+ LR-Icons

Who Qualifies for Student Loan Forgiveness?

Let’s explore who qualifies to have their student loan debt reduced or eliminated through various student loan forgiveness programs, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

Published May 17, 2023

10 min read

In the context of student loans, three terms are used to refer to the ending of a borrower’s obligation to repay their debt: discharge, cancellation, and forgiveness. While each term means all or a portion of a borrower’s debt will be reduced or eliminated, they have important distinctions:

Student loan discharge

Student loan discharge is typically used when a borrower is unable to repay the debt for reasons such as disability or bankruptcy; or the borrower is no longer responsible for the debt because of fraud.

Student loan cancellation

Student loan cancellation is often used interchangeably with forgiveness and is typically based on a borrower’s job and/or income. More recently, cancellation is frequently used in reference to President Biden’s proposed federal student loan debt plan to distinguish it from existing federal student loan forgiveness programs.

Student loan forgiveness

Student loan forgiveness is typically used when a borrower is working in a particular occupation for a defined time period. Forgiveness is typically attached to federal student loans in particular and is part of federal programs such as Income-driven Repayment (IDR), Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), and Teacher Loan Forgiveness

With a focus on federal student loan forgiveness, including PSLF, let’s explore who qualifies to have their student loan debt reduced or eliminated in this way.

Biden Administration's Proposed Changes

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. For more information, visit studentaid.gov or schedule a consultation with a GradFin student loan specialist.1

Determine your eligibility

To understand if you’re eligible for federal student loan forgiveness programs, you will need to understand what types of federal student loans you have, if your employment situation qualifies, your household income, and what the requirements of the different forgiveness programs are.

You have federal student loans

Depending on what type of federal student loans and what type of forgiveness path you’re pursuing, you may need to consolidate your federal student loans.

Under President Biden’s proposed federal student loan debt relief plan for low- and middle-income borrowers, only federal student loans, including parent PLUS loans, issued prior to June 30, 2022 would be eligible for cancellation of $10K to $20K. Learn more here and at whitehouse.gov/.

As for forgiveness through IDR plans, you can learn more about which federal student loan types are eligible for the four different IDR plans in our Guide to Federal Student Loan Repayment Programs.

In the case of PSLF, only non-defaulted loans received under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program are eligible for forgiveness through the PSLF program. Learn more about PSLF eligibility by visiting the Student Aid website here.

Under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, Direct Loans or FFEL Program loans are eligible for forgiveness. Learn more here.

Income and amount owed

Your household income is an important factor in your eligibility for Biden’s proposed student loan debt relief plan as well as in IDR programs, which in turn impacts eligibility for PSLF. Some IDR plans factor in your spouse’s income into their calculations in addition to yours – learn more here.

Under Biden’s proposed one-time forgiveness plan, only people who earned less than $125,000 as an individual or $250,000 as part of a married couple in 2020 or 2021 will be eligible for forgiveness. The plan calls for up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients.

Dates and deadlines

Between multiple extensions of the federal student loan payments and interest pause that’s been in effect since March 2020, and the Biden Administration’s student loan relief plan being held up by SCOTUS, federal student loan borrowers have been in limbo for a long period. However, more clarity on the situation is expected mid-year 2023 when SCOTUS is scheduled to make a decision.

Regardless of the outcome, forgiveness programs such as Teacher Loan Forgiveness, IDR, and PSLF are not impacted by the SCOTUS ruling on the Biden Administration’s student loan relief plan. You can still apply to these forgiveness programs whether the plan is implemented or not.

What is Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)?

PSLF is a US government program that allows borrowers employed at qualifying nonprofits and government organizations to have their Federal Direct Loans forgiven after ten years of repayment under an Income-driven Repayment (IDR) plan. To be eligible for PSLF, you must:

  • be employed by a qualifying nonprofit OR a US government organization at any level (federal, state, local, or tribal) – including US military service.
  • work full-time for that agency or organization
  • have Federal Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans into a Direct Loan)
  • be enrolled in an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan
  • make 120 qualifying payments

PSLF is a notoriously complicated program with frequently changing rules and requirements. You can learn more about the program at studentaid.gov or see our guide to PSLF.

One-time Adjustment Deadline 

If you’re a borrower with commercially managed FFEL, Perkins, or Health Education Assistance Loan (HEAL) Program loans, be sure to apply for a Direct Consolidation Loan by the end of 2023, to take advantage of this forgiveness opportunity. To learn more, schedule a free call with a GradFin specialist.

Who qualifies for PSLF?

Public sector professionals — such as doctors, nurses, first responders, and teachers — employed by qualifying nonprofit organizations and government entities are eligible for PSLF. Learn more about jobs that qualify for PSLF here.


To be eligible for forgiveness through the 10-year PSLF program, you must make 120 qualifying payments while enrolled in one of the following IDR programs:

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


Understanding the rules, preparing paperwork, and applying for PSLF can be difficult to navigate on your own. Recertifying your employment each year and making sure you meet all PSLF program requirements over the course of ten years can be daunting as well. Schedule a free 30-minute forgiveness consultation with one of our student loan specialists at GradFin who can help get your questions answered, make a plan, and help guide you on potential tax implications of a student loan forgiveness event.

Forgiveness through IDR

To apply for student loan forgiveness through IDR, first review your eligibility for the different types of plans and get a sense of which plan could be right for you using Student Aid’s Loan Simulator tool. Do you meet all the requirements and have all the documentation you need? If you have parent PLUS loans, you must consolidate them to become eligible for IDR. If you’re unsure or have questions, you could schedule a free call with a GradFin student loan specialist for guidance.

IDR applications

To apply to the federal IDR program, you will need to sign in to your account on studentaid.gov. For a preview of the application questions, you can view a demo here. Before you start your application, make sure you have the right documentation on hand to help you complete the application efficiently and accurately.

Gather materials

When applying to IDR, you will typically need to have the following documentation readily available:

  • A verified FSA ID
  • Your financial information
  • Your personal information
  • Your spouse’s information (if applicable)

Complete the application

The application for IDR must be completed in a single session, but the good news is that most people complete the application in 10 minutes or less, according to the studentaid.gov. Generally, IDR application processing should take less than two weeks. However, it’s also not uncommon for applications sit under review for months.

Next steps

If you think you could qualify for federal student loan forgiveness, contact your loan servicer and get an understanding of what types of federal student loans you have and whether or not you need to consolidate.

If you’re thinking of applying to IDR or PSLF, our GradFin team can help. A GradFin student loan specialist can help you track progress on your application and keep you up-to-date on the latest requirements for different forgiveness programs.

If you’re eligible for Biden’s proposed student loan debt relief plan, stay tuned for more clarity on the situation toward the second half of 2023.

Forgiveness terms to know

Student loan discharge
Term used when a borrower is no longer responsible to repay their debt for reasons such as disability, bankruptcy, or fraud.
Student loan cancellation
Often used interchangeably with forgiveness, this term is used in reference to President Biden’s proposed federal student loan debt plan to distinguish it from existing federal student loan forgiveness programs
Student loan forgiveness
Term typically used when a borrower is working in a particular occupation for a defined time period.
Refers to the federal Income-Driven Repayment Program, comprised of four different plans.
Income-Based Repayment, one of the four IDR plans.
Pay As You Earn, one of the four IDR plans.
Revised Pay As You Earn, one of the four IDR plans.
Income-Contingent Repayment, one of the four IDR plans.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a 10-year federal student loan repayment program available to government and qualifying nonprofit employees.

Don't miss the latest financial resources.

Get tailored Laurel Road resources delivered to your inbox.

Search Results


This information provided is for informational purposes only and does not substitute consultation with a legal, tax or investment professional for important financial decisions. Laurel Road assumes no liability for loss or damage incurred by use of the information provided. Please visit laurelroad.com for full product details, terms and conditions.

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

Information and interactive calculators are made available to you as self-help tools for your independent use and are not intended to provide investment advice, legal, financial, or tax advice. We cannot and do not guarantee their applicability or accuracy in regard to your individual circumstances. All examples are hypothetical and are for illustrative purposes. We encourage you to seek personalized advice from qualified professionals regarding all personal finance issues. Calculators do not include the fees and restrictions that certain products may have. This calculator does not indicate whether you would qualify for a Laurel Road loan. Please visit the applicable banking product pages on laurelroad.com for specific terms and conditions.