 2007 and very few of them qualified.
    When I go to the calculator it displays 8 different loan types with a pymt range with a column that is “Projected Loan Forgiveness” amount and the entire column are zeros $0. It also displays this message: “Projected Loan Forgiveness shows the outstanding balance of principal and interest at the end of the repayment period. Any outstanding principal and interest is forgiven at the end of the repayment period, and this forgiven balance is treated as taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service.”
    Your text shows: “One more piece of good news: PSLF is tax-free.” Is this new for the program?
    It is a shame that it is this is so convoluted, when I believe the spirit of the program was to simplify.
    Thank you for trying to educate us on this program. I hope that there are many folks that will have a wonderful 2017 and beyond because of it, including me!
    With gratitude.

  2. Part 1: I have been a full-time police officer for one of the top 10 cities in the US since 2002. I believe it qualifies and the certification form has been submitted to my employer.
    I access my account through EdFinancial Services and it indicates the loan type as DRCT SCH CONSOL, as I too had numerous loans consolidated.
    It shows the loan period beginning 2003. The original amount was just under $84k and the pymt is just under $400 a month and it has been a fixed amount. It is auto-deducted from my checking each month. It has never been in default and I have made monthly pymts since before the beginning of this program in October of 2007. The balance is just under $58k, so I am afraid that it is just a consolidation loan. I believe the term is 25 yrs.
    If I go to studentloans.com and convert this to an income based loan, will the pymts from 2007 apply or will those have to start over? I am afraid that they will more than double my pymt, so will I be allowed to decline the loan? I am concerned that converting my loan is no guarantee that I will be allowed in the program and that the numbers will be to my advantage and I will then be stuck with a much higher pymt.

  3. 4th try. Field limit?I have been a full-time police officer for one of the top 10 cities in the US since 2002. I believe it qualifies and the certification form has been submitted to my employer. I access my account through EdFinancial Services and it indicates the loan type as DRCT SCH CONSOL, as I too had numerous loans consolidated.
    It shows the loan period beginning 2003. The original amount was just under $84k and the pymt is just under $400 a month and it has been a fixed amount. It is auto-deducted from my checking each month. It has never been in default and I have made monthly pymts since before the beginning of this program in October of 2007. The balance is just under $58k, so I am afraid that it is just a consolidation loan. I believe the term is 25 yrs. If I go to studentloans.com and convert this to an income based loan, will the pymts from 2007 apply or will those have to start over? I am afraid that they will more than double my pymt, so will I be allowed to decline the loan? I am concerned that converting my loan is no guarantee that I will be allowed in the program and that the numbers will be to my advantage and I will then be stuck with a much higher pymt. Since 2007 I have occasionally made more than the minimum pymt. At one time the account indicated which pymts qualified for this program and only the ones that were almost $1k qualified. I have made 92 pymts since October 2007 and very few of them qualified. When I go to the calculator it displays 8 different loan types with a pymt range with a column that is “Projected Loan Forgiveness” amount and the entire column are zeros $0. It also displays this message: “Projected Loan Forgiveness shows the outstanding balance of principal and interest at the end of the repayment period. Any outstanding principal and interest is forgiven at the end of the repayment period, and this forgiven balance is treated as taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service.” Your text shows: “One more piece of good news: PSLF is tax-free.” Is this new for the program? It is a shame that it is this is so convoluted, when I believe the spirit of the program was to simplify. Thank you for trying to educate us on this program. I hope that there are many folks that will have a wonderful 2017 and beyond because of it, including me! With gratitude.

  4. 4th try. Field limit?I have been a full-time police officer for one of the top 10 cities in the US since 2002. I believe it qualifies and the certification form has been submitted to my employer. I access my account through EdFinancial Services and it indicates the loan type as DRCT SCH CONSOL, as I too had numerous loans consolidated.
    It shows the loan period beginning 2003. The original amount was just under $84k and the pymt is just under $400 a month and it has been a fixed amount. It is auto-deducted from my checking each month. It has never been in default and I have made monthly pymts since before the beginning of this program in October of 2007. The balance is just under $58k, so I am afraid that it is just a consolidation loan. I believe the term is 25 yrs. If I go to studentloans.com and convert this to an income based loan, will the pymts from 2007 apply or will those have to start over? I am afraid that they will more than double my pymt, so will I be allowed to decline the loan? I am concerned that converting my loan is no guarantee that I will be allowed in the program and that the numbers will be to my advantage and I will then be stuck with a much higher pymt. Since 2007 I have occasionally made more than the minimum pymt. At one time the account indicated which pymts qualified for this program and only the ones that were almost $1k qualified. I have made 92 pymts since October 2007 and very few of them qualified. When I go to the calculator it displays 8 different loan types with a pymt range with a column that is “Projected Loan Forgiveness” amount and the entire column are zeros $0. It also displays this message: “Projected Loan Forgiveness shows the outstanding balance of principal and interest at the end of the repayment period. Any outstanding principal and interest is forgiven at the end of the repayment period, and this forgiven balance is treated as taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service.” Your text shows: “One more piece of good news: PSLF is tax-free.” Is this new for the program? It is a shame that it is this is so convoluted, when I believe the spirit of the program was to simplify. Thank you for trying to educate us on this program. I hope that there are many folks that will have a wonderful 2017 and beyond because of it, including me! With gratitude.

  5. 3rd try. I have been a full-time police officer for one of the top 10 cities in the US since 2002. I believe it qualifies and the certification form has been submitted to my employer.
    I access my account through EdFinancial Services and it indicates the loan type as DRCT SCH CONSOL, as I too had numerous loans consolidated.
    It shows the loan period beginning 2003. The original amount was just under $84k and the pymt is just under $400 a month and it has been a fixed amount. It is auto-deducted from my checking each month. It has never been in default and I have made monthly pymts since before the beginning of this program in October of 2007. The balance is just under $58k, so I am afraid that it is just a consolidation loan. I believe the term is 25 yrs.
    If I go to studentloans.com and convert this to an income based loan, will the pymts from 2007 apply or will those have to start over? I am afraid that they will more than double my pymt, so will I be allowed to decline the loan? I am concerned that converting my loan is no guarantee that I will be allowed in the program and that the numbers will be to my advantage and I will then be stuck with a much higher pymt.
    Since 2007 I have occasionally made more than the minimum pymt. At one time the account indicated which pymts qualified for this program and only the ones that were almost $1k qualified. I have made 92 pymts since October 2007 and very few of them qualified.
    When I go to the calculator it displays 8 different loan types with a pymt range with a column that is “Projected Loan Forgiveness” amount and the entire column are zeros $0. It also displays this message: “Projected Loan Forgiveness shows the outstanding balance of principal and interest at the end of the repayment period. Any outstanding principal and interest is forgiven at the end of the repayment period, and this forgiven balance is treated as taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service.”
    Your text shows: “One more piece of good news: PSLF is tax-free.” Is this new for the program?
    It is a shame that it is this is so convoluted, when I believe the spirit of the program was to simplify.
    Thank you for trying to educate us on this program. I hope that there are many folks that will have a wonderful 2017 and beyond because of it, including me!
    With gratitude.

  6. Apparently my text didn’t go through. I did it in Word and saved it, so lets see if it works this time.
    I have been a full-time police officer for one of the top 10 cities in the US since 2002. I believe it qualifies and the certification form has been submitted to my employer.
    I access my account through EdFinancial Services and it indicates the loan type as DRCT SCH CONSOL, as I too had numerous loans consolidated.
    It shows the loan period beginning 2003. The original amount was just under $84k and the pymt is just under $400 a month and it has been a fixed amount. It is auto-deducted from my checking each month. It has never been in default and I have made monthly pymts since before the beginning of this program in October of 2007. The balance is just under $58k, so I am afraid that it is just a consolidation loan. I believe the term is 25 yrs.
    If I go to studentloans.com and convert this to an income based loan, will the pymts from 2007 apply or will those have to start over? I am afraid that they will more than double my pymt, so will I be allowed to decline the loan? I am concerned that converting my loan is no guarantee that I will be allowed in the program and that the numbers will be to my advantage and I will then be stuck with a much higher pymt.
    Since 2007 I have occasionally made more than the minimum pymt. At one time the account indicated which pymts qualified for this program and only the ones that were almost $1k qualified. I have made 92 pymts since October 2007 and very few of them qualified.
    When I go to the calculator it displays 8 different loan types with a pymt range with a column that is “Projected Loan Forgiveness” amount and the entire column are zeros $0. It also displays this message: “Projected Loan Forgiveness shows the outstanding balance of principal and interest at the end of the repayment period. Any outstanding principal and interest is forgiven at the end of the repayment period, and this forgiven balance is treated as taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service.”
    Your text shows: “One more piece of good news: PSLF is tax-free.” Is this new for the program?
    It is a shame that it is this is so convoluted, when I believe the spirit of the program was to simplify.
    Thank you for trying to educate us on this program. I hope that there are many folks that will have a wonderful 2017 and beyond because of it, including me!
    With gratitude.

    • I was working on doctorate….loan was for masters. . emergency guardianship and adoption of 18 month grandson became priority . subsequent retirement insued due to needs of child.

  7. Believe me, I can use every little bit help that I can get. I owe almost $150000 .00 on student loan. Now I am stacked with a Federal Student loan that I am not able to pay. I am not alone in that matter. Some of the problem lied with the Federal Government itself, because they do not control how much money a so called Privately owned Colleges can push into a student throat just to get pay.
    Unfortunately, those courses are getting expensive by the minute…

  8. I guess the DOE never heard of “working poor”. There are less degree holders working in not-for profits or goverment jobs. This program is a joke. A doctor and lawyer (some of the largetst eage earners) can qualify for this, but because I work at a for-profit. I can not. Another smoke and mirrors by the U.S. Goverment.

    • Exactly Donald, a government job makes a person qualified for this student loan help? Like government jobs don’t pay enough (not even counting the nice benefits). Now they get this amazing program for student loan forgiveness. This country is ruined.

  9. Dear Madam or Sir:
    I am a student with a disability I graduate form college in fall 2004 I found employment Spring 2008 I begin paying on my student loans I worked until I had a injury from work required lot of surgery. I little confuse regarding which government agencies qualified the loan forgiveness. I worked for the clerk of the circuit court of cook county and for a non profit agency I was told by the university where I graduate none of the agency qualified. While I was still in school 2006 and after I graduated until 2011 apply to volunteer with AmeriCorps Vista and Peace Corps, volunteer match I got no where. I completed Americorps online application process documents requirement and submit all of my required information including my reference 2006 to 2011. My professional references got so tired of submit personal information one of my reference mail the information to the Americorps office in my city Americorps staff kept given me the running around each time I log on to my Americorps account I was ask to change my password over and over I call Americorps toll free phone number ask why each time I log on. I had to change my password over and over no answer while on the phone with Americorps I was ask again to to change my password again while on the phone with at staff less than 48 hours I couldn’t access my password I email Americorps nest day in August 2010 stating by having me keep change my password will cause customer identity theft. On the phone stand by computer at my professional reference office I was told by a staff person at americorps he or she was submit documents to my reference never was submit and I download submit Americorp stated to me it never received. By this time and 10 year I could have volunteer for lot of non profit organization work in public service, very hard to acquire a public service jobs in my city. Thank you for your time and consideration.
    Thank, you
    jean

  10. This is a complete sham. They are trying to make it look like they are doing something to help student debt problems, but this is a dog and pony show. I applied. Just as I thought, they found multiple reasons why I don’t “qualify.” They will find multiple reasons why all of you don’t either. Waste your time if you want, but they aren’t “forgiving” anything. It’s money. They will get it come heck or high water.

    • I totally agree with you. I was recently told by a budget assistant that the Public Service Forgiveness program would be ideal for me, so I should fill out the paperwork. However, if you do the math, most people will have paid their debt in the ten years that the required payments are made. If you take out a new loan to further your education, i.e. specialist or doctoral degree, I was informed that you will start from scratch with payments on that loan, even if it is consolidated. Who is this program designed for? I feel that the people who actually developed the guidelines were not aware of the massive amount of money and time that are required before “forgiveness” sets in. So disappointing that even initiatives that seem to have good intentions lead to greater difficulties for those of us who are true public servants.

  11. If it is a psfl then it should be just that, when you put all these stipulations and requirements on it, how is it forgiveness?? the people are already in public service positions barley making any money and then you want to make it even more difficult. this is a bunch of crock

  12. Good morning! would you please be so kind and send me an application form? to apply for loan forgiveness program. Thank you! I do work for local government agency

    • Hello there! You can find the application that I referneced in the blog post at StudentAid.gov/publicservice. It’s called the “Employment Certification Form”.

  13. GR8 opportunity for stu loan borrower grads. Moreover, it especially impresses me that the program encourages these borrower grads to take the results of our skills back out to support government programs which support our fellow Americans.

    As a grad student with more than 10 years experience as a social worker in such qualifying agencies, and with qualifying loans and payment history, I would love to benefit from the financial forgiveness offered. Sadly I was forced to retire several years early for medical reasons and with student loans still outstanding. Bummer!

    Nevertheless, I encourage you all to “go for it” if you meet the criteria. Keep after it. It’s a GR8 opportunity and, in my opinion, well deserved.

    • Hi Paul. No, you cannot make one payment that satisfies the need to make 120 payments. These payments must be made monthly, over the course of 10 years, while working in qualifying employment.

  14. I made payment for 10 years.During that time, I worked for non-profit (state university) and state government, would this end my debt?

    • As with many things, Tonya, it depends on a number of factors. I recommend that you submit the Employment Certification Form to find out if you are on the right track. You can download the form at StudentAid.gov/publicservice.

  15. What about if I am the co signer for my kid and I have been making the payments for past couple years as she’s still in college and I meet all the rest of criteria. doea this apply to co signers?

    • Hi Ben, federal student loans rarely have co-signers, so you might be thinking about a private student loan, and Public Service Loan Forgivenss is not available for those types of loans. If you are talking about a federal student loan, however, forgiveness is only granted to the borower based on the borrower’s qualifying employment.

  16. I have a $40,000 loan in 2011 for a master degree., Now it has reached $60k for WHAT? Unable to attain a job. There should be no interest for college students on federal loans. You want us to succeed but you place debt with interest and you are able to get any type of job to help repay. Forgiveness loans with three years of service and beyond should be given. Service is our purpose. Income and basic life expenses my be included with health and auto insurance for work when considerations are made.
    In the 74 and 90’s I paid off my loan and nephews which I had guardianship. As a foster kid, we should have no interest payments. Have you thought of this too? You want the country to be skilled and knowledgeable and you place them debt. Most of Congress did not have these cost.

  17. Tuition costs are unreasonable because of the student loan business. they feed each other. I wish there was some way to lower tuition costs. No doubt I will have a very difficult time helping my sons get through college. One wants to be a surgeon, so how does he pay for that? Are there private loans? I was thinking about a HELOC, since it can be used in increments and has a much lower interest rate. Plus there are no closing costs. Just have to have substantial equity in my home, which I do. I just feel government loans are designed to make most people end up owing far more in interest because of the high APR what a rackett

  18. Does the Department of ED plan to release a blog warning that this program will either be capped or defunct within a year? Seems very irresponsible at the moment to be promoting this program

    • Hi Jake, we always inform the public of changes to the law. If Congress takes action to alter this program, then we would surely inform the public of this. However, a change to Public Service Loan Forgivenss would take an act of Congress.

  19. I have had my student loans since middle of 1980s it started out as a $12,000 loan, in 2007 is was at $39,000, it is at $46,000 now, I have been faithfully making my payments every month for years , Im on a income based repayment program and at my age it will never be paid off what am i to do, I get emails telling me ( from Nelnet) if u need help call us, well when i call to get help I get told theres nothing we can do for u if u dont pay well garnish you wages (there very rude) I have no intenions of not paying just get my payments lower, Its funny they base your payment on your income before taxes, health care and what ever else is bein taken out of our paychecks, so if i make 1200 every 2 weeks before taxes and after taxes and health care and everything else i bring home $800 then the student loan payment is 325 a month thats approximently 500 for me to live on for 2 weeks and after paying the rest of my household bills theres nothing left, Its not right and I feel Im being bullied because the Govt can do that,

  20. Hi, I applied for the public service loan forgiveness program a few weeks ago (maybe 2) and was wondering if you have received my application sent via fax as well as when I would hear if I was approved? Thank you in advance for your time.

    • Hi Emily, you’d want to contact FedLoan Servicing about that. They can answer your question if you call 855-265-4038.

  21. Thank you for a clear and succinct explanation on how to go about applying for public service loan forgiveness. Clearest description I’ve read to date! Going to share with all my friends working in public education.

  22. For how long do you have to be working in one of this qualifying organization to be eligible for loan forgiveness ?

  23. Working as a financial aid administrator it has struck me odd that we allow someone who has maxed out their undergraduate loans at $57,500 to borrow even more without paying a single dime of their loans then offer a way of not facing reality. We set the graduate Stafford loan limit at a whopping $138,500, allow students to borrow heavily for “indirect expenses”, i.e. pocket money, borrow an unlimited amount of graduate plus loans (There is no aggregate or annual limit. Students can borrow multiple loans concurrently or consecutively at different schools), then offer a way of discharging it all and paying the bare minimum through IBR. This poses an enormous risk to the taxpayer and encourages abuse.

    The real solution to the student debt problem is by having one meaningful Stafford loan limit for both graduates and undergraduates alike ($57,500 would be just fine). Everything after that should be graduate plus loans, which should not be included in an income based plan or loan forgiveness and should also be capped. There has to be a limit to the amount of risk we pose to taxpayers.

    • Good thing it is not up to you Ben. How do you think doctors afford their tuition?
      Thankfully you are not in a position to make these types of decisions.

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