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Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
Mark Cappel
UpdatedDec 12, 2011
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    3 min read
Key Takeaways:
  • PSLF discharges student loans after 10 years of full-time employment in public service.
  • Government student loans qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
  • Teachers, law enforcement officers, nurses and workers at non-profits qualify.

Government Student Loan Forgiveness Programs at a Glance

If your student loans are federally backed and you work in public service, you may qualify for loan forgiveness.

Student Loan Forgiveness for Public Service

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 established the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. The PSLF discharges any remaining student loan debt after 10 years of full-time employment in public service. Income is not a factor in eligibility.

To apply for the student loan forgiveness program you need to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center by calling (800) 433-3243, or visit the Dept. of Education Student Aid Web page. To see a detailed outline of the program for public service employees read the document Loan Forgiveness for Public Service Employees. (PDF)

Eligibility Requirements for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The Dept. of Education lists the following three qualifications for forgiveness:

  1. Borrower must not be in default on the loans for which forgiveness is requested.
  2. The borrower must be employed full-time by a public service organization.
  3. 120 required payments made under one or more of the following Direct Loan Program repayment plans:
    • Income Based Repayment (IBR) Plan
    • Income Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan
    • Standard repayment of at least $50 per month
    • Any other approved Direct Loan repayment plan
    The payments need not be consecutive for the borrower to qualify. Also, there is an exception to the 120-payment rule for Peace Corps and AmeriCorps volunteers.

Qualifying borrowers will have the the remaining balance on the borrower’s eligible loans forgiven.

Eligible Student Loans

The following William D. Ford Direct Loan Program loans are eligible for forgiveness:

  • Federal Direct Stafford Loans (Direct Subsidized Loans)
  • Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loans (Direct Unsubsidized Loans)
  • Federal Direct Plus Loans (Direct Plus Loans): For parents and graduate or professional students
  • Federal Direct Consolidation Loans (Direct Consolidation Loans)

Other Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans qualify if the borrower consolidates these federal loans into a federal Direct Consolidation. These include Federal Perkins Loans for certain health professions and nursing loans. The interest rate on a Direct Consolidation Loan is a fixed rate based on a weighted average of the interest rates of the loans that you consolidate, rounded up to the next higher one-eighth of one percent.

Ineligible Student Loans

Loans in default are not eligible. However, a defaulted loan may become eligible if the borrower rehabilitates the defaulted loan. Parent Plus loans are not eligible to be repaid under IBR or ICR. However, a Parent Plus borrower could consolidate the Plus loans and then choose ICR for the new Direct Consolidation Loan. Note that the parent who signed the Parent Plus loan contract must be employed in public service to qualify, and not necessarily the student. (See the resource Parent Plus Loan Consolidation to learn more.

What Qualifies as a Public Service Job?

The specific job that you perform does not matter, as long as you are employed by a public service organization and work 30 or more hours per week. According to the Dept. of Education, any federal, state, or local government organization or agency and most 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations qualify for the PSLF program. However, the organization may not be a labor union, a partisan political organization, or an organization that is engaged in religious activities unless the qualifying public services it provides are unrelated to religious instruction, worship services, or proselytizing.

Visit the Dept. of Education Public Service Loan Forgiveness Web page to learn more about how student loan forgiveness works.


PPamela Ingber, May, 2020

I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New York State. I have been in practice for 20 years. I am currently a volunteer mental health therapist through Governor Cuomo's office during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for frontline nurses, as I am a licensed RN, in NY, as well. I am 72 years old and continue to practice and continue to repay my student loan for my MSW/LSCW. My office is in rural Hudson Valley where I do see pro-bono client, as well. Am I eligible for some debt relief?

DDaniel Cohen, Jul, 2020

Pamela, I apologize that your question fell into the cracks and didn't receive a timely reply.

I don't know the exact requirements for Public Service Student Loan Forgivness but I think it requires more than the pro-bono component to which you referred (which is separate from it being a generous and find thing to have done).

I would take two routes to exploring what is available:

I would contact my loan servicer(s) and ask them.

See what the government says. Start at this page about managing your loan. You should also be able to get info about leniencies due to COVID-19. Good luck.

AAaron, Feb, 2014
The way I interpret this is even though I am a full-time firefighter, I am not eligible because I am part of the IAFF? Am I understanding this correctly?
BBill, Feb, 2014
I think you interpret the rule a bit too broadly. The rule does not exclude union members. The rule excludes some union employees. If I understand you correctly, your profession is a firefighter. You happen to be represented by a union but are not employed by a union.

Union membership does not exclude you from the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. However, if you were employed by the International Association of Fire Fighters or another union, then you may not be eligible for PSLF.
SSharon Clarke-Myrie, Sep, 2013
can a law enforcement officer pay off his wife's student loan
BBill, Sep, 2013
I assume your question is, "Can a spouse working in public service and eligible for a Student Loan Forgiveness Program use his or her benefit to pay-off his or her spouse's student loans?" Generally, no. However, not all forgiveness programs are identical, so you need to check with any programs the public-service spouse is eligible for to learn the qualifications.
JJeff, Sep, 2013
I am now a sworn officer, do I qualify for this forgiveness?
BBill, Sep, 2013
It is not only having a qualifying job, but keeping it for a period of time while making your payments on time that will allow you to have loans forgiven. Also, not every type of loan is eligible for forgiveness. Please read the Dept. of Education's information on eligibility.
CChris, Oct, 2012
Does public school teaching qualify for forgiveness under this program?
BBill, Oct, 2012
Teaching at a public school is the kind of job that should meet the forgiveness loan guidelines. However, there are many other qualifications that you have to meet, in order to have your student loan debt forgiven. Also, not every federal loan is eligible for the forgiveness program.