A Look Into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

By Maureen Shelly · December 05, 2022 · 7 minute read

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A Look Into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was created in 2007 to help professionals working in public service who are struggling to repay federal student loans. In this context, teachers, firefighters, and social workers all fall into the public service category. New changes made by the Biden Administration will make qualifying for the program easier — even for borrowers who were previously told they didn’t qualify.

Many professionals are stressed out about their student loan debt and wondering if they qualify for forgiveness. Here’s the latest information on PSLF eligibility and student debt forgiveness.

Who Is Eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program?

To qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, borrowers must meet certain eligibility criteria. They include:

Work for a Qualified Employer

Part of PSLF eligibility requires working for a qualified government organization (municipal, state, federal, military, or tribal) or a qualified 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Full-time AmeriCorps or Peace Corps volunteers are also eligible for PSLF. (Learn more about military student loan forgiveness.)

Some other types of non-profits also qualify, but not labor unions, political organizations, and most other non-profits that don’t qualify for 501(c)(3) status. Working for a government contractor doesn’t count; you have to work directly for the qualifying organization.

Only full-time workers are eligible — that is, workers who meet their employer’s definition of full-time or work a minimum of 30 hours per week. People employed at multiple qualifying organizations in a part-time capacity can be considered full-time as long as they’re working a combined 30 hours per week.

Note that time spent working in religious instruction or worship does not count toward meeting the full-time requirement.

Recommended: How To Get Out of Student Loan Debt

Having Eligible Loans

Eligible loans include Direct loans such as Stafford loans, PLUS loans (but not Parent PLUS loans), and Federal Direct Consolidation loans.

If you want to have your Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) or Perkins loans forgiven, you’ll have to consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan first. Any payments you made on the FFEL Program loans or Perkins Loans before you consolidated won’t count toward the necessary payments.

Private student loans are not eligible for Federal forgiveness programs.

Recommended: Student Loan Forgiveness Guide

Applying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

There are a few hoops to jump through in order to pursue PSLF. To apply for the program, you’ll need to take the following steps:

1. Consolidate FFEL Program and Perkins Loans

Borrowers with FFEL Program and Perkins Loans must consolidate them with a Direct Consolidation Loan. This is necessary because if you consolidate your loans afterward, you won’t get credit for any qualifying payments you made on those loans. Already consolidated your Direct loans? Consider consolidating your Perkins Loans separately and start making new qualifying payments.

2. Sign Up for an Income-Driven Repayment Plan

There are four income-driven repayment plans to choose from: Pay As You Earn (PAYE), income-based repayment, income-contingent repayment, or Revised Pay as You Earn (REPAYE). This will likely allow you to pay less per month toward your loans than you would on the standard plan.

There are separate eligibility requirements for these plans, so be sure to check if you qualify.

3. Certify Your Employment

To do this, print out an Employment Certification form and get your employer to fill it out and send it in for approval. The Federal Student Aid website suggests filling this form out annually or at least every time you switch jobs.

You can also use the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Help Tool at StudentAid.gov/pslf/ to find qualifying employers and get the forms that you need.

4. Make 120 Qualifying Monthly Payments

You must make these payments while you’re employed by a qualified public service employer. Switching employers isn’t a problem, so long as you are still working for a qualifying organization.

5. Apply for Forgiveness

After you make the final payment, submit your application for forgiveness.

Current State of the Program

Because the program was created in 2007, the first borrowers to qualify for loan forgiveness applied in 2017. However, early estimates by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported the denial rate as more than 99%. At the same time, many borrowers weren’t even aware that the forgiveness program exists.

In 2022, the Biden Administration addressed these issues by introducing a “limited PSLF waiver,” which allowed student loan holders to receive credit for payments that previously didn’t qualify for PSLF. The deadline to apply for the waiver was Oct. 31, 2022.

Because of past inaccuracies in counting eligible payments, the program is also conducting a recount. A one-time account adjustment for borrowers on income-driven repayment will begin November 2022. All other borrowers will see their accounts updated in July 2023.

Borrowers pursuing PSLF will be transferred to a new loan servicer, called Mohela, upon approval of their submitted PSLF form. You can learn more about potential adjustments to your account at Mohela.com.

Beware of false communications from scammers posing as the DOE or your loan servicer. Read up on the latest student loan forgiveness scams.

Pros and Cons of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

The advantages of the program are pretty straightforward. The disadvantages have more to do with how the program is executed in the real world.

Pros of PSLF

1.    The balance of your student loans is forgiven after a set time. This works as a kind of bonus to make up for the low pay earned by people working in the public sector.

2.    The amount forgiven usually isn’t considered income, so you aren’t taxed on it (and you don’t have to save additional money to account for the IRS bill). With other loan forgiveness programs, you might see a big tax bill.

3.    Professionals in qualifying jobs get rewarded for being do-gooders. You’re making a difference, and your government appreciates it enough to give you a break on your federal student loans.

4.    You may pay less monthly because you’re on an income-driven plan. This means paying out less of your hard-earned cash every month.

Cons of PSLF

1.    The program is only open to those with certain types of employers. And it’s contingent on staying with a qualifying public service employer for 10 years.

2.    Some borrowers aren’t aware of the program, partly due to a lack of education by employers, loan servicers, and schools.

3.    There are a lot of hoops to jump through to get your loans forgiven. Plus, if you don’t jump through a hoop properly, you can jeopardize your forgiveness.

4.    The extra money that can potentially be earned from working for a corporate employer may help you pay off your loans sooner than through PSLF.

5.    You might end up paying more in interest by making 120 payments than if you budgeted to aggressively repay your loans in less than 10 years. Also, if you enroll in the PSLF program and then stop working for a public service employer, you might be left with a larger loan to repay because of the interest that’s accumulated under the income-based repayment plan.

Alternatives to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

Another program available to some individuals is the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. This program is available to full-time teachers who have completed five consecutive years of teaching in a low-income school. This program has strict eligibility requirements that must be met in order to receive forgiveness.

If you receive Teacher Loan Forgiveness, the five-year period of service that supported your eligibility will NOT count toward PSLF. However, the limited PSLF waiver discussed above temporarily waived this restriction for individuals who previously received Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

These federal forgiveness programs do not apply to private student loans. If you are looking for ways to reduce your interest rate or monthly payments on private student loans, refinancing with a private lender can be an option.

It is important to mention that refinancing your federal student loans with a private lender may make you ineligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, should you choose that route.

The Takeaway

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is one way for eligible borrowers to have their federal student loans forgiven. Recent changes to the program by the Biden Administration promises to make qualifying for PSLF easier. You can check for updates on your PSLF qualification at Mohela.com.

If you have student loans that aren’t eligible for PSLF or Biden’s loan forgiveness plan, consider refinancing. Refinancing allows borrowers to secure a competitive interest rate on student loans. Just be aware that refinancing federal loans eliminates them from borrower protections like deferment, income-driven repayment, and federal loan forgiveness.

Interested in seeing if you qualify for a lower interest rate? Check out SoFi’s student loan refinancing to find out.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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