How to Qualify and Apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

As of fall 2019, 136,473 student loan borrowers had applied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), according to the Federal Student Aid office.

Guess how many had been accepted for the program? Only 1,561. That’s 1.14%.

Imagine receiving the letter stating you’d been rejected for Public Service Loan Forgiveness — after dedicating years to public service, making payments on time, and planning your future based on the assumption that the balance of your loans would be forgiven.

We don’t want you to become one of those unfortunate souls who is rejected for student loan forgiveness. So let’s make sure you know how to apply correctly.

How to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Federal student loans are serviced by private companies that collect your payments, customize your repayment plan, and aid you with loan deferment or forbearance. The Department of Education assigns you a servicer.

You can find out which is yours by visiting the National Student Loan Data System. Select “Financial Aid Review,” create an account and view all your federal student loan information, including which company services your loans.

The steps to apply for PSLF are similar from servicer to servicer, but check with your servicer early to make sure you’re on the right track.

Step 1: Know who’s eligible

Qualifying for PSLF seems simple enough. You work for the government or a nonprofit organization, for example. You submit your PSLF application through Navient. Easy, right?

Well, if it was that easy, more people would be accepted. So before we get to how Navient is involved, let’s look at how to qualify for PSLF:

  • Confirm your loans are eligible. The government can’t forgive private loans, and the Department of Education won’t forgive Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) or Perkins Loans. Any federal Direct Loans are eligible, including a Direct Consolidation Loan you used to consolidate ineligible federal loans.
  • Work for an eligible employer. You might think you qualify, while the Department of Education may not, in fact, view your job as “public service.” For example, the federal government is an eligible employer, but a for-profit government contractor is not. Qualifying employers include government organizations, 501(c)(3) nonprofits, and AmeriCorps or Peace Corps volunteering. (More below on confirming your employer’s eligibility.)
  • Make 120 qualifying payments. Borrowers should apply only after completing 120 on-time, qualifying payments (that would be 10 years of monthly consecutive payments) through an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. For Direct Consolidation Loans, only payments made after you consolidate are eligible.

Step 2: Submit the Employment Certification Form

There is a way to make sure you’re on the right path. Each year, fill out the PSLF Employment Certification form, which you can find on your servicer’s website or through the studentaid.gov. This is the official government form every applicant submits.

Under “Section 7” of the Employment Certification form, you’ll see the address for the U.S. Department of Education. Send the form to this address. (You have to use snail mail — I know, it can be annoying!) 

Submitting the Employment Certification form isn’t required, but it makes the process easier. It’s one less surprise to face when you submit the official application.

Step 3: Wait for PHEAA to contact your servicer

When your first Employment Certification form reaches the U.S. Department of Education, it’s reviewed by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), which is the student loan servicer that handles all qualified PSLF borrowers.

If PHEAA confirms you’re eligible based on your Employment Certification form, your current servicer will not be your student loan servicer anymore.

You might be rolling your eyes at this point. Seriously, another step in the process? Come on, guys!

The company isn’t just dumping you on another servicer, though. It’s the law. 

“[PHEAA] has been designated by the Department of Education to handle those borrowers,” explains Brianna Huff, a representative from Navient, one of the country’s largest student loan servicers.

At this point, PHEAA reaches out to your servicer to request your documentation. The company should submit your information to PHEAA within 60 days, and PHEAA will contact you to let you know it has everything it needs.

TL;DR? After submitting your Employment Certification form, you can hurry up and wait to hear from PHEAA.

Step 4: Submit the PSLF Application

The application process may seem cut and dry, but according to the Office of Federal Student Aid, filling out the form incorrectly is the second-most common reason people are denied (the first being that they haven’t made 120 qualifying payments).

Up to this point, you should have:

  • Submitted the Employment Certification annually and know your employment is eligible.
  • Made 120 qualifying payments.

Fill out the PSLF application for forgiveness on the Federal Student Aid website. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your PHEAA representative to verify it’s time to apply.

Having trouble filling out this form? Huff recommends using the new PSLF help tool on the Federal Student Aid website.

Ready to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Now that you understand the process of applying for PSLF, fill out your Employment Certification form to start the process! 

Don’t hesitate to contact a representative with your student loan servicer if you have questions. Imagine the relief you’ll feel once you’re accepted, and your life without student debt can finally begin.

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