How to Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Student at a computer in a classroom.

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 Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) to help you figure out if you could qualify.


[ 1 ] Work for a government or non-profit organization

Qualifying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness is not about your job, it’s about who your employer is. In order to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you must work for a “public service” employer. What does that mean? Everyone has a different definition.

Employers who qualify based on our definition:

  • Government organizations: This includes federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies and organizations.
  • Not-for profit organizations: This includes all 501(c)(3) organizations and some other not-for-profit organizations that provide specific public services, such as public education or public health.

Teachers: You may qualify for PSLF even if you don’t qualify for teacher loan forgiveness.

Employers that don’t qualify:

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

[ 2 ] Work full-time

You must also be a full-time employee in order to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.  For us, that means you either meet your employer’s definition of “full-time” or work at least 30 hours per week, whichever is greater.


[ 3 ] Have Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans to qualify)

Not having a Direct Loan is a big reason why borrowers aren’t on track for PSLF. Many borrowers don’t even realize there are different types of federal student loans, so do your homework.

A qualifying loan is a Direct Loan. If you took out our student loans before 2011, there’s a good chance that some or all of your loans aren’t Direct Loans. If that’s the case, don’t despair! You can consolidate your federal student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan and qualify for PSLF.

If you don’t know what loan types you have, read this to find out.


[ 4 ] Repay your loans on an income-driven repayment plan

For Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you’ll want to repay your loans on one of our income-driven repayment plans:

  • Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE Plan)
  • Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE Plan)
  • Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR Plan)
  • Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR Plan)

Read this to decide which income-driven repayment plan to choose.

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

If you’ve been making payments under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, those qualify, but you still need to get on an income-driven repayment plan or your loan will be paid off before you can get forgiveness. That’s because Public Service Loan Forgiveness forgives the remaining balance on your loans after 120 payments (10 years), while the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan sets your payment at an amount that will ensure that your loan is paid off within 10 years.


[ 5 ] Make 120 qualifying payments (10 years of payments)

Lastly, you need to make qualifying payments—120 of them. 120 payments is 10 years of payments. 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 if you slipped up and forgot to make your payment), and the payment qualifies. If you make a payment when you’re not required to—say, because, you’re in a deferment—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.

Lastly, a payment only qualifies if it was made after October 1, 2007, so nobody can qualify until 2017 at the earliest.


[ 6 ] Submit the Employment Certification Form early and often

Given the specific requirements of the program, it can be tricky to figure out if you’re on the right track. Good news is, there’s an easy way to find out:

  1. Download this form and fill it out.
  2. Have your employer certify it.
  3. Send it to FedLoan Servicing (one of our federal student loan servicers).

FedLoan Servicing will then process your form 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.


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 full-time for a qualifying employer when you make a qualifying payment on a Direct Loan under a qualifying repayment plan. If you think you meet those requirements submit this form to confirm you’re on track.

One more piece of good news: unlike some other forms of student loan forgiveness, 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 in 2021, if all goes according to plan.

23 Comments

  1. I am a single woman over 60 years old who went back to school 15 years ago to make her life better. Now, all I have is enormous debt and nothing to show for it.

    How do I apply, FOR FREE, for PSLF?

  2. What does it mean to change my plan? I am already at the standard plan. If I change my plan,
    Would my monthly payments be more? I do not want to pay more. Would my interest change?

    • If you want to be eligible for PSLF you have to change your monthly payment plan, otherwise you will have zero balance to forgive at the end of 10 years. If you’ve been making payments under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, those qualify, but you still need to get on an income-driven repayment plan or your loan will be paid off before you can get forgiveness. That’s because Public Service Loan Forgiveness forgives the remaining balance on your loans after 120 payments (10 years), while the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan sets your payment at an amount that will ensure that your loan is paid off within 10 years.

      If you want to be eligible for PSLF and you get on an income-driven repayment plan, yes, your payments will change. However, they will probably be less than what you’re paying now. Your interest will not change if you have fixed interest rate loans.

  3. I work 32 hours at my current job but full time is considered 34, according to the definition of full time will I need to be above 30 hours or at 35 hours to be considered full time?

    • You must be a full-time employee in order to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. For us, that means you either meet your employer’s definition of “full-time” or work at least 30 hours per week, whichever is greater. In your case, your employer’s definition is 34 hours which is what you’ll have to meet.

  4. I’m a licensed practical nurse, is nursing cinsider for any help with student loans? Also, my loans are for a aas in health information technology, I excelled and passed the ahima boards to become registered but then I could not find work in my area so went back to nursing, sadly I graduated in 2013……is there any help for a situation such as this? It was an online program and the college said it was a high demand job….not true for my area at all. Thanks in advance for your answers.

    • If you want to be eligible for PSLF: It doesn’t matter what your job is, but where you work. Read #1 above and see if your employer qualifies. If you are having trouble repaying your federal student loans, read this. There are options to reduce your monthly payment amount.

    • Federal PLUS Loans are student loans. Parents who received a Direct PLUS Loan may qualify for forgiveness of the PLUS loan, if the parent borrower—not the student on whose behalf the loan was obtained—is employed by a public service organization.

      If you have Federal PLUS Loans, you can apply for PSLF if you consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan. However, only payments made on the Direct Consolidation Loan will count toward the required 120 qualifying payments. Any previous payments (that were not consolidated) do not count.

      Consolidating does not mean you’ll be qualified for PSLF. You still have to complete the form to find out if you’re eligible for PSLF: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service#track-eligibility

    • Parents who received a Direct PLUS Loan may qualify for forgiveness of the PLUS loan, if the parent borrower—not the student on whose behalf the loan was obtained—is employed by a public service organization.

      If you have Federal PLUS Loans, you can apply for PSLF if you consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan. However, only payments made on the Direct Consolidation Loan will count toward the required 120 qualifying payments. Any previous payments (that were not consolidated) do not count.

      Consolidating does not mean you’ll be qualified for PSLF. You still have to complete the form to find out if you’re eligible for PSLF: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service#track-eligibility

  5. I read that the certification will change my loan servicer. Is that true? I don’t feel great doing that, as I have run into servicer issues in the past

    • I think we answered your question on Twitter already. But yes, it will be changed to FedLoan Servicing.

  6. Hi, I work as a permanent substitute teacher in my school. I work full time every day. Do I qualify?

  7. So, if I’m applying for/through fafsa and am then say– denied for aid, but am applying for a loan, as a teacher, I choose a loan. But the only way to secure forgiveness is to stick to a ten year repayment plan? Unfortunately I began teaching and paid off my BA loan before PFSL became popular :/

    • Yes. The PSLF Program provides for forgiveness of the remaining balance of your eligible loans after you have made 120 qualifying payments on those loans. In general, you will have a remaining balance on a loan after making 120 payments only if you are making reduced monthly payments under the REPAYE, PAYE, IBR, or ICR repayment plans.

  8. While highly beneficial for students who have over borrowed, this program is very costly for taxpayers and encourages abuse, i.e. perpetual and excessive borrowing. Why stop at one masters degree when you can get two or three and still pay the same low amount? Why even consider the amount borrowed?

    Since there is no limit to the amount to be forgiven and the monthly payments are fixed at 10 percent of discretionary income under IBR, there is no incentive for a student (or school) to limit borrowing and therefore this will largely benefit graduate students with $100k plus in debt.

    There either needs to be a higher repayment requirement combined with a limit to the amount forgiven or a lower aggregate loan limit, otherwise this will make the federal loan program unsustainable.

  9. if a student borrowed before 2011, and has been making 8 years of payments on FFELP loans, when they consolidate into Direct Loan, will they qualify for PSLF in 2 years?

    • Just to clarify, when you say “FFELP” you’re referring to a FFEL PLUS loan for parents right? If so, if you consolidate this loan into a Direct Consolidation Loan, the only income-driven plan it will qualify for is the income-contingent (ICR) repayment plan. In order to qualify for PSLF, you’ll have to apply for the ICR plan on StudentLoans.gov. If you’ve been making payments under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, those qualify, but you still need to get on an income-driven repayment plan or your loan will be paid off before you can get forgiveness.

      If you’re referring to a FFEL PLUS Graduate loan, that’s different. FFEL PLUS Loans made to graduate or professional students have more repayment plan options (not only ICR). The same rules apply, but you can choose any of the income-driven repayment plans for the remainder of your repayment period in order to qualify for PSLF. Contact your loan servicer for more details.

  10. Hello, I work full time and have severally disabled child at home do I qualify for loan forgiveness? We put a lot of money and care into getting our son the right help and it’s draining us financially. Please let me know.
    Amie Donlan

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