Recently a Financial Tip reader shared some great topics she was interested in having covered in future tips, and this is one of those topics- breaking down student loan forgiveness programs (note, we always appreciate feedback from readers! Please feel free to send ideas for future tips or topics you want more information on to firstname.lastname@example.org).
For many students this time of year marks graduation, and for many of them graduation prompts thinking about student loans. Those graduating high school may be anticipating the disbursements of their first student loans in a few months to cover new tuition expenses. Alternatively, those graduating college may be expecting the end of student loan deferment and the beginning of repayment in the coming months. No matter where one is on the continuum of student loan debt, it is always important to think about the long term realities of student loans, including repayment options. This tip will outline one possible option for students who may go into careers in public service jobs.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program
What’s a public service job?
The definition of what is considered a public service job is fairly broad. Any employment with a federal, state, or local government agency, entity, or organization or a non-profit organization that has been designated as tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). The type or nature of employment with the organization does not matter for PSLF purposes. Additionally, the type of services that these public service organizations provide does not matter for PSLF purposes. Some private, non-profit employers that are not tax exempt (i.e., 501(c)(3) status) can even be considered qualifying employment for the PSLF program, provided the employer provides certain public services (e.g., public health, safety, etc).
What types of loans are eligible?
Loans are either:
- Federal- Made and/or regulated by the government, including Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), and Federal Perkins Loans; or
- Private- Made by a bank/private lender and generally carry higher fees and interest rates than federal loans. For more information about avoiding deceptive private loans, visit http://missourifamilies.org/features/financearticles/cfe63.htm)
Private loans are not eligible for loan forgiveness programs, and not all federal loans are either. For a list of debt cancellation/forgiveness programs and which types of federal loan types are eligible for each program, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/public-service-loan-forgiveness-common-questions.pdf. Regarding the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), only direct loans are eligible (i.e., loans you received under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program). Federal Family Education loans and Perkins loans are not eligible, however, they do become eligible if you consolidate them into a direct consolidation loan.
What do I have to do to get my debt forgiven?
- Work full-time: At least an annual average of 30 hours per week. For purposes of the full-time requirement, your qualifying employment at a not-for-profit organization does not include time spent participating in religious instruction, worship services, or any form of proselytizing. If you are a teacher, or other employee of a public service organization, under contract for at least eight out of 12 months, you meet the full-time standard if you work an average of at least 30 hours per week during the contractual period and receive credit by your employer for a full year’s worth of employment. If you have multiple eligible jobs, you must work a combined average of at least 30 hours per week.
- Make 120 on time, full, monthly loan payments. Basically, you have to put in 10 years of full, on time payments before you can be eligible for the remainder of your loans to be forgiven. On-time payments are those that are received by your Direct Loan servicer no later than 15 days after the scheduled payment due date. Full payments are payments on your Direct Loan in an amount that equals or exceeds the amount you are required to pay each month under your Direct Loan repayment schedule.
- Be paying back your loan through a qualifying repayment plan. You cannot necessarily choose a repayment plan that will greatly lengthen your repayment period so that you are eligible for most of your loans to be forgiven. For example, 30-year extended repayment plans are not eligible for the PSLF program. However, income-driven repayment (IDR) plans are eligible. Check out https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans to see the full list of repayment plans, which includes the four main IDR options (also, you may want to check out this recent Financial Tip for info on a newly released IDR plan: http://ofsmizzou.org/a-new-student-loan-repaye-ment-plan/). The 10-year Standard Repayment Plan is also eligible, however, after meeting the PSLF requirement of 120 consecutive payments, there would be no debt left to forgive!
- Stay on top of your record keeping. When using an IDR plan, borrowers will need to re-certify their income annually. Your lender will communicate with you on when and how to do this, but missing this communication or not completing the re-certification process can take you out of an IDR plan and default you into the standard 10-year plan (which doesn’t help you maximize the PLSF program). Also, you will need to file a form certifying your public service employment (https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/public-service-employment-certification-form.pdf). Each time that form is received, your past payments will show up as qualifying for the PSLF program. So, be sure to file the form as soon as you have a public service job, if you change public service jobs, or anytime your lender or the PSLF program prompts you to re-certify your employment eligibility.
Deciding whether or not the PSLF program is right for you depends on many factors, mainly how much student loan debt you have and how much money you will make during the first 10 years of your public service career. The more debt you have and the less you will make, the more attractive an option the PSLF may be for you (as payments tied to your income will be less when you make less money). Alternatively, if you make a high income you may very well have paid off, or be close to paying off, your student loans by the time you get to the end of the 10 year requirement under the PSLF.
There are many repayment options for student loans. A good first step would be to visit the Federal Student Aid repayment calculator at https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/mobile/repayment/repaymentEstimator.action to see what all your options may be. You can also look at past financial tips (achieved at http://mufinancialtip.blogspot.com/, especially the September and October 2011 tips).
Again, whether you are just starting to take out loans or have been paying them back for years, it is always good to consider your repayment options and realities. Even though the PSLF program may help some (and does encourage public service jobs), you will still end up paying back a substantial amount of the debt you take out, so never take out more loans than you need.