Are you considering a career in public service and want to utilize Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)? On this page, we offer some helpful tips and best practices compiled from the Department of Education, loan servicers, advocacy groups, and some of our very own LRAP participants. These tips are for informational purposes only. Please always defer to the Department of Education’s guidelines and regulations.
Please see our PSLF Best Practices one-page sheet for a shorter and easier-to-read version of this information. Our latest LRAP Presentation (updated in March 2020) may also provide more context about PSLF and how it works with income-driven repayment and LRAP. If you’d prefer to follow along with guided audio, please click here.
As a reminder, the main program requirements are:
1): Making 120 qualifying payments, that are
- Due (you must have a payment due to make a qualifying payment. You cannot make a qualifying payment during a grace period, forbearance, or deferment.)
- On-time (made not sooner than 15 days before your due date and not later than 15 days after your due date)
- At minimum, in the amount due and as required by any applicable income-driven repayment plans you’re enrolled in (even a penny short will not count)
- Made every month (lump sum payments covering multiple months or paid ahead status only counts for one month)
2): On Federal Direct loans
- Only federal Direct loans are eligible for PSLF (E.g., Stafford and Plus loans)
- Perkins and FFEL loans are not eligible (unless consolidated, but we do not recommend consolidating with your Direct loans if you have already made qualifying payments. This action will create a new loan and restart the clock back to 0 months out of the 120 needed for forgiveness)
- Private loans are not eligible
3): In a qualifying payment plan, including
- Income-Driven Repayment plans (IBR, New IBR, PAYE, REPAYE, or ICR)
- Standard 10-year repayment plan (for all loans except Direct Consolidation loans)
4): While in qualifying employment
- Full-time (according to employer’s definition of full-time and at least 30 hours a week)
- At a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit or governmental organization
Some tips that will make applying for and obtaining loan forgiveness under PSLF easier include:
- Read and save all communications from your loan servicer.
- Recertify your income-driven repayment plan every 12 months, on time.
- Submit the PSLF Employment Certification Form annually, and at a minimum, every time you leave a job.
- If your loan servicer is not FedLoan Servicing, the first time you submit the form, it will trigger a transfer of your loans to FedLoan Servicing. The transfer typically takes 1-2 months, during which you will not be able to make payments on your loans. This is an inevitable transition that will extend your overall timeline to obtaining 120 qualifying months by a month or two.
- Make sure to correctly and accurately fill out every piece of required information on the form, or it will get rejected.
- If you submit multiple forms for the same job, make sure the employer information and start date is consistent on each form.
- Make sure to submit a new form that includes an end date whenever you leave a job.
- Make a copy of each form you submit for your own records.
- Download and save your loan payment history every 6-12 months, and before you submit your first Employment Certification Form, as FedLoans may not transfer over your payment history data. Payment history data older than 12 months is typically removed from your loan servicer’s website, so make sure you download this information at least once a year.
- Enroll in autopay so you never miss a payment or make a late payment.
- Avoid paid ahead status. If you ever pay more than what’s due, make sure you do not get into a paid ahead status. To do so, you must either manually select that you do not want an overpayment to put you into a paid ahead status, or contact your loan servicer to permanently remove paid ahead status (see FedLoans’ recommendation). If you are in a paid ahead status, your payments will often not count as qualifying payments for PSLF. Read Federal Student Aid’s information about paid ahead status here.
- Consider keeping a separate bank account for your loan payments to make it easier to track your payments, LRAP funds, and out-of-pocket imputed contributions.
- Regularly track how many months of qualifying payments you’ve made. If you notice discrepancies between what you believe and what your loan servicer says, contact them ASAP.
- Generally, make sure to document everything. Keep a history of communications with your loan servicer, income-driven repayment plan approval letters and payment schedules, Employer Certification Forms and approval letters, and payment histories.
- Use your legal skills to read and understand all of the PSLF requirements and to advocate for yourself.
- Know your options: assuming you’re meeting all other requirements, a $0 monthly payment counts toward PSLF if obtained through the income-driven repayment plan application process. If you’re not currently in LRAP, consider recalculating your monthly payment if you’re having a financial hardship, as opposed to going on a forbearance or missing payments.
- Payments do NOT count toward PSLF while made in a default status, forbearance, deferment, during a grace period, or while your loans are in an in-school status.
Before applying to have your loans forgiven using PSLF, make sure to:
- Submit an Employment Certification Form for every qualifying job you’ve had and any periods for which you have not already submitted an Employment Certification form.
- Don’t quit your job! Continue working in qualifying employment when you submit your application and up until you are approved, as this is required to obtain forgiveness.
- At this point, the PSLF application process takes approximately 60 days.
Temporary Expanded PSLF: You may have heard about the Temporary Expanded PSLF (”TEPSLF”). This is a program for those who applied for PSLF but were denied because they were in the wrong payment plan, namely, the extended repayment plan. You can determine if this temporary expansion applies to you and see how to apply on the TEPSLF website. TEPSLF has limited funding.
If you have issues with your loan servicer, you can:
- Contact Berkeley Law Financial Aid Office
- We can help answer common questions.
- Contact your loan servicer
- You can contact your loan servicer via their online portal or their customer service phone number.
- FedLoan Servicing has a PSLF-specific website and phone number (1-855-265-4038).
- Many loan servicers also have their own ombudsman’s office to deal with escalated issues. Consider contacting the ombudsman if dealing with a long-lasting issue.
- FedLoan Servicing also has an ombudsman/escalated phone number you can call for faster response times and faster resolution to any issues you may have (717-720-7605).
- File a complaint with the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman.
- This should be your last resort if dealing with a dispute with your loan servicer regarding your loans.
- File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- File a complaint with the California Attorney General’s Office.
Some common issues we see people run into, and how to fix them:
- Problem: Fedloans tells you you have 24 qualifying payments, but you know you’ve made 36.
- Solution: Request is a “payment-by-payment detail of FedLoan Servicing’s evaluation of qualifying status for PSLF.” You might try requesting this via written request, or even certified mail with return receipt requested. And, if you have your own documentation of your payments, provide that to FedLoans.
- To preemptively prevent running into a problem like this, make sure you keep detailed documentation of your loan payments and your repayment plan. Download your payment history at least every 12 months–before FedLoans removes it from their website. Make sure that when making a payment, that it your payment is due, on time, and in the correct amount.
- Problem: FedLoans isn’t counting the qualifying payments you made before your loans were transferred to them.
- Solution: FedLoans should have all the billing information from your account, even before the transfer to their services. They should be able to provide a detailed breakdown, showing how much was due each month and how much you paid. You should request is a “payment-by-payment detail of FedLoan Servicing’s evaluation of qualifying status for PSLF” to obtain this information. You might try requesting this via written request, or even certified mail with return receipt requested. And, if you have your own documentation of your payments, provide that to FedLoans.
- Problem: FedLoans rejects your Employer Verification Form.
- Solution: make sure your employer qualifies for PSLF. The easiest way to qualify is if your employer is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or a government entity. If that is true and your form still got rejected, make sure all the information is correct. Pay close attention to the EIN–is it the correct number and correct amount of digits? You must also make sure the person that signed your form is considered an authorized official. Finally, make sure the information is consistent from when you last submitted an ECF. For instance, did you accidentally alter the start date for a job you’ve already submitted an ECF for? The information must be the same from form to form.
Have further questions? Some PSLF information can be found here:
- Check out the PSLF website.
- Use the PSLF Help Tool to determine what remaining steps you need to take to obtain PSLF.
- Explore the PSLF FAQs for specific information on qualifying employment, eligible loans, the PSLF application process, and more.
Last updated August 18, 2020