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How can you qualify for PSLF?

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Jamila Wideman holds the MOHELA letter announcing her debt discharge through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. (Photo by Stan Kaady/ABA Journal)

For individuals who invested in their education to enter a public service career, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is a crucial investment in our country’s education, health and safety to make careers in public service possible.

Since October 2017—10 years after PSLF was signed into law and student borrowers were eligible to earn forgiveness under the program—there has been confusion around who can earn forgiveness and the steps to apply. Thanks to recent changes to the program, more people have earned forgiveness, but borrowers still have questions.

PSLF requirements under the new regulations went into effect in July. In order to earn PSLF, student borrowers must have the appropriate loans, be enrolled in the appropriate repayment plan, work full time for an eligible entity and make 10 years of qualifying payments.

Types of eligible employers are listed on the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website. They include:

• U.S. federal, state, local or tribal governments or qualifying not-for-profit organizations (federal service includes U.S. military service).

• Charitable nonprofit employers designated as tax-exempt under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

• Other not-for-profit organizations that are not 501(c)(3)s in fields including emergency management; civilian service to the military; public safety; law enforcement, public interest law; early childhood education; public service for the elderly or people with disabilities; and public education, including public library services.

• Peace Corps or AmeriCorps service also counts toward PSLF.

Besides working for a qualifying employer, one must either have a William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan or consolidate eligible loans into a direct consolidation loan to receive PSLF. Direct loans, which are offered by the U.S. Department of Education, include direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, direct PLUS loans and direct consolidation loans.

Parent PLUS loans must be consolidated into a direct consolidation loan to qualify for loan forgiveness. Federal family education loans and Perkins loans may be eligible for PSLF if you consolidate them into a direct consolidation loan. For loans that were commercially managed, the deadline to apply for a direct consolidation loan has passed. Student loans from private lenders are never eligible for PSLF.

In addition to the Federal Student Aid website’s PSLF help tool, several organizations have curated or created resources to assist student borrowers as they navigate this process. They include the American Bar Association’s Student Debt Toolkit, a flowchart from AccessLex and the PSLF Coalition, which offers monthly webinars to educate borrowers from all public service professions on the process of how to earn PSLF. (See ABAJournal.com/ABA_PSLF.) It also brings together more than 100 allied members, including the ABA, who are united in advancing policies to ensure PSLF is accessible to borrowers and forgiveness is achievable for eligible public service professionals. The coalition received the ABA Grassroots Advocacy Award in 2023.

Our best chance of attaining equal justice for all is to guarantee that programs like PSLF operate as they are supposed to, allowing public service professionals to continue serving our communities and receiving the educational debt forgiveness they are owed. Lawyers with a passion for equal justice should have an opportunity to pursue a public service career—regardless of student debt.

Related article: These Public Service Loan Forgiveness applicants have seen their student debt erased

This story was originally published in the February-March 2024 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Want to know if you will qualify for PSLF?”

Aoife Delargy Lowe is the vice president of law school engagement & advocacy at Equal Justice Works, the leading allied member of the PSLF Coalition.

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