Are you considering a career in public service and want to utilize Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)? We’ve compiled some helpful tips and best practices 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.
The main program requirements are:
1) Make 120 qualifying payments
- In most cases, your loans need to be in repayment status to be able to make a qualifying payment; i.e., a payment is due. However, some deferments and forbearances can now qualify for PSLF.
- We recommend making payments on time and monthly, but as of July 2023 payments can be made late, in installments,
or in a lump sum and still count toward PSLF. However, you still need 120 months of qualifying employment–you cannot get to PSLF any sooner by making lump sum payments.
2) On Federal Direct loans
- Only federal Direct loans are eligible for PSLF (E.g., subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford, Plus, and Consolidation loans)
- Perkins and FFEL loans are not eligible
- Private loans are not eligible
3) In a qualifying payment plan, including:
- Income-Driven Repayment plans (IBR, PAYE, REPAYE, SAVE, or ICR)
- Standard 10-year repayment plan (qualifies for PSLF for all loans except Direct Consolidation loans)
4) While in qualifying employment
- At least 30 hours a week
- At a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit or governmental organization
- Payments must be made while employed to count for PSLF–if you’re between jobs and make a payment, that won’t count.
- If you want to know if your employer qualifies for PSLF, use the PSLF Employer Search. The tool contains and employer database searchable by Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN), which you can find on your W2. After you enter an EIN, you’ll see that your employer is eligible, likely ineligible, or ineligible.
- You must document your employment by submitting a PSLF Form. It’s recommended that you submit a new form annually and each time you leave a job.
Our Best Practices one-pager has condensed tips for staying on track with PSLF. To ensure you’re following all the PSLF requirements and keeping on top of your records:
- Enroll in autopay so you never miss a payment or make a late payment. And consider keeping a separate bank account for your loan payments to make it easier to track your payments, LRAP funds, and out-of-pocket contributions all in one place.
- Recertify your income-driven repayment plan every 12 months, on time. If you don’t recertify on time, your loan servicer may kick you out of IDR, potentially interfering with your ability to make a qualifying payment and prolonging your PSLF timeline. Your unpaid interest may also capitalize!
- Submit a PSLF Form to certify your employment and payments annually, every time you leave a job, and more frequently the closer you get to 10 years.
- Use the PSLF Help Tool to generate a PSLF Form with your information. As of Spring 2023, you can now sign and submit the form digitally using DocuSign. Learn how to use the PSLF Help Tool.
- 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, or they may be rejected.
- Submit a new, final form that includes an end date whenever you leave a job.
- Make a copy of each form you submit for your own records, and save all communications you get back from MOHELA about your forms (i.e. form acceptance, form approval, updates to qualifying payment counts, etc.).
- As you approach your final year of repayment, you may want to submit a new PSLF form every 3 months to continually get updates about how close you are to applying for PSLF and ensure your PSLF application can be processed quickly.
- Download and save your loan payment history at least every 12 months. Payment history data older than 12 months is often removed from your loan servicer’s website, so make sure you download this information at least once a year. And if you transfer loan servicers, make sure to download all the payment history data from the old servicer before you lose access to their website.
- Regularly track how many months of qualifying payments you’ve made and compare your count with MOHELA’s payment tracker. If you notice discrepancies between what you believe and what your loan servicer says, contact them ASAP. Here is a template tracking spreadsheet you can download as an example.
- If your loans are going to be transferred to a new servicer, prepare to update your loan records. Download and save everything you can from your loan servicer’s website–payment histories, billing statements, income-driven repayment plan documents, PSLF Form acceptances and approvals, correspondence, and more. Once your loan are transferred to a new servicer, you may not be able to log into your old servicer’s website!
- After you switch loan servicers, confirm your total loan balance and number of qualifying payments is correct. You may need to submit a new PSLF Form to be certain.
- Document everything and be diligent. Keep a history of communications with your loan servicer, employment records, IDR plan letters and payment schedules, PSLF Forms and approval letters, and payment histories. Each time you call your loan servicer, document the date, employee ID number, what you spoke about, and any timelines for action. You want to build a case for why you deserve to be approved for PSLF, and be able to counter any disagreements from your loan servicer or the Department of Education.
- Use your legal skills to read and understand all of the PSLF requirements and to advocate for yourself.
- About 18 months before you plan to apply for PSLF, we suggest requesting an audit of all of your payments. This will ensure your qualifying payments are counted up correctly, allow you to catch any errors before submitting your PSLF application, and make sure your payment tally is up-to-date and the records are fresh before you apply.
Before applying to have your loans forgiven using PSLF, make sure to:
- Submit a PSLF Form for every qualifying job you’ve had and any periods for which you have not already submitted a form. Use the PSLF Help Tool to generate and submit a form.
- Don’t quit your job! Continue working in qualifying employment until you are approved for PSLF.
- The PSLF application process can take a few months. It may take longer if you haven’t been submitting regular PSLF Forms, or shorter. During the wait, you have the option of continuing to make payments or putting your loans into forbearance.
There are a few programs that temporarily waive certain PSLF requirements:
- 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.
- Limited PSLF Waiver. Ran through October 2022 and allowed all periods of repayment to qualify for PSLF regardless of payment plan, loan type, or payment made.
- IDR and PSLF account adjustment. Expands most of the PSLF Waiver provisions through 2023 and allows certain deferments and forbearances to count for PSLF.
If you have issues with your loan servicer, you can:
- Contact Berkeley Law’s Financial Aid Office
- We can help answer common questions or help you find loan records.
- Contact your loan servicer
- You can contact your loan servicer via their online portal or their customer service phone number.
- Document your conversation and ask for the employee’s ID number. Don’t be afraid to ask for a manager or hang up and try again if the staff member you’re talking with isn’t knowledgeable.
- Many loan servicers also have their own ombudsperson’s office to deal with escalated issues. Consider contacting the ombudsperson if dealing with a long-lasting issue.
- You can file a complaint directly with the MOHELA Ombudsman by submitting a formal request by mail to: MOHELA Ombudsman, 633 Spirit Drive, Chesterfield, MO 63005. You can also fax your complaint to 1-866-222-7060.
- You can contact your loan servicer via their online portal or their customer service phone number.
- Contact California’s Student Loan Ombudsperson, Celina Damian, at Celina.Damian@dfpi.ca.gov, or submit a DFPI Complaint.
- File a complaint with Federal Student Aid. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, reach out to the Federal Student Aid Ombudsperson online or by email.
- File a complaint with other regulators, like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, your state Attorney General’s Office, your state’s consumer protection or financial services agency (e.g. California’s Department of Financial Protection & Innovation or New York’s Department of Financial Services), or a Congressional representative.
MOHELA tells you you have 24 qualifying payments, but you know you’ve made 36.
- Make sure all of your PSLF Forms have been received and processed already–they may still be in the queue and your numbers will update later. Check your PSLF Form status.
- Request an audit or “payment-by-payment detail of [your servicer’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 your servicer. If your servicer continues to disagree with you, contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsperson online or by email.
- 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 your servicer removes it from their website. And make sure that your payments are due, on time, in the correct amount, and that your loans are not in paid ahead status.
You submitted a PSLF Form last month, but haven’t heard anything back yet.
- MOHELA is saying it will take at least 90 business days to process PSLF Forms. During the busiest PSLF Waiver periods, estimates were between four and six months. If you’re still within those time periods, continue waiting.
- You can always use MOHELA’s website to check the status of your form or give them a call just to ensure they’ve received it
Your new loan servicer isn’t counting the qualifying payments you made before your loans were transferred to them.
- Sometimes it takes a few months for your payment history and loan details to show up in your new account.
- If you still aren’t seeing your past payments, you can reach out to either 1) your old servicer or 2) your new servicer to request a detailed payment history. Request a “payment-by-payment detail of [your servicer’s] evaluation of qualifying status for PSLF” to obtain this information. If you don’t have success contacting your servicer(s) via phone or web, you may even want to submit your request via certified mail.
Your servicer rejects your PSLF Form.
- First, 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. You check the PSLF Employer Search or use the PSLF Help Tool to see.
- If your employer qualifies but 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 a PSLF Form. For instance, did you accidentally change the start date for a job for which you’ve already submitted a form? The information must be the same form to form.
I have a $0 IDR monthly payment. Will I get credit for PSLF during this time?
- Yes! $0 IDR payments count for PSLF so long as you’re working full-time in qualifying employment.
I start working in August. When can I start making qualifying payments?
- You must wait until after your 6-month grace period ends to start making qualifying payments. Your grace period should end in November the year you graduate, so that is when your 10 year repayment term begins. You cannot waive your grace period to start making PSLF payments sooner.
If I leave public service employment for a while, can I still qualify for PSLF?
- Yes! You need 120 months of qualifying payments and employment, cumulatively. There is no deadline to get to 120 months or to apply for PSLF.
The organization I work for has both a 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) component. Can I qualify for PSLF?
- It depends on who issues your W-2. If you’re working for the (c)(3) unit at least 30 hours a week, the (c)(3) unit hires and pays you, and issues your W-2, you can qualify for PSLF.
I work part-time for two different 501(c)(3)s. Can I qualify for PSLF?
- If both of your employers are qualifying 501(c)(3)s, and you work a combined 30+ hours a week, you can qualify for PSLF. Submit a PSLF Form for both employers.
How do I know have many qualifying payments I’ve made?
- Submit a PSLF Form for all periods of qualifying employment since you entered loan repayment. Check your PSLF Form status.
Why do my unsubsidized loans and Graduate Plus loans have different numbers of qualifying payments?
After you graduate, your loans enter a 6-month grace period. What we call a “grace period” is actually two different things depending on the loan type. For Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans like your Stafford loans, you have a true “grace period” for 6 months. Graduate Plus loans, however, are not eligible for a “grace period.” Instead, they get put into a 6 month post-in-school deferment.
Regardless of the grace period / deferment status, during that period you normally can’t make progress toward PSLF because your loans aren’t in repayment status. But under the temporary PSLF Waiver rules, MOHELA decided that all deferment periods can count toward PSLF assuming someone was in qualifying employment. This could explain why your Graduate Plus loans have a couple more months of qualifying payments than your unsubsidized Stafford loans.
There’s really no way to change this. Once you get to 120 months, you have the option of waiting to submit your final PSLF Form until all of your loans hit that 120 mark, or submitting 2 applications–1 when your Grad Plus loans are eligible for forgiveness, and 1 when your Stafford loans are.
Have further questions? Additional PSLF information can be found here:
- Equal Justice Works
- California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation
Join our PSLF Google Group to receive updates and PSLF and loan repayment.
UCnet contains instructions for UC employees to complete the PSLF Form.
There are many live webinars and recordings about PSLF hosted by our office and educational groups. We recommend:
- Loan Repayment and Forgiveness for Public Interest Students, recorded by the Berkeley Law Financial Aid Office on February 23, 2023
- Your PSLF Action Plan, hosted monthly by AccessLex
- Update on PLSF, hosted monthly the the PSLF Coalition
- PSLF Success Stories, recorded by the Financial Aid Office on March 14, 2022
- PSLF Workshop, recorded by the Financial Aid Office on May 23, 2022
Last updated October 31, 2023