Want to Enroll in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program? Here's How to Certify Your Service
Image: Pixabay

Want to Enroll in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program? Here's How to Certify Your Service

Certifying your service will help ensure that you stay on track to have your loans forgiven

June 22, 2017

Have you heard of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program?

This is a federal program for public service employees, i.e. people who work in government, the military, or at non-profits. When these borrowers have made ten years' worth of qualifying payments on their student loans, the program then forgives the rest of the money they owe on those loans.

However, many people who are eligible for the program don't know that it exists. In addition, mistakes made by the loan servicers—the companies that send the monthly bill—can derail borrowers' progress toward forgiveness.

Such errors can have a very real cost, resulting in borrowers paying hundreds or even thousands more on their loans than they should in the program. So how can borrowers prevent them from happening?

Certify Your Service

Follow these steps to certify that your service qualifies you for the program and minimize costly errors:

  1. Check that you have the right type of loan
  2. Only those borrowers who have federal Direct Loans can participate in PSLF. If you're not sure which type your loans are, check the National student loan Data System.

    If your loans are not federal Direct Loans, you might be able to consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan to become eligible for PSLF. Before you do, however, figure out if you've already made any qualifying payments on the loans. If you have, you will lose credit for them if you consolidate a Direct Loan.

  3. Enroll in the correct repayment plan
  4. You have to make your payments while enrolled in a qualifying repayment plan to be eligible for PSLF. To begin doing this, enroll in an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, which lets you keep your payments at a manageable level by setting them based on your income and the size of your family.

  5. Make sure your job qualifies
  6. You have to work full-time for a qualified public service employer when making your payments and applying for forgiveness. If you're working part-time for more than one qualifying employer, you may still qualify, as long as you work a combined average of 30 hours each week.

    To track your progress, submit an Employer Certification Form (ECF). It is wise to submit this form at least once per year and every time you change employers.

  7. Check that your payments count
  8. You'll be eligible for the forgiveness program only after you've made 120 qualifying payments. They don't have to be made all in a row; you'll be able to start making qualifying payments again if you temporarily leave public service, for instance, or after you go through a period a deferment, forbearance, or unemployment.

    To figure out how many qualifying payments you've already made, fill out an ECF and submit it to the PSLF servicer, which will review it with your account history and calculate how many past payments will count toward the requirement.