Public Service Loan Forgiveness: What It Is, How It Works

PSLF discharges any remaining federal student loan balance after borrowers make 10 years' worth of payments.
Eliza Haverstock
Colin Beresford
Anna Helhoski
By Anna Helhoski,  Colin Beresford and  Eliza Haverstock 
Edited by Des Toups
Public Service Loan Forgiveness

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Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a federal program designed to encourage students to enter potentially low-paying careers like firefighting, teaching, government, nursing, public interest law, the military and religious work.

If you qualify for PSLF and enroll in the program, you can get your remaining student debt forgiven tax-free after making 10 years’ worth of monthly payments, for a total of 120 payments, while working for the government or a nonprofit. You'll also be on an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan that caps monthly bills at a set percentage of your income.

You can use the PSLF Help Tool on the federal student aid website to find out your eligibility based on the types of loans you have and your employer.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness has undergone temporary changes as a result of the pandemic.

  • All federal student loans were put into interest-free forbearance starting in March 2020 with no payments due until October 2023.

  • The Education Department is temporarily bending the rules on which payments count toward forgiveness under PSLF during the one-time IDR account adjustment.

For PSLF seekers, the payment recount means a broader range of past payments will count toward forgiveness, as long as you were working for a qualified employer at the time of repayment. PSLF borrowers who've made at least 120 payments after the recount is applied will see their remaining balance forgiven, while other borrowers will move closer toward the forgiveness finish line.

If you want to apply for PSLF under these relaxed payment count rules, you'll need to do so by the end of 2023.

You’ll find details on these programs and more below.

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Federal loan payment pause includes PSLF borrowers

Federal student loan borrowers seeking PSLF don't need to make payments until October 2023, when student loan bills resume. Interest began accruing again on Sept. 1. As long as you're still working full-time for an eligible employer, those months of nonpayments during the payment pause will count toward the 120 payments needed to qualify for PSLF.

In other words, if you have not made payments since March 2020 and won't make another until October 2023, you are still more than three years closer to forgiveness.

One-time automatic account adjustment for PSLF borrowers

Under the one-time IDR account adjustment, any payments made toward your federal loans while working a qualifying PSLF job during or after October 2007, regardless of the payment plan you’ve been on, will count toward PSLF. Previously, only payments made on certain repayment plans would qualify. Any payments made in the past that were rejected because they weren’t considered on time will also now count toward PSLF.

The account adjustment will be automatic for all PSLF-eligible Direct Loans, including consolidated and unconsolidated parent PLUS loans. PSLF borrowers who have commercially or federally held Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) loans can also qualify for the recount, but they must first consolidate those loans before the end of 2023. Don't delay, because the consolidation process can take time.

If you're seeking relief via the account adjustment and are not receiving the help you need from your servicer, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau instructs borrowers to make a complaint. The government's PSLF Help Tool can also help you certify periods of employment and track progress toward forgiveness.

Who qualifies for the PSLF account adjustment?

The following loans are eligible for the one-time account adjustment for borrowers who qualify for PSLF:

  • Direct Loans, including those who have already consolidated into a Direct Loan and those who consolidate into a Direct Loan by the end of 2023.

  • Grad and parent PLUS loans, either consolidated or unconsolidated. For parent PLUS loans to qualify, the parent who originally took out the parent PLUS loan must work in a public service job — it doesn't matter if the student or other parent has a qualifying job.

Some federal loans are not Direct Loans. If you have commercially held FFELP or Perkins loans, for instance, you will need to consolidate your loans into a Direct consolidation loan before the end of 2023. You will then need to verify that you work for an eligible employer and submit a PSLF form — also before the end of the year.

If you already hold Direct Loans, there is no need to consolidate. Rather, you just need to verify you work for an employer eligible for the program and then submit a PSLF form through your loan servicer before the end of 2023.

If the recount puts you at 120 payments, you will start to see the account adjustment in spring of 2023. All other eligible borrowers will see the adjustment in 2024.

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Reconsideration for PSLF applications

Beginning April 2022, borrowers whose applications were rejected for PSLF in the past can request a reconsideration online at Anyone who thinks their application should be reconsidered can submit a request.

You'll be able to submit one or more reconsideration requests of your application to certify employment or payment determinations. You won't need to provide more documentation with your request, but you might have to provide more information following its review. There was no deadline provided.

You still must meet payment and employment requirements under the law, which includes the current waiver that would count previously ineligible payments.

To figure out if you need a reconsideration of your employer, you can use the PSLF Help Tool. If your employer isn’t eligible, consider supplying documentation as to why the not-for-profit organization you work for should qualify.

The Federal Student Aid office did not indicate how long it would take to review each submission. Make sure your account has the most up-to-date contact information so you can receive correspondence. More information about reconsideration of payment counts and employer qualifications are available on the federal student aid website.

Are PSLF applicants still eligible for Biden's cancellation?

In August 2022, President Biden announced a plan to cancel up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower. However, the Supreme Court shut down this plan on June 30, 2023, after hearing two major student loan lawsuits and deeming the proposal unlawful. Though Biden is pursuing a student debt cancellation plan B, it's far from certain, and PSLF applicants should not expect additional relief from Biden's student debt relief plan.

Who's gotten PSLF so far?

According to November 2022 data from the Department of Education, 359,790 borrowers qualified for forgiveness through the year-long waiver of payment rules that expired on Oct. 31. Most have seen their balances discharged already.

The average balance of borrowers whose loans were discharged or are expected to be discharged is about $67,000.

Only about 12,527 borrowers had seen their discharges processed through the traditional PSLF process as of Oct. 31, according to education department data.

How to get Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Have the correct type of loans, or consolidate

Only loans that are part of the federal direct loan program are eligible for PSLF. Private student loans aren’t eligible.

You can consolidate other types of federal student loans — Federal Family Education Loan loans or Perkins loans — to make them PSLF-eligible.

If you qualify for Perkins loan cancellation, which offers forgiveness after five years of public service, pursue that option and don’t consolidate your Perkins loans. You can still participate in PSLF with your other federal student loans.

Work full time for a qualifying employer

Eligibility in the program depends less on the type of work you do and more on who your employer is. Qualifying employers can include:

  • Government organizations at any level.

  • 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

  • AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps.

  • Nonprofit organizations that don’t have 501(c)(3) status but provide a qualifying public service as their primary purpose.

  • Religious organizations.

Complete an employment certification form to confirm that your employer qualifies. Send the form to MOHELA Servicing, the contractor that currently oversees PSLF for the department. When the form is processed, your loans will be transferred to MOHELA to be serviced going forward.

Submit a new form annually, or whenever you change jobs, to make sure you’re on track for forgiveness. You’re not required to submit the form every year, but it’s a good idea to do so for your records. You can also apply for forgiveness once you’re eligible and certify your employment retroactively.

You must work for your qualifying employer full time, which amounts to at least 30 hours per week. If you work part time for two qualifying employers and your time averages at least 30 hours per week, you might still be eligible.

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Switch to income-driven repayment

Without the waivers, your payments must be made on the standard 10-year plan or on one of the four income-driven repayment plans.

You’ll save the most money if you make all qualifying payments on an income-driven plan. If you make all payments on the standard plan, you’ll pay off the debt by the time you’ve made enough payments to qualify for PSLF.

Payments made on the graduated or extended federal repayment plans don’t typically count toward PSLF, but they do under the one-time account adjustment currently underway.

Make 10 years' worth of payments

You must make 120 monthly loan payments. These payments must be made:

  • For the full amount due.

  • On time, meaning within 15 days of your due date.

  • On or after Oct. 1, 2007.

  • While you’re working full time for a qualifying employer and on a qualifying repayment plan.

Payments don’t count if they’re made while you’re in school, in deferment or forbearance, during a grace period, or if your loans are delinquent or in default.

The payments do not need to be consecutive. For example, you could make some qualifying payments, pause payments through forbearance and then resume repayment, picking up where you left off.

You can also change jobs, switching between qualifying employers and non-qualifying employers. However, payments only count toward PSLF when you’re working for a qualifying employer.

Starting July 2023, lump-sum or early payments will also count toward the 120 needed for forgiveness. You can do this multiple times each year up until your annual recertification deadline. For example, if your monthly bill was $100 and you paid $500, that would count for your next five payments.

Apply to forgiveness

Once you’ve met all of the above requirements, submit the Public Service Loan Forgiveness application. You can do this online through the Education Department, or you can mail in a paper application to the student loan servicer MOHELA. You must be working full time for a qualifying employer when you apply. The Education Department recommends you submit the form annually and each time you switch employers.

Along with the application, you’ll need to submit an employment certification form for your current employer and each employer you had while making the 120 payments. If you’ve been completing these forms regularly, you’ll need to submit only one for your current employer.

MOHELA will notify you when it receives your paperwork. You aren’t required to make loan payments while it processes your application.

Don't qualify for PSLF? You have other options

You're not alone if you don't meet PSLF's strict requirements. You also have other options:

  • Explore other paths to forgiveness. PSLF isn't the only federal student loan forgiveness program, although it's one of the most popular. However, watch out for loan forgiveness scams.

  • Stay on income-driven repayment. All four income-driven plans will forgive your remaining balance after 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan. However, unlike with PSLF, the forgiven amount may be taxable.

  • Consider refinancing. Student loan refinancing can save you money and help you become debt-free faster by lowering your interest rate. However, once you refinance federal loans, they're no longer eligible for forgiveness programs or income-driven repayment. You need stable finances and good credit to qualify.

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