Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a federal loan program that will forgive your remaining federal student loan balance after working in public service and making qualifying payments for ten years.
Note that many of the expanded benefits of the Limited PSLF Waiver have been extended as part of the ongoing IDR Adjustment - that means that payments on all repayment plans and previously consolidated loans can count toward forgiveness for a little longer. You can read more about the details in our blog post.
How to Qualify
It sounds simple at a high level, but there are a number of requirements for receiving forgiveness. The Department of Education and the loan servicer will count 120 qualifying monthly payments on each loan that meet the following conditions:
- Timeline. Qualifying payments can only be made after October 1, 2007.
- Employment. You worked full time (over 30 hours a week) in public service at the time you made the payment. Qualifying employers include government organizations (like public schools and hospitals), 501(c)(3) non profits, and some types of private non profits. You’ll also need to be working in public service when you receive forgiveness, so if you plan to retire or change industries, that should be a factor in deciding whether you want to pursue PSLF.
- Payment Type. The payment was made on time and in full (early payments, late payments over 15 days, or payments not for the exact amount on the bill don’t count).
- Loan Type. The payment was made on a qualifying loan - only Direct and Direct consolidation loans qualify. (Other loans types, like FFEL and Parent PLUS, can be converted into a Direct loan to qualify. You can find out more information here.)
- Repayment Plan. The payment was made on a qualifying repayment plan. Only income-driven repayment plans and the 10-year Standard plan qualify. Income-driven repayment plans are preferable - if you make payments on the 10-year Standard plan for ten years, you won’t have a loan balance left to forgive at the end of the timeline. (It’s also important to note that payments on a “Standard” plan for consolidation loans with a longer timeline won’t qualify either.)
- Loan Status. The loan’s status was “in repayment” when the payment was made. Payments made while your loans are in grace period, deferment, forbearance, or default won’t qualify.
If this seems like a lot to handle, don’t worry - Summer is here to help!
How to Get Forgiveness
- The first step to work toward PSLF is to make sure that your employment, loan type, and repayment plan all qualify. We can help you figure out if that’s the case. And if it’s not, we can help you consolidate your loan or switch to a new repayment plan.
- Once you meet the requirements, you’ll submit a form called the Employment Certification form. This is a form that both you and your employer will sign that confirms that you work at an eligible public service organization, and the dates you’ve been working there. This form is submitted to MOHELA.
- When the form is accepted, your loans will be transferred to MOHELA if they’re not there already. MOHELA will also give you a count of the qualifying payments you’ve made based on the form. If their count doesn’t look right (they unfortunately make mistakes), you should follow up and ask for a recount. This can take a while to complete, but it’s better to spend the time now rather than when you’re closing to forgiveness.
- If your form is not accepted, don’t give up! Sometimes borrowers are rejected because they don’t meet the requirements, but sometimes they’re also rejected for something as simple as the date format they used on the form. Find out exactly why and work on next steps.
- PSLF isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it program - make sure you’re keeping up to date! You’ll need to submit a new form and updated income information once a year to remain in an income-driven repayment plan. Your servicer will let you know when the deadline is - it’s different for everyone. We also recommend submitting a new Employment Certification form once a year or whenever you change jobs. The more times you submit the form, the less likely it is that your payment count will be off.
- Once you’ve gotten to 120 months (10 years) of qualifying payments, you’ll submit the second form associated with PSLF - it’s the Forgiveness Application. It looks very similar to the Employment Certification form, and both you and your employer will sign it. You can choose to defer your payments while your application is processed, or continue to make them. MOHELA should refund any payments you make over the 120 required.
A few things that are important to know as you navigate this process:
- Because the payments are counted per loan and not per borrower, different loans may be on different timelines for forgiveness. For example, if you worked and made payments for undergrad loans for three years before going to grad school, your undergrad loans would be forgiven three years before your loans for grad school.
- Saving documents as backup is important in case there’s a discrepancy in your payment count. Download the repayment history from your servicer, and save communication from them as well. You may need it later on.
- If something doesn’t look right, tell your servicer, and don’t stop until you’ve gotten a satisfactory answer. Keep pushing, keep asking, and don’t give up hope! They do correct mistakes, but it sometimes takes being a squeaky wheel.
- If you’re making payments on an income-driven repayment plan, the payments may not cover the interest that’s building on your loan. This means that the total balance of your loans will go up even though you’re making payments. Keep in mind that the total remaining principal and interest can all be forgiven under PSLF.