Student Loan Forgiveness for Public Service

Nicolas Cesare  | 

Student loans are a heavy weight on the shoulders of many college graduates. It takes most students around 21 years worth of payments before they’re able to completely pay off the student loans that they took out during college, meaning that most students won’t be debt-free until their 40s! If you have any student debt, and you’re finding yourself in this kind of situation, you probably think that it would be amazing if there was a way to just make all of your student loans disappear.

The good news is that there is! By satisfying certain public service requirements, you can have your student loan debt completely forgiven. Student loan forgiveness for public service is a program run through the federal government that rewards college graduates who put their skills to use in ways that serve the public good. Let’s find out how to get student loan forgiveness for public service employees.

What Is Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness?

Student loan forgiveness for public service is a way to make your student loan debt evaporate once you’ve met certain requirements. When you’ve worked full time for a certain period of time in a qualifying profession, the government will completely waive your student debt, no matter how much you have left over. If you graduated school with an especially large amount of debt, or you just don’t want to pay any more than you have to, student loan forgiveness can be an enticing option.

What Types of Student Loans Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Before you start planning on getting student loan forgiveness for public service, you should check the types of student loans that you’ve taken out and make sure that they’re eligible for forgiveness. Here are some things to pay attention to:

  • Barring certain conditions, all federal student loans are eligible for forgiveness.
  • Private student loans are never eligible for forgiveness.
  • If your student loans are in default, you won’t be able to get them forgiven. However, you can get your student loans out of default and go on to become eligible.
  • If you’re a parent with a Parents PLUS Loan, you can still qualify for student loan forgiveness for public service. However, remember that it is the parent’s employment that must qualify, not the student’s.

How Do I Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Once you’re certain that you have the right kind of student loan to qualify, it’s time to look at what you need to do to earn debt forgiveness. Here are some of the requirements from the federal government to qualify for public service student loan forgiveness:

Enroll in a Federal Student Loan Repayment Program

Qualifying repayment plans include any of the income-driven repayment plans. These plans take your monthly income into account when calculating your payments. Payments on income-driven repayment plans are typically smaller than on other repayment plans. Usually this can lead to concern that the repayment schedule will take much longer than usual, but if you apply for public service loan forgiveness alongside your income-driven repayment plan, your debt will be forgiven after just 10 years.

You should also note that the standard 10-year repayment plan for student loans is also a qualifying plan. However, since the term of that plan is also 10 years, you will have paid off all of your student loans before you became eligible for forgiveness, defeating the purpose. Payments on the standard plan can also be difficult to make if you’re working for a lower salary in your qualifying job.

Make 120 Eligible On-Time Payments for 10 Years

Once you’ve got your qualifying plan picked out, you’ll need to make 120 payments on that plan for over 10 years. At the end of this 10 year period and after you’ve made all the qualifying payments, your student loan balance will be forgiven. If for any reason you miss a payment during this time, then you’ll just have to make additional on-time payments until you’ve made 120 of them. It’s also important to note that only payments made after October 1, 2007 count towards this total (the program was enacted then, but not retroactively).

Work at a Qualifying Job

This is the most important part of qualifying for public service loan forgiveness and where the “public service” part of the term comes from. Here is a list of eligible forms of employment to qualify for student loan forgiveness for public service:

  • Working for any government organization at any level of government. This includes military service and working as a teacher.
  • Working for a nonprofit organization that has 501(c)(3) status, making it tax-exempt for fulfilling some public good.
  • A nonprofit organization that doesn’t qualify for 501(c)(3) status, but still works towards a qualifying mission according to the IRS.

For any one of these jobs, you must work full-time to qualify for public service loan forgiveness, all while making your eligible payments under an income-driven repayment plan.

How Do I Apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

If you meet all of the requirements for student loan forgiveness for public service, then you should fill out the employment certification form with the Department of Education. This will confirm that you are working full-time at a qualifying job, making your qualifying payments count towards the 120-payment goal. After that, your remaining student loan balance will be forgiven.

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Nick Cesare is a writer from Boise, ID. In his free time he enjoys rock climbing and making avocado toast.