Ace Your Application for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Annabell Satterfield

What is Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)?

Public Service Loan Forgiveness was started in 2007 to help talented workers in public service reduce the burden of their federal student loans by forgiving their balance after ten years. While this act was well-intentioned, ten years later, more than 99% of applicants are being rejected- but this doesn’t have to happen to you. 

What do you need to do to get forgiveness under PSLF?

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness application requires that you certify you have these five things in place: the right loan, the right repayment plan, full-time work at the right employer, and 120 qualifying payments- and you need to apply. Let’s walk through these requirements in a bit more detail:

1. Make sure you have the right loan

Only federal Direct loans are eligible for forgiveness.  Private loans are not eligible. You can consolidate other federal loans into Direct Loans.

2. You must work full-time for an eligible employer

This could include government organizations, non-profit organizations -503(3)(c)s and a few non-profits that are not 503(3)(c)s, but which provide service in fields like early childhood education. The best way to know for sure that your employer qualifies is to submit the PSLF Employment Certification Form annually or when you change employers. If you work at two part-time jobs, don’t fret; if your weekly hours worked at eligible employers add up for 30 hours or more, you can still qualify.

3. Make sure your loans are in the right repayment plan

Did you know that you can change the repayment plan on your federal loans? Most people are automatically enrolled in a standard 10-year repayment plan when they graduate. PSLF, however, requires that your payment be made under an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. IDR plans include IBR 2009 (Income-Based Repayment for loans taken out between 2009 and July 1, 2014), IBR 2014 (for loans taken out after July 1, 2014), REPAYE (Revised Pay As You Earn), PAYE (Pay As You Earn), and ICR (Income-Contingent Repayment).

4. Make 120 qualifying payments

These are payments made to the right loan under the right repayment plan while working for a qualifying employer. These do not need to be sequential- you can make some of these payments, then move to a non-qualifying employer where your payments don’t count towards PSLF, then move back to a qualifying employer to make more qualifying payments. They can’t be payments you’ve made while under deferment, grace period, or any other period when payments aren’t required.

5. Apply

There is an application for PSLF. When you are confident that you have made 120 qualifying payments, submit your request online or with a mailed form. If you haven’t yet submitted any PSLF Employment Certification forms, you will still have to submit one for every employer you worked at while you were making qualifying payments.

Is there help out there?

If you’d like a checklist for the above criteria where you can answer some questions, and check your loan, your repayment plan, and your employer eligibility with an online tool, this free PSLF calculator will save you time and alert you to potential issues now– before you apply for PSLF.

What if I don’t qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

If you applied to PSLF and were one of the 99% that were not accepted, you can appeal through the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) program. Don’t wait to get in line (send a request email) for TEPSLF as soon as possible, as it’s a limited opportunity. 

There are options for you beyond PSLF and TEPSLF. There are other federal and state forgiveness programs that may forgive some or all of your loans- for example, the Perkins Loan forgiveness program. There are also paths for forgiveness available for students under Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans. Be sure to take the time to see what you may qualify for; the research could be well worth it.