A step-by-step guide with pictures to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
So you’ve worked a public service job for more than 10 years, and you still haven’t paid off your student loans.
If this describes your situation, you might qualify to have your federal student debt forgiven — but you need to apply first. We walk you through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness form and help you make sure that you’re eligible.
How to complete the PSLF form
You need to complete a PSLF form for your current employer and submit an employer certification form — page two of the application — for each employer you worked with while making your 10 years of full student loan repayments.
You can complete the form electronically on by hand using dark ink. To eliminate potential problems, enter all dates in the order of month, day and year (MM/DD/YYYY) and only include numbers, making sure your name and Social Security number are on both pages.
Step 1. Fill out borrower information.
Complete the first section with your legal name, Social Security number and contact information. If any of your personal details have changed since you took out your student loan, check the box at the top of the section.
Step 2. Read and sign borrower authorizations, understandings and certification.
By signing this page, you agree to both let your employer release employment records to the Department of Education and receive automated voice and text messages to your phone. You’re also stating that you understand the terms and conditions of the PSFL application and certifying that all information is true to the best of your knowledge.
If any of your employers have since closed down business or won’t certify your employment, you can still apply by checking the box at the bottom of the form and skipping Step 4.
Step 3. Complete information about your employer.
You or your employer can fill out this first part of the employment certification form.
If you choose to complete it yourself, you’ll need to know the company’s Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN), which you can find on your W-2 tax form. If you work for a nonprofit, you’ll need to know if it’s registered as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3).
Step 4. Have your employer certify your application.
Take your application to your employer to have them sign your application, certifying that you worked for them and the information is correct.
Step 5. Get certification from other employers.
Repeat Steps 3 and 4 for each employer you worked with over the time you’ve repaid your student loans. You can submit these forms as you move from employer to employer or all at once.
Step 6. Submit your forms.
If your loan servicer is FedLoan, you’re in luck: You can log in and upload your forms through FedLoan’s website.
If you’re repaying your student loans through another servicer, you need to mail them to:
US Department of Education
PO Box 69184
Harrisburg, PA 17106-9184
How Public Service Loan Forgiveness works
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) works by canceling the federal student debt of anyone who works for a government agency or nonprofit for at least 10 years. The government launched the program in 2007, expanding it in 2012 to encourage students to go into public service, which can come with low pay.
There’s no limit to how much debt you can have forgiven, though the federal government has considered a cap. President Trump has also proposed getting rid of the program completely, though it’s safe for now.
Federal Student Aid (FSA), an office of the Department of Education, recommends that borrowers enroll in an income-driven repayment plan for the 10 years they’re paying off their debts before applying for forgiveness. Income-based repayment plans can help borrowers afford to stay in a lower-paying profession.
Because it takes 10 years to qualify for PSLF, 2018 is only the second year that borrowers have been able to apply for forgiveness.
How do I know if I qualify?
Ensuring that you qualify before submitting any forms not only saves you time, but can also help you avoid going into forbearance for no reason.
Any interest that adds up during forbearance gets added to your loan’s principle, or the amount that your interest rates are based on. Which means that applying for PSLF when you’re ineligible can have the unfortunate side effect of making your student loans even more expensive.
You work for a qualified employer
You need to be a full-time employee of a qualified organization or government agency at the time you submit your application. Full-time typically means at least 30 hours a week, though it can vary by organization.
Qualified employers include any federal, local, state or tribal government agency, including public schools, the military or any agency that receives public funding.
Government contractors and partisan organizations aren’t considered qualified employers. This means that you can’t qualify if you work for a member of Congress, for example.
Some nonprofits also qualify if they fall into one of the two categories:
- A 501(c)(3) that is tax-exempt.
- A 501(c)(3) that is not tax-exempt but provides a qualifying public service.
Qualifying public service includes emergency management, military service, public safety, law enforcement, legal services, early childhood education, services for disabled or elderly individuals, public health, public education and public or school library services.
You have Direct Loans
Direct Loans are the only type of federal loan eligible for forgiveness. If you have several different types of federal loans, you can use a Direct Consolidation Loan to combine them into one loan with one repayment — that’s also eligible for PSLF.
You’re on a qualifying repayment plan
Qualifying repayment plans include the 10-year standard repayment plan and any income-driven repayment plan:
- Revised Pay as You Earn Repayment (REPAYE) Plan
- Pay As You Earn Repayment (PAYE) Plan
- Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan
- Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan
Graduated and extended repayment plans are not eligible.
Because standard repayment plans take 10 years to pay off, by the time you qualify, you’re often done paying off your loans.
FSA recommends that borrowers repay their loans using an income-driven repayment plan, where repayments are 10% or 15% of your monthly income. If you sign up for an income-driven repayment plan, your loans are forgiven after 20 or 25 years of repayments.
You made 120 payments that qualify
Under a qualifying repayment plan, you need to make 120 payments while working at a qualifying employer. Payments don’t need to be consecutive — you can take a break from the public sector and still qualify for PSLF. But they do need to be made after the program’s start date of October 1, 2007.
Not sure how many qualifying payments you’ve made? If your servicer is FedLoan, you can log in to your account and check online. If not, submit your employment certification forms: If you have any payments left, the Department of Education will tell you how many payments you’re missing.
What happens after I apply for forgiveness?
Submitting the PSLF forms is just one part of the process. Here’s what you can expect to happen after you send in your forms.
Your servicer might change
Because FedLoan Servicing processes PSFL applications, the Department of Education will reassign your loans to that servicer. If you already use FedLoan, you’ll continue making payments as usual.
Your loans go into forbearance
The first thing that happen is your student loans go into forbearance while the Department of Education processes your application. In this case, you won’t have to make any repayments, but interest will continue to add up.
If your application is denied, that interest will capitalize — or added to your loan principal — meaning you’ll pay back a larger amount than what you were responsible for prior to forbearance.
While the 2017 application offered an option to opt out of forbearance, the current application does not. If you’re interested in opting out of forbearance, call 888-256-4038 to ask about your options or visit FedLoan’s website.
The Department of Education reviews your application
After you’ve submitted your PSLF forms, the Department of Education tells you it’s received your application. It might ask you or your employer to submit additional forms to verify your employment, such as a W-2 form or pay stubs.
How long it takes to process depends on how many employers you’ve worked with and whether you submitted forms while working. Generally, submitting all your employment certification forms at once can slow things down. And the more employers or even gaps in your payment history, the longer your application can take to process.
Get approved — or denied
Once it’s processed your application, the Department of Education lets you know whether your application is approved. If you get the green light, it forgives all eligible loans. You’re even refunded any payments beyond the required 120 to qualify.
If your application is denied, the Department of Education provides a reason for its decision. You’ll continue paying off your loans, in addition to any interest that accumulated while your loans were in forbearance.
Interested in refinancing? Compare your options
Applying for PSLF can be easy if you plan ahead. To get the fastest results, submit employment certification forms each time you leave a qualified public service job. And keep track of how many qualified payments you’re making so that you don’t have to scramble at the last minute.
To learn more, read our guide on how student loan forgiveness programs work.