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Public Service Loan Forgiveness: a path out of student debt

If you're employed by the government or certain types of non-profits, you may qualify for student loan forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Learn more about what it takes to qualify and common pitfalls to avoid. 
Do you work for a government or nonprofit organization? Or are you considering that career path after graduation? If so, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program may help you reduce the amount you need to pay back in student loans.
The program offers qualified public servants and nonprofit employees a path out of student loan debt, with no cap on the loan forgiveness amount.

How do you qualify for PSLF?

To participate, you must:

Common mistakes that can lead to PSLF rejection

When the first group of borrowers became eligible to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness in 2017, a high percentage of applicants were denied because they failed to meet one or more qualifying conditions. Doing research before you begin to make payments on your student loans can help you to avoid this frustrating situation.

Pitfalls to avoid:

1) Not enrolling and recertifying in an income-driven repayment plan
The standard student loan repayment plan sets a fixed monthly payment to ensure that your loans are paid off within 10 years—the minimum time it takes to qualify for PSLF.
To benefit from PSLF, apply for one of the income-driven repayment plans that caps your monthly payment at a percentage of your income. You can learn more and apply for free by visiting the Federal Student Aid website. It’s crucial to recertify each year to remain eligible.
2) Not submitting an Employment Certification Form (ECF)
Submit the ECF when you first start a public service job, annually for each subsequent year that you remain with that employer and when you switch jobs. The government uses this form to make sure that you’re on track to qualify for loan forgiveness.
Before you submit, double-check your ECF to ensure that all fields are filled in and that the information is consistent with your previous ECFs. To avoid rejection, make sure it is signed by your organization’s “authorized official,” who is typically someone in human resources.
After you submit the ECF, the government will let you know if you need to make any adjustments to maximize your future forgiveness amount.
3) Missing payments or making extra payments
A missed payment can affect your ability to qualify for PSLF. If you make a payment that is more than 15 days late, it won’t count toward the needed 120 payments.
Conversely, if you make multiple payments in a month or pay more than the required amount, that won’t count toward your 120 payment goal. Each month, you can have only one qualifying payment.
4) Not submitting an application
Some borrowers mistakenly assume that loan forgiveness occurs automatically. That’s not the case. Once you’ve met all of the eligibility requirements for PSLF, you must submit an application. The Federal Student Aid site provides instructions on how to apply.
Also note: If you have federal loans that don’t qualify for PSLF, consolidation is an important step in taking advantage of this program. Keep in mind that consolidation resets the clock when it comes to counting payments. This means that if you make 10 months’ worth of qualifying payments and then consolidate your loans, those first 10 payments won’t count toward your 120 payment requirement.

Where to go for more information

As you research PSLF, beware of scams that charge a fee to assist with loan consolidation or to help with the PSLF process. No fees are required to participate in this program.
All information and forms associated with PSLF are available free of charge on the Federal Student Aid site.

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