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Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program: The Ultimate Guide

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In a Nutshell

If you work for a qualified employer, have a federal Direct Loan, and have made 120 qualified payments through an income-driven repayment plan, you may be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. New regulations to the PSLF program put in place by the U.S. Department of Education go into effect July 1, 2023. These regulations help borrowers who have made late payments and/or had periods of forbearance or deferment maintain eligibility for the PSLF program

Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer
Updated March 7, 2024


The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program was created to encourage college graduates to apply their skills in the public sector, such as in schools and government organizations, and nonprofits. Public-sector jobs tend to pay less than private-sector work, so the PSLF program provides the added financial incentive of forgiving student loan debt after a period of time.

To take advantage of PSLF, you must work for a qualifying employer and make 120 monthly payments (at least 10 years’ worth) under an eligible repayment plan. After you’ve made those 10 years of repayments, you can apply to have the rest of your student loan debt forgiven. 

⚠️ Important ⚠️Not all loans or loan repayment programs qualify. The PSLF program forgives federal Direct Loans and requires borrowers to use an income-driven repayment plan.

You can check your eligibility for PSLF and get on track for forgiveness for free using online tools like Savi. If you’re eligible, Savi can even help you apply for PSLF.

What Jobs Are Eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)? 

To be eligible for the PSLF program, you (the borrower) need to be a full-time employee working for a qualified employer. Qualifying employers are: 

  • Government organizations (federal, state, local, or tribal government), including U.S. military services, public elementary and secondary schools, public colleges and universities, public child and family service agencies, and special governmental districts

  • Nonprofit organizations that have tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code. (Note: Not all not-for-profit organizations have tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3). If you’re not sure whether you work for a qualifying employer, you can check on the IRS website.) 

You can also qualify if you are in a full-time AmeriCorps or Peace Corps position. 

Note that full-time employment is defined as 30 hours per week. If you are working multiple part-time jobs with qualified employers and your combined working hours equal 30 per week, you qualify.

What Loans Are Eligible for PSLF? 

Federal student loans under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program are the only eligible loans to qualify for PSLF. The PSLF program does not apply to any private student loans. It also doesn’t apply to Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) or federal Perkins Loans. 

However, there’s a bit of a loophole here: If you consolidate your FFEL and Perkins loans with a Direct Consolidation Loan, your new loan then qualifies for forgiveness under PSLF. But your 120 qualifying payments must be made on the new consolidated loan. Any payments you made before consolidating your loans will not count toward your forgiveness eligibility.

What Is a Qualified Student Loan Payment? 

A borrower has to make 120 qualified payments to receive PSLF. Qualified payments are on-time, monthly payments paid in the full amount under a qualified income-driven repayment plan. 

You must make 120 payments under a qualifying repayment plan, but these do not need to be consecutive. 

Important student loan news: The Biden-Harris administration’s student debt relief program has been shot down by the Supreme Court. Federal student loan payments will resume in October of 2023. 

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What Is a Qualified Repayment Plan Under PSLF?

Only income-driven repayment (IDR) plans are considered qualifying repayment plans for the PSLF program. The available income-driven repayment options for federal Direct Loans are:

Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF)

If you’ve made 120 payments on a federal Direct Loan that’s not under a PSLF-qualifying repayment plan (listed above), you may qualify for the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) Program. This program was created by the Department of Education under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 to help borrowers who are ineligible for PSLF receive partial or total student loan forgiveness through a different program. 

Like the PSLF program, only Direct Loans qualify for TEPSLF. 

How To Apply for the PSLF Program

If you decide the PSLF program is the right student loan forgiveness program for you, you can complete and submit the PSLF form every year until you have made all of your qualifying payments. This is a great way to check progress toward PSLF and ensure you are making qualified payments and working for a qualified employer. 

Remember: You will not have the remaining balance on your loan forgiven until you have made your 120 payments — applying annually is just a way to ensure you stay on track. 

Step 1: Complete and Submit the PSLF Application 

You can use the PSLF Help Tool on StudentAid.gov to complete and submit your forms. You can also use the help tool to double-check that you work for a qualified public service employer and to have the forms sent to your employer. This is important since your employer will need to sign the employment certification form to certify your employment.  

How To Complete and Submit Your PSLF Form

If you want to complete the forms by hand, you can download the forms and either fax them to 866-222-7060 or mail them to MOHELA at this address:

U.S. Department of Education MOHELA 633 Spirit Drive Chesterfield, MO 63005-1243

If MOHELA is already your student loan servicer, you can upload your application directly on the MOHELA website.

Step 2: Check Your PSLF Status

Once the Department of Education has received your application, it will notify you by mail and will tell you what your PSLF status is (such as the number of qualifying payments you have made so far) toward forgiveness.

You can also check your status online through the MOHELA website or your Student Aid account.

Step 3: Continue Resubmitting Until You’ve Made Your 120 Payments

You can submit the PSLF form annually so that by the time you have made 10 years of qualifying payments and submit the PSLF form to secure forgiveness, all of your information is up to date. Otherwise, you will need to include all of your information (past employment certification forms, past qualified payments, etc.) in the last 10-plus years all at once. This could take a while, so it’s a good idea to apply annually. 

What Was the Limited PSLF Waiver?

In October 2021, the Department of Education created the limited PSLF waiver to credit student loan borrowers for past payments that previously did not qualify for PSLF — such as payments made through a non-qualifying repayment plan. The waiver was designed to give financial assistance to those struggling during the pandemic. 

The limited PSLF waiver ended in October 2022, but that same month the U.S. Department of Education announced new regulations for PSLF. The new regulations go into effect on July 1, 2023. 

What You Need To Know About the New PSLF Regulations

The Department of Education announced new regulations that allow borrowers to receive credit for late payments on their loans, whether they paid in installments or a lump sum. 

The new regulations also allow you to maintain eligibility for the PSLF program even if you’ve had periods of deferment or forbearance on your student loans. 

Thought Your Student Loans Were Eligible for PSLF, But They Aren’t? Here Are Some Options.

First off, know that you're not alone. The PSLF program has been an administrative challenge for many borrowers. 

Changes in recent years are meant to streamline and simplify the forgiveness process. But if you’ve been working for an employer you thought was eligible under the PSLF program only to find out it's not, you may be incredibly frustrated. Similarly, if you assumed your loans were eligible but they aren’t, you may be wondering how you’re ever going to be able to pay your loans off.

If you find yourself in this position, you still have some options:

Double-Check Your PSLF and TEPSLF Eligibility

First, double-check your eligibility for both PSLF and TEPSLF. Remember, a lot has changed in recent years, and the new regulations may work in your favor. You may need to advocate for yourself to get the forgiveness you deserve! 

You can also contact MOHELA directly. MOHELA is the servicer that handles the PSLF program. Tell the servicer about your situation and ask if there’s anything you can do to qualify.

Get Your Loans Canceled Through Paying on an IDR Plan

If you truly aren’t able to get PSLF, you can continue on an income-driven repayment plan. Under this plan, you should be able to get an affordable monthly payment (depending on your income, it may be as low as $0/month) and may have your loans forgiven after 20–25 years of repayment.

That said, even though the U.S. Department of Education has promised to cancel loans after 20–25 years of payments, a recent National Consumer Law Center study shows this hasn’t been happening at the rate it should be. But don’t give up hope. It’s still worth a shot, especially as the student loan crisis continues to push government officials to make changes.

Get Your Student Loans Discharged in Bankruptcy

Many people believe that you can’t get your student loans discharged in bankruptcy, but this is a myth! You can get your student loan discharged through bankruptcy, and it recently became easier to do under new government guidelines

To get your loans discharged in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you’ll have to prove that repaying the loan causes “undue hardship” and that you’ve made “good faith” efforts to repay your student loan debt.

You’ll need to file some additional paperwork for an adversary proceeding if you want to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy. You can read more about this process in our article: How To Fight Student Loan Debt in Bankruptcy: Adversary Proceedings Explained.

This may seem like a complicated process, but Upsolve is now able to help eligible Chapter 7 filers with their student loan discharge. Check your eligibility now.



Written By:

Attorney Andrea Wimmer

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Andrea practiced exclusively as a bankruptcy attorney in consumer Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases for more than 10 years before joining Upsolve, first as a contributing writer and editor and ultimately joining the team as Managing Editor. While in private practice, Andrea handled... read more about Attorney Andrea Wimmer

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