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Updated on Friday, April 30, 2021
Unfortunately, there is nothing simple about student loan forgiveness programs, and a few missteps could mean you’ve made yourself ineligible for relief or you never took advantage of a program when you had the chance.
So, what happens if you worked in public service for 10 years? Can you still get credit towards Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)?
Unfortunately, you cannot get retroactive credit if you worked those jobs before 2007. You may be able to seek PSLF retroactively on jobs worked since Oct. 1, 2007, but only if you took out the eligible loan(s) after 2007.
[Note: Some details may have changed due to coronavirus pandemic measures. Read more about relief here.]
Here’s what you need to know about retroactive PSLF and eligibility for it:
- Retroactive PSLF depends on your employment
- Additional eligibility requirements for relief
- How changing jobs affects your PSLF application
Retroactive PSLF depends on your employment
The Public Service Forgiveness program launched Oct. 1, 2007. Anyone who worked eligible jobs before that date could not retroactively count their service toward PSLF. You also can’t get credit if you put in time after 2007, but are unable to get your supervisor from the job to sign off.
For each job you worked, you’ll need to file an Employment Certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness form. You could wait the full decade to fill these forms out, but it would leave your eligibility in doubt for years. You’d also be required to track down supervisors who may have retired from positions, or moved on to other jobs or are just impossible to get in touch with.
It’s also important to keep in mind, working in public service alone doesn’t make you eligible.
Additional eligibility requirements for relief
Whether you’re seeking PSLF retroactively or right on schedule, ensure you meet other key eligibility criteria relating to:
Only federal loans disbursed after the program went into effect are eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Private loans such as those with Discover, Wells Fargo and other nonfederal government institutions are not eligible.
In addition, you must have certain types of federal loans. Debt borrowed under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, including subsidized and unsubsidized loans as well as PLUS and consolidation loans is eligible.
What if you’re a parent borrower?
It should be noted that parents who work in public service and borrowed a direct parent PLUS loan could be eligible for this program. But it’s a little complicated.
- Your employer (not your child’s) must be PSLF-approved
- You can’t repay the loan on an income-driven repayment plan unless you take out a direct consolidation loan
Other federal loans that have been consolidated into a direct consolidation loan are also eligible for PSLF. Be aware, however, that payments made on Federal Family Education Loans or federal Perkins loans do not count toward the 120 required payments
How does consolidation affect your PSLF application?
You might not want to wait too long to do a direct consolidation and enter an income-driven repayment plan, as consolidation restarts the clock on your progress toward the 120-payment mark. To be clear: You’ll only be getting credit toward your 120 payments once you have consolidated the loans and started your income-driven repayment plan. Any payments you made prior are not eligible.
Besides your loan type, you must have full-time employment (typically at least 30 hours a week) with a qualifying employer.
Qualifying employers include: government organizations at any level (federal, state, local or tribal), not-for-profit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and some other not-for-profit organizations will count if they provide certain qualifying public services — you’d need to reach out to your loan servicer for details.
You must make 120 qualifying monthly payments to get forgiveness. These payments do not need to be consecutive, but have to have been after Oct. 1, 2007.
Qualifying payments can’t be made when you are …
- In the grace period
- In deferment or forbearance
- In default
Making a larger payment than required also doesn’t count for two. There is one catch: Certain rules do allow AmeriCorps or Peace Corps volunteers to use their Segal Education Award or Peace Corps transition payment to make a single “lump sum” payment that may count for up to 12 qualifying PSLF payments.
Qualifying payments in the era of COVID-19
During the coronavirus pandemic of 2020-2021, the federal government paused repayment for the vast majority of federal student loan borrowers. Starting in March 2020, you were able to take a penalty-free break from their monthly payments, and interest rates were set to zero. These nonpayments did count toward PSLF progress, however, assuming you met all other eligibility requirements. You would just need to file an employment certification form for a period spanning the repayment suspension, which was slated to last from March 2020 through September 2021.
You must be in a qualifying repayment plan in order to be eligible.
- Pay As You Earn
- Revised Pay As You Earn
- Income-Based Repayment (IBR)
- Income-Contingent Repayment
- The 10-year standard repayment plan — however, under this plan, you actually wouldn’t have any loans left to forgive at the end of 10 years when the forgiveness kicks in to cover the remainder of your loans. If you’re repaying on this plan, you should switch to an income-driven repayment plan.
[Read more about setting up income-driven repayment here]
What if you’re enrolled in the graduated extended repayment plans?
The graduated repayment plan starts with low payments that increase every two years. The repayment period can last 10 to 30 years. The extended repayment plan provides fixed or graduated payments that are made for up to 25 years.
Payments made under these plans are not eligible for credit toward PSLF. If you’re currently enrolled in a graduated or extended repayment plan and believe you’d otherwise be eligible for PSLF, you can switch to an income-driven repayment plan to make qualifying monthly payments.
How changing jobs affects your PSLF application (whether retroactive or not)
Let’s be realistic, odds are not high you’ll stay with the same employer for the decade it will take you to become eligible for PSLF. Each time you change jobs, you can submit the Employment Certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness form (linked above) to both prove eligibility and ensure you’re on track.
It’s wise to submit this form annually or at least each time you change jobs. If you don’t do it when you switch jobs, you will be required to submit this form for each job you held during the 10-year period when you officially submit for forgiveness.
Example of how changing jobs affects your PSLF application
You worked at Happy Helpers (an eligible nonprofit) from December 2011 until August 2014.
In September 2014, you started working in the parks and recreation department of your local government (an eligible government position).
You didn’t fill out an employment certification form while you worked at Happy Helpers, but you were making payments under the IBR program. As long as you can get your supervisor from Happy Helpers to verify your employment and sign off on the Employment Certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness form, then you can get retroactive credit.
However, if during your time working at Happy Helpers, you were making payments on a federal Perkins loan that wasn’t rolled into a direct consolidation loan, your time in public service won’t help because you weren’t making qualifying payments.