If you work in public service, you already know that feeling of self-fulfillment that comes from helping others, but you might not realize a potential added benefit of your public service work: federal student loan forgiveness.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer. I know what you’re thinking … “qualifying” is used a lot of times in that sentence. How would you possibly know if you qualify? You don’t have to guess; there’s an easy way to determine your eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Submit an Employment Certification Form (sometimes called an ECF).
1. What’s an ECF and why should I submit it?
An ECF is a form that you can complete and submit to keep track of your progress toward loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. It requires you to provide some basic information about you (the borrower) and your employer. Both you and your employer are required to certify that the information on your ECF is true, complete, and correct. Once you submit your form, the PSLF servicer will determine if your loans are eligible for PSLF and if your employer qualifies. Qualifying public service employment can include government work, teaching in a public school, or working at a non-profit organization.
If you think you might qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, there is NO reason not to submit an ECF. It only takes a few minutes of your time but could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars if you qualify. There is no cost to complete the form and it will give you peace of mind when you know where you stand when it comes to forgiveness.
2. When should I complete an ECF?
If you work in public service and are repaying federal student loans, you should complete an ECF right away to confirm that you are making progress toward loan forgiveness.
After your first successful ECF submission, the Department strongly recommends that you submit an ECF every year or every time you change jobs to ensure your employment qualifies under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Your servicer will also provide you with an updated count of your qualifying payments each time you’ve submitted an approved ECF.
Let me be clear: This is not a one and done. You must provide documentation that you are employed by a qualifying employer (or employers) for a total of 120 months while making timely payments on an eligible repayment plan to qualify for forgiveness. That means you’ll need to submit an ECF for every qualifying job you work at, to cover that entire period of time. And an ECF is not the same as your annual income recertification if you are enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan; it’s a completely different certification that serves a completely different purpose.
By regularly submitting ECFs, you’ll know exactly how much progress you’ve made toward loan forgiveness. Don’t wait until the end of those 120 months and find out too late that you weren’t meeting all of the necessary requirements.
3. How do I complete an ECF?
Download this form. It’s a fillable PDF. Once you complete your information, print it out, sign it, and get your employer to sign it.
Then, you have three options:
- E-mail it to: AccountInfo@MyFedLoan.org.
- Fax it to: 717-720-1628
- Snail mail it to:
U.S. Department of Education
P.O. Box 69184
Harrisburg, PA 17106-9184
Note: If FedLoan Servicing is already your federal student loan servicer, you can also upload your ECF through their online portal.
Watch out for these common mistakes when you’re filling out the form:
1. Complete the entire form. Forms that are missing information or are incomplete account for almost half of the forms that get rejected. You must complete every field; if you need help completing the form, call 855-265-4038.
2. Get the proper signatures. If you AND your employer don’t sign the form, the PSLF servicer cannot assess your eligibility and your form will be denied.
3. Write clearly or better yet, type your information into the online form. If the servicer can’t read what you wrote, they won’t be able to properly determine your eligibility. When you download the form, type in your personal and employer information and then print it out to get the signatures. You don’t want to miss out on forgiveness due to something as silly as poor penmanship.
4. What happens after I complete an ECF?
After you send your completed ECF, our Public Service Loan Forgiveness servicer, FedLoan Servicing will review your form to determine if (1) your loans are eligible for PSLF; and (2) your employer counts as a qualifying employer.
This assessment usually takes 5-7 days. If you don’t meet these requirements, you will be notified that your ECF has been denied due to ineligible loans, ineligible employment, or a combination of these reasons. But if your loans and employer qualify, you will be notified that your ECF has been approved, and your federal loan account will be transferred to FedLoan Servicing (if your loans are not already serviced by FedLoan Servicing).
I want to emphasize that the terms and conditions of your loan(s) will not change when your loan(s) is transferred. This is a common concern from borrowers, so let me say it again: Your interest rate will remain the same and your payment amount will remain the same (unless you change your repayment plan).
Within approximately 7-10 business days of receiving notification that your ECF was approved, you should expect to receive notification from your current servicer (if it’s not already FedLoan) that your account will be transferred and then soon after, you will receive notification from FedLoan Servicing that they have received and are now servicing your account.
Next, FedLoan will take a look at the time period of qualifying employment certified on your approved ECF(s) and count the number of payments you’ve made during that time that count toward student loan forgiveness under PSLF. This part of the process could take a while, particularly if it’s the first time you submitted an approved ECF, if your ECF verified your employment for a long period of time, or if FedLoan needs to review payments you’ve made prior to 2010.
Remember, you must make 120 on-time (i.e. no more than 15 days after your due date) payments before being eligible to have the remainder of your loan balance forgiven. Once your payments are counted, FedLoan will report the number of qualifying payments you’ve made on your billing statements. They will also counsel you to get on a repayment plan that will allow you to benefit the most from PSLF (i.e. an income-driven repayment plan) and remind you to submit an ECF at least once a year.
5. If I haven’t already submitted an ECF, does it mean I won’t qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?
No, it’s not too late for qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. In fact, no one will be eligible for forgiveness until October 2017. But, that doesn’t mean you should wait until next year to take action.
There are lots of caveats associated with this program and you don’t want to play a guessing game when it comes to your financial future. Even if your employer qualifies, your loans might not; or if your loans and employer qualify, you might not be on a repayment plan that qualifies for student loan forgiveness or one that results in a remaining balance after 120 payments. Your student loan servicer can help you find the right repayment plan.
Simply, get the form and get to work. Document all of your public service employment history while you were making payments on your federal student loans (going back as far as October 2007 when this program first started). Complete Section 3 of the ECF or get your current and past public service employers to do so, and get their signatures. Then, submit the completed form to FedLoan Servicing. It’s that easy.
Tara Marini is a communications specialist at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.