How to Apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Make sure you qualify for PSLF

A borrower smiles after completing her final PSLF payment.
•••

Westend61 / Getty Images

Wondering how to get federal student loans forgiven? One possibility is Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). 

Borrowers qualify by working in public service while making qualifying payments for 10 years. This program can help offset the costs of schooling and the burden of student debt for professionals who choose to work at nonprofit or government organizations. 

Qualifying for PSLF requires getting the right information and taking the right steps, however. If you’re interested in pursuing student loan forgiveness through PSLF, here’s what you need to know.

How Public Service Loan Forgiveness Works

To qualify for PSLF, you must be employed in government or 501(c)(3) nonprofit jobs. Also, your loans must be in a qualifying income-driven repayment plan. Each full, on-time payment made while satisfying these requirements will count toward the required 120 payments for forgiveness.

After making 120 monthly payments and while still working for a qualified employer, the borrower must submit the PSLF forgiveness form to apply for loan forgiveness. Once the servicer verifies payments, the remaining loan balance is forgiven.

How to Qualify for PSLF

Borrowers will need to meet several requirements to qualify for PSLF. Here’s a look at each qualifying requirement:

Employer 

You must work at a qualifying government or nonprofit organization. This includes government organizations at the federal, state, local, or tribal levels. A nonprofit organization qualifies if it’s tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code or provides a qualifying public service.

According to the Department of Education, a non-profit organization without 501(c)(3) status can be a qualified PSLF employer if it offers certain services, including law enforcement, emergency management, military service, public library services, and nursing.

Full-Time Employment

You must meet your employer’s definition of working full-time or work at least 30 hours per week, whichever is greater. Working part-time at two or more qualifying employers at least 30 hours a week will also qualify you.

Loan Type

Only loans made through the William D. Ford General Direct Loan Program (direct loans) qualify for PSLF. 

Repayment Plan

Borrowers must enroll in a qualifying repayment plan, which includes all income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. You’ll need to stay enrolled in your repayment plan and certify your income each year. 

The standard repayment plan also qualifies for PSLF. But this plan sets monthly payments to repay student loans in 10 years—the same amount of time it takes to become eligible for PSLF. This will leave no remaining balance to forgive.

Payments

It takes 120 qualifying monthly payments to complete the PSLF program. You must pay the full amount due no later than 15 days after the due date while working for a qualifying employer.

Qualification Problems 

Navigating the PSLF program isn’t always straightforward or easy. As a result, some borrowers might think they’re making progress toward PSLF when their payments don’t actually meet the requirements.

Here are common issues that can derail borrowers’ progress toward PSLF:

  • Ineligible loans: Perkins loans, Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), and private student loans do not qualify. Your Perkins and FFEL loans may qualify if you consolidate them under the direct consolidation loan program.
  • Ineligible repayment plan: Payments must be made while enrolled in an IDR plan to qualify. If you don’t enroll in an IDR plan, or fail to recertify your income, your payments may not qualify for PSLF.
  • Paying early or late: You can only make one qualifying payment per month toward PSLF; early or extra payments won’t get you to 120 payments faster. Additionally, payments that are missed or more than 15 days late won’t qualify, either.
  • Deferment or forbearance: During deferment or forbearance periods, payments are suspended and you don’t get credit toward your 120 payments. If you’re able to make payments during a deferment, you can contact your loan servicer to waive your deferment period so your payments will count.

The forbearance of student loan payments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is treated differently for PSLF than other forbearances. As long as you meet other requirements, you’ll receive credit toward PSLF during the COVID forbearance as if you were making monthly payments.

Using the PSLF Help Tool

The Department of Education’s PSLF Help Tool helps borrowers interested in PSLF understand the requirements for forgiveness. You’ll need to log in with your FSA ID to access the PSLF tool. Here’s how to use it:

  • Review PSLF requirements and information on eligibility.
  • Enter your employer information and the tool will tell you if it is a qualifying employer for PSLF.
  • View each of your student loan’s eligibility or ineligibility for PSLF, along with an estimate of qualifying payments made.
  • Receive recommended actions you can take to improve your eligibility for PSLF forgiveness.

The PSLF Application

There is only one PSLF form, which serves as both the PSLF application and the PSLF Employer Certification Form (ECF). 

You’ll need to submit this form to certify your employer and see if you’re on track for forgiveness. Take this step when you start your first qualifying job and certify once per year after that or when you switch employers.

After you’ve made 120 qualifying payments, you’ll submit the PSLF application for forgiveness. You must be working for a qualifying employer when you apply for forgiveness.

Here are the steps to submit the PSLF form:

  1. Fill out a PSLF form; make sure it has no errors. You’ll be asked to indicate whether you’re checking your payments or employer, or if you’re applying for forgiveness.
  2. Portions of your PSLF application must be completed and certified by your employer.
  3. Submit this form to FedLoan, the student loan servicer that handles PSLF loans, by online upload, mail, or fax.
  4. The servicer will verify your eligibility and notify you of any adjustments you should make to qualify for PSLF. 
  5. The servicer also determines how many qualifying payments you’ve made—and how many you have to go. 

When the servicer determines you’ve made 120 qualifying payments, you’ll be notified and the remaining principal and interest is forgiven, tax-free.

If your PSLF form is denied, look into the Temporary Expanded PSLF (TEPSLF) program. It offers limited expanded forgiveness for borrowers whose payments were made through an ineligible repayment plan.