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How the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program works
With 99% of applicants rejected, make sure you understand what it takes to qualify.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is one of the most popular forgiveness programs out there for student loans. Make 10 years of eligible repayments at a public service job and you could qualify to have the rest of your student debt forgiven.
But major miscommunication about how the program works has resulted in nearly all first-time applicants being rejected. That’s why it’s key to understand how it works as soon as you decide to apply.
What's in this guide?
What is Public Service Loan Forgiveness?
Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a federal loan program that cancels the debt of anyone who works a public service job for 10 years. It launched in 2007 as an incentive to encourage people with high-level degstrrees to work a low-paying job at a government agency or nonprofit. The government expanded the program in 2012.
Because it takes 10 years to qualify for PSLF, 2019 is only the third year that borrowers have been able to actually have their loans forgiven.
Is there a cap on PSLF?
There’s no limit to how much debt you can have forgiven, though the federal government has considered a cap. The current administration has also proposed getting rid of the program completely, though it’s safe for now.
How do I qualify for PSLF?
There are four main criteria you need to meet to qualify for PSLF:
- Have federal Direct Loans
- Work full time for a qualifying employer
- Sign up for income-driven repayments
- Make 120 qualifying repayments
I’m struggling to meet payments due to the coronavirus. Can I still qualify?
Yes — in fact, the federal government paused all federal student loan payments until October 2020 with the passing of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. And it still counts those months of paused repayments toward your requirement for PSLF. However, if you became unemployed during the pandemic — or are no longer performing qualified work — your payments or lack thereof won’t count towards the 120 required to be eligible for the PSLF.
How do I apply for PLSF?
Getting your loans forgiven through PSLF is a long process — it takes at least 10 years just to qualify. But if you’re thinking of applying, get started as soon as possible to maximize your eligibility potential.
- Step 1: Make sure your job qualifies.
- Step 2: Review your loans.
- Step 3: Consolidate any ineligible loans.
- Step 4: Sign up for an IDR plan.
- Step 5: Submit your Employer Certification Form (ECF).
- Step 6: Keep track of your payments and resubmit your ECF each year.
- Step 7: Complete and submit the PSLF application.
Step 1: Make sure your job qualifies.
Check with your employer to make sure your job is eligible. Also, check to confirm you meet employment status requirements — that means working at least 30 hours a week. If your full-time employment is less than that amount, you can either request more hours or take on a part-time job that’s also eligible for PSLF to make up the difference.
Step 2: Review your loans.
Check your loans to make sure all are eligible before you sign up. You can do this by logging in to the account you use to make repayments. Or visit StudentAid.gov and log in with your FSA ID.
If you have any ineligible federal loans such as a Parent PLUS Loan or a Direct PLUS Consolidation Loan — a consolidation loan used for Parent PLUS Loans — you can still qualify as long as you consolidate with a Direct Consolidation Loan before you start making repayments.
Step 3: Consolidate any ineligible loans.
Skip this step if all of your loans are eligible. Otherwise, reach out to your servicer to take out a Direct Consolidation Loan. Consolidating your federal loans involves taking out a new loan to pay off all of your student debt and then making one monthly repayment each month.
Step 4: Sign up for an income-driven repayment plan.
The IDR plan that’s best for you depends on the type of loans you have, the degree they paid for and when you went to school. You can compare the different IDR plans you’re eligible for by using the repayment estimator on StudentLoans.gov.
Once you’ve decided on a plan, fill out the IDR Plan Request Form — you can do this on the same website. After you submit the form, continue making repayments on your current plan until you receive confirmation from your servicer that you’ve made the switch.
Step 5: Submit your Employer Certification Form.
After you’ve made a few repayments on your new IDR plan, submit your Employer Certification Form to make sure you’re not missing anything. You can get started on your ECF by using the Federal Student Aid (FSA) PSLF Help Tool on StudentLoans.gov. Or you can download the PDF and complete the form yourself.
Have the following information on hand before you get started:
- W-2 form from your current employer or your employer’s employer identification number
- Start date
- End date — if applicable
- Type of employer you work for — such as a government organization or nonprofit
- Your employer’s tax-exempt status — if applicable
Once you complete the ECF, print and sign the form. Then bring it to your employer to sign before submitting it to FedLoan Servicing. The Department of Education will switch your loans to FedLoan Servicing once your first ECF is processed.
Who is FedLoan Servicing?
FedLoan Servicing is the servicer that handles all PSLF applications. You need to submit your first Employer Certification Form to FedLoan — even if you currently make repayments to another servicer.
Once you submit your ECF, FedLoan will let you know if any of your repayments are ineligible and keep track of your progress.
Step 6: Keep track of your payments and resubmit your ECF each year.
Make sure you’re making full, on-time repayments until you reach that 120 mark. This means:
- Paying the right amount. Look at your statement and make sure you’re paying the total amount due each month. If the total amount is $0, look at your statement and pay the installment amount due.
- Paying on time. FedLoan must receive your repayment within 15 days of the due date for it to count toward PSLF.
- Paying at the right time. Repayments made during your grace period, deferment, forbearance or while your loans are in default don’t count toward PSLF.
FedLoan recommends that you submit your ECF each year to make sure you’re making qualifying payments. The number of qualifying payments listed on your billing statement only increases each time you submit your ECF. Doing this now, rather than later, helps you stay on top of your repayments and alerts you to any mistakes right away. Otherwise, repayments you thought were eligible might not count.
Step 7: Complete and submit the PSLF application.
After you’ve made 120 qualifying repayments, you’re finally ready to submit your PSLF application. You can do this by using the PSLF Help Tool on StudentLoans.gov or by downloading the PDF and filling it out yourself. Both you and your employer need to complete sections of this form.
Once you’re done, you can submit your application by uploading it to FedLoan Servicing through your online account or by sending it via mail or fax.
Need help? Use these free resources
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program can be confusing. These expert tips on qualifying for PSLF can help set you up for success. And if you’re stuck on the application, use these resources from FSA and FedLoan:
You never have to pay to apply for forgiveness or for help with the application. Stay away from any company that asks for money up front or guarantees acceptance to the PSLF Program. These are hallmark signs of a student loan scam.
What happens after I apply for forgiveness?
Submitting the PSLF forms are just one part of the process. Here’s what you can expect to happen next:
I got rejected. Is there anything I can do?
There are a few options: Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) or continuing to make repayments and applying for PSLF again.
What is TEPSLF?
TEPSLF is a temporary program to help some PSLF applicants qualify for forgiveness. Congress created it when it passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act in 2018 after 99% of the first round of PSLF applicants were rejected.
You might qualify for TEPSLF if your application was denied because you didn’t sign up for the right repayment plan. There’s a limited amount of funds for this temporary program, so apply as soon as possible.
Why are so many PSLF applicants rejected?
The main reason for PSLF’s high rejection rate is miscommunication. Many student loan servicers and the Department of Education didn’t adequately inform the first round of participants what qualifies as an eligible repayment.
Many borrowers were also rejected because they had the wrong type of loan. The Department of Education says that many rejected applicants could qualify if they make a few more years of qualifying repayments.
Applying for PSLF involves a lot more than filling out an application. Stay on top of your repayments and submit your EFC each year to make sure you’re on track for forgiveness. And while PSLF is a popular forgiveness program, it’s not the only one out there. Explore your other options by checking out our guide to student loan forgiveness.
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