Summary: This article will help you navigate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program if you are seeking student loan forgiveness as a public servant, nonprofit worker, or former Americorps, Peace Corps, and military service member. Yes, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) really works. However, you must navigate the requirements and wait several months for approval.
Navigating Student Loan Forgiveness- Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)
I graduated from Columbia University in 2006 with just over $100K in student loan debt. For over a decade, I chose not to follow my dreams and felt stuck in a dead-end government job. I thought I needed to stay in that job to pay my student loans.
It was like there was a direct correlation
Student loans = miserable job = miserable self = not following dreams
I knew that freeing myself of my student loans would open so many opportunities for me. However, I couldn’t figure out how to make it happen.
I tried to pay them off as quickly as possible and paid over $74K in loans myself. I developed a student loan hack to help pay them faster and followed it religiously.
Eventually, I started to see my loans fall away. I paid them off, one by one, smallest to largest until there were only two left. My two large consolidation loans equalling about $34K including hte interest.
Just when I thought I was making big progress, I lost my job and had to put my loans on deferment. I decided not to even pay the interest.
Shortly after that, something remarkable happened. President Biden decided to offer a waiver for several of the restrictive criteria that prevented me from taking advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF).
Understanding the PLSF Waiver
The PSLF waiver makes it possible for more people to take advantage of student loan forgiveness if they meet the two basic criteria of employment length and qualifying payments. In the past, these requirements had additional sub-requirements that made it nearly impossible for people to qualify.
The program was created in 2007 and it was clear that the criteria were restrictive so people couldn’t take advantage of the benefit. Since the program began, I complained about these extra criteria that prevented people like me from getting their student loans forgiven. These are the kinds of things that prevent people, particularly people of color with student loan debt and who serve their communities, from taking advantage of this program.
The waiver changed these requirements:
|Normal PSLF Requirements||Changes Until Oct. 31, 2022|
|-Receive credit only on Direct LoansRepay under the 10-year Standard Plan or an income-driven repayment plan|
-Make on-time payments
-Need to be employed full-time for a qualifying employer in order to receive credit
-Must work for a qualifying employer at the time of application and forgiveness
-If you got Teacher Loan Forgiveness, the period of service that led to your eligibility cannot also count toward PSLF
|-Receive credit for periods of repayment on Direct, FFEL, or Perkins LoansPeriods of repayment under any plan count Periods of repayment on loans before consolidation count, even if on the wrong repayment plan|
-Periods of repayment where payments were late or for less than the amount due also count
-Periods of repayment on loans before consolidation count, even if paid late or for less than the amount due
-Can get forgiveness even if not employed or not employed by a qualifying employer at the time of application and forgiveness
-If you got Teacher Loan Forgiveness, the period of service that led to your eligibility can count toward PSLF if you certify PSLF employment for that period
How I Got My Student Loans Forgiven (all $34K!)
The issue I faced is that I’m old. I graduated with a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) in 2006, which means my loans are also old. The consolidation loans I had were “not backed by the U.S. Department of Education” and were not the “right type of loans”. I also “wasn’t in the right repayment plan”.
When I explored options to change my repayment plan, my monthly premium would have been over $1,000/month. On top of that, I couldn’t change the type of loan I had because I’d already consolidated (as I was told to do in 2006 so I could “lock-in the low rates”.)
When the PSLF waiver program was created in October 2021 I started looking into the requirements and didn’t get very far. It was unclear how to take advantage of this new waiver program. I assume the government needed to figure that out too!
Eventually, around February 2022 I said enough was enough and I called the only phone number I could find. I spent 3+ hours on the phone waiting for someone to explain what I need to do.
I was told the process would take a while but was relatively easy:
- Step 1: Consolidate my loans again with the right lender/loan
- Step 2: Apply for the program (can be done concurrently with 1)
- Step 3: Get my employment verification (can be done concurrently with 1)
- Step 4: Upload my employment verification
- Step 5: Wait
I would have loved for this to be a 2-month process, but of course, it wasn’t. Although steps 2 and 3 can be done concurrently depending on your situation, I couldn’t do that. I’ve heard others who have been successful at getting their application and employment verified the same day.
Since I left the government after 13 years of service, I spent months figuring out how to verify my employment and waiting for the right process to be completed. It took about 5 months from start to finish Step 1 until my student loans were forgiven.
5 Tips to Help You Navigate Student Loan Forgiveness
- Make Sure your loan qualifies
- Make sure your employment qualifies
- Calculate that you met the required payments
- Do the process, wait on the phone for answers
- Check your online notifications and inbox on their portal
Make Sure Your Loan Qualifies
One issue with this program was the type of loan that was required to receive the benefit. The Department of Education’s website currently states that a qualifying loan is:
Any loan received under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program qualifies for PSLF.
Loans from these federal student loan programs don’t qualify for PSLF: the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program and the Federal Perkins Loan (Perkins Loan) Program. However, they may become eligible if you consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan.*
*if you consolidate these loans into a Direct Loan before October 31, 2022, you may be able to receive qualifying credit for payments made on those loans through the limited PSLF waiver.
Program requirements may change at any time, always follow the information provided on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
Make Sure Your Employment Qualifies
You must have worked for 10 years at the right type of organization. The program currently requires you to have worked for these types of employers:
- Government organizations at any level (U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal) – this includes the U.S. military
- Not-for-profit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
- Serving as a full-time Americorps or Peace Corps
The following types of employers don’t qualify for PSLF:
- Labor unions
- Partisan political organizations
- For-profit organizations, including for-profit government contractors
A lot of people who I know that qualify have some sort of degree for the “helping” professions including Masters in Social Work (MSW), Masters in Public Health (MPH), Juris Doctorate (J.D.), Masters in Public Administration (MPA), and other professional-level degrees.
In the past, these types of programs were not covered by scholarships and many professionals graduated with master’s or doctorate degrees and significant student loan balances. If you have a degree in one of these or related fields, make sure you check your employment requirements and apply if you qualify.
Calculate That You Met the Required Number of Qualifying Payments
Qualifying repayment plans include all of the income-driven repayment (IDR) plans (plans that base your monthly payment on your income).
A qualifying monthly payment is a payment that you make
- After Oct. 1, 2007;
- Under a qualifying repayment plan;
- For the full amount due as shown on your bill;
- No later than 15 days after your due date; and
- While you are employed full-time by a qualifying employer.
Note that the current waiver in place until October 31, 2022, lifts the requirement for you to be in an IDR repayment plan to be eligible for this program.
This was one of my problems, I was not able to qualify for this program when it was created in 2007 because I was not in an income-driven repayment plan. When I inquired about it in 2009 it would have raised my student loan monthly payment from $600 to $1,000. At the time, that was not financially feasible so I elected to stay at $600 a month. This decision prevented me from being eligible for this program until the waiver was put in place.
Do the Process, Wait on the Phone For Answers
Everyone HATES to wait on the phone for hours and hours. In this case, it’s worth it.
I noticed that once you submit your application or if you want answers to your questions, you will likely be waiting a few hours. The numbers listed on the U.S. Department of Education’s website lead you to a general operator. After that, you will need to be routed to the actual department for the PSLF operators.
The whole phone structure to talk to an actual human about your student loan is ultra confusing. You will need a lot of patience to navigate this part of the process.
Things you might want to call about:
- If you have qualification questions
- You need a loan consolidation and aren’t sure how to do it
- You aren’t sure how to apply to the program and the online resources aren’t helping your particular situation
- You are having trouble with the employment verification part
Things you should not need to call about:
- Did you receive my application? (this information is clearly available on your online dashboard)
- Did you receive my employment verification form? (there are several places to upload this form on the website, if you are notified that they don’t have it, upload it again to all the places.)
- Can you send me the application? (The PDF application can all be signed and filled out online, you do not need anyone to email you anything. Go to the website and fill it out, go back to the website and upload the filled-out PDF application.)
I will note that the operators are VERY helpful once you get to them. They are worth the wait if your situation is complex like mine was.
Check Your Online Notifications and Inbox
Most of the notifications for the program automatically drop into your online dashboard. You can check for your application confirmation, employment verification confirmation, and your approval within your dashboard’s inbox.
How Long Does It Take To Have My Student Loans Forgiven?
The entire process took 5 months for me to accomplish. I had to:
- Figure out that I qualified by calling the hotline
- Submit the loan application for a reconsolidation
- Wait for approval for a new loan servicer and loan
- Apply for the program
- Get the federal government to verify my employment as a past employee
- Submit the employment verification
- Wait for employment verification submission to be acknowledged
- Figure out it needed to be resubmitted in another part of the dashboard
- Resubmit and wait for approval
This might seem like a lot of unnecessary steps, but depending on how your situation is… you might have fewer steps. A friend said she submitted all of her paperwork at once because she’s still employed by her eligible employer.
That’s great, if you can shortcut the process it should look like this:
- Apply for the program online via the PDF
- Simultaneously send the employment verification PDF to your employer and submit it with your application.
- Wait for approval
I hope this article helps more public servants and “helpers” get out of student loan debt. This video explains the entire process as I explained it on a recent LinkedIn Live video.
It’s never too late for you to try to get help with your student loans. So many people have been stuck with this burden for far too long. If you are down here reading this post you likely need this information or need to pass it on to someone else.
Take the steps you need to take today to see if you can get help with your loans. You can visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Website at: https://studentaid.gov.