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Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program Explained

For those working in public service, there are a number of paths to student loan forgiveness, including PSLF. Learn how to qualify and potentially reach forgiveness in 10 years.

Published March 15, 2023

10 min read

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a US government program that was created in 2007 to help ease the federal student loan debt burden for professionals working full-time in public service.

The program allows borrowers employed at qualifying nonprofit organizations and government entities to have their Federal Direct Loans forgiven after ten years of repayment (or 120 qualifying payments) under an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan. It is important to note that PSLF is for federal student loans only—it is not available for private student loans.

Let’s explore more details about the PSLF program, including who qualifies, what the eligibility requirements are, and how to enroll.

How does Public Service Loan Forgiveness work?

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is available to borrowers employed by government entities or qualifying not-for-profit organizations, with the opportunity to have Federal Direct Loans forgiven after ten years of qualifying income-driven payments, entirely tax-free.

An important aspect of the PSLF program is income-driven repayment (IDR). If you have federal student loans, you will likely qualify for at least one of the government’s income-driven (IDR) repayment programs that aim to make borrowers’ monthly student loan payments more manageable based on their discretionary income. These programs include:

  • Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE Plan)
  • Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE Plan)
  • Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR Plan)
  • Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR Plan)

If you’re pursuing forgiveness through the PSLF program, you will need to enroll in one of these plans. For more details on the differences between IDR programs, see our Guide to Federal Student Loan Repayment Programs. An important distinction between the PSLF and IDR programs listed above is that if you’re enrolled in PSLF, you can qualify for forgiveness in ten years rather than 20 to 25 years with IDR.

Also note that there are currently proposed changes to the PSLF and IDR programs that could change eligibility, requirements, and potentially the amount of money you could save.

Currently, there is a deadline for the one-time account adjustment for eligible IDR borrowers coming up at the end of 2023.

  • Past periods of repayment, deferment, and forbearance may count toward your IDR forgiveness.
  • For eligible borrowers seeking to take advantage of these changes, they must consolidate their commercially managed FFEL, Perkins, or Health Education Assistance Loan (HEAL) into a Direct Consolidation loan by the end of 2023.

For more information, visit studentaid.gov or schedule a consultation with a GradFin student loan specialist.

PSLF eligibility and requirements

To qualify for PSLF, you must meet certain eligibility requirements pertaining to your employer type, employment status, and the type of loan(s) you have. Let’s explore each aspect of PSLF eligibility criteria to understand how to qualify.

Note that on Oct. 25, 2022, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced new regulations to program requirements for PSLF. The new regulations are scheduled to into effect on July 1, 2023. For the most up-to-date information on changes to program requirements, visit studentaid.gov.

Qualifying factors for PSLF

To qualify for PSLF, you must the following program requirements.

Qualifying employment
Federal Direct Loans
Enrollment in an IDR plan
120 qualifying payments

Qualifying employment

To qualify for PSLF, you must be employed full-time at a US government organization at any level (federal, state, local, or tribal) – including US military service, or a qualifying nonprofit organization. Full-time employment is defined as a minimum of 30 hours per week.

Federal Direct Loans

Borrowers should have Federal Direct Loans. Or, federal loans which are not Direct Loans (made directly by the US Department of Education) may be consolidated into Direct Loans. This is often the first step for borrowers who have a wide array of loans which may include Perkins Loans, FFELP loans, and others. Learn more at studentaid.gov/consolidation.

Enrollment in an IDR plan

Borrowers must enroll in an income-driven repayment program to pursue PSLF. The 10-year standard plan is a qualifying repayment program in the pursuit of PSLF, but it would result in the borrower having the loan entirely paid off at the time of forgiveness.

120 qualifying payments

Participants will need to make 120 on-time qualifying payments over ten years to qualify for tax-free PSLF forgiveness of any remaining balance. These payments do not need to be consecutive, so if a borrower worked in the private sector for a period of time and came back, they’d pick up where they left off progress-wise.

Eligible job fields

You can use the employer search tool on studentaid.gov to see if your current and past employers are on the eligible list. Common job fields that are PSLF eligible include:

  • Military service
  • Law enforcement and first responders
  • Education
  • Non-profit work
  • Compensated volunteer work such as AmeriCorps or Peace Corps
  • Healthcare

PSLF for healthcare providers (HCPs)

HCPs such as doctors, nurses, physician associates, therapists, and clinicians working for several different employer types could qualify for PSLF, including:

  • Qualifying non-profit hospitals or organizations
  • State hospital systems
  • Federal hospitals
  • Public schools, including universities and K-12 school systems

How to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

To pursue and qualify for PSLF, you must provide paperwork, including an Employment Certification Form (ECF) filled out by each eligible employer in your work history.

But once you fill out your first ECF, you’re not done. You will need to re-certify your current employment and submit the form at least annually, as recommended by the Office of Student Aid. Note that if you change employers while you’re enrolled in the program, you will need to obtain certification from your new employer and submit the form again.

To apply for PSLF, take the following steps:

Check your eligibility
Check your eligibility
Check if your employer meets the qualifying criteria as a government entity or qualifying not-for-profit organization.
Certify annually
Certify annually
Certify your employment every year and whenever you change employers. The government will use the information provided to confirm you’re making qualifying PSLF payments.
Apply for forgiveness
Apply for forgiveness
Apply for forgiveness once you’ve made 120 qualifying payments and met all requirements.
Submit your PSLF form
Submit your PSLF form
Generate your PSLF form for signing and submitting to the PSLF servicer.


For the most up-to-date information on how to apply to PSLF, go to studentaid.gov/pslf or learn more here.

Is Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) right for me?

If you qualify, taking advantage of the PSLF program potentially means major savings for you, depending on the size of your federal student loans, income, lifestyle, and other personal financial factors.

However, getting accepted and staying in compliance over the course of ten years until your forgiveness event takes time, effort, and organization. Changes to program eligibility and IDR requirements that happen periodically in response to economic and political events can be challenging to navigate. Additionally, if you are in a financial position to pay off your student loan debt faster than 10 years, it could be preferable to take that route and save money on interest. Unfortunately, once you’re in the PSLF program, you cannot make extra monthly payments to accelerate your forgiveness event.

If you have questions about qualifying for PSLF, a student loan specialist at GradFin can help you understand all your repayment options, and help you determine if PSLF is the right program for you. Learn more here.

Final Words: Public Service Loan Forgiveness

For those working in public service, PSLF can be the fastest path to student loan forgiveness. With several proposed changes to the PSLF program and the possibility of more changes to requirements and eligibility in the future, the rules surrounding PSLF can be dynamic and difficult to keep up with.

To get the most up-to-date rules and requirements for PSLF, understand if you qualify, and learn how to stay on track toward forgiveness, schedule a free 30-minute consultation with a student loan specialist at GradFin today.


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  1. GradFin and Laurel Road are brands of KeyBank N.A.

  2. To qualify for PSLF, you must be employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization (federal service includes U.S. military service); work full-time for that agency or organization; have Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans into a Direct Loan); repay your loans under an income-driven repayment plan; and make 120 qualifying payments. For full program requirements, visit: Federal Student Aid.

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