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Updated on December 19, 2022
Federal student loan borrowers can qualify for forgiveness after 10 years’ worth of payments — but only if they work full-time for the government or nonprofit organization. President Biden has proposed expanding student loan forgiveness after 10 years, but the relief will be capped at $12 thousand.
Looking for student loan forgiveness after 10 years of entering repayment? The only program that currently offers debt relief at that interval is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. It writes off all federal student loans tax-free after 10 years for borrowers who work for the government or a not-for-profit organization. Teachers, firefighters, military service members, medical professionals, and so on can all benefit from the PSLF Program.
If you don’t work for a PSLF-qualifying employer, the soonest you can have your loans forgiven is 20 years after you start paying your loans back. Read more about student loan forgiveness after 20 years. The federal government doesn’t have a forgiveness program that forgives student loans after 5 or 15 years.
The Biden administration hopes to bring 10-year forgiveness to millions more eligible borrowers. When President Joe Biden announced that he would take executive action to wipe out $20 thousand in federal loans for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10 thousand for everyone else, he also shared plans to forgive loan balances after 10 years of payments for borrowers with original balances of $12 thousand or less.
Related: Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness
For the time being, 10-year debt forgiveness for undergraduate students is only a proposal. This debt forgiveness option has yet to be adopted by the Education Department. Similarly, neither the White House nor the department has provided specifics on how the forgiveness will operate if it is ever implemented. We don’t know if people who borrowed federal loans years ago can get relief. It might only be for new borrowers and might not include Parent PLUS Loans.
Related: Parent PLUS Loan Forgiveness
Can student loans be forgiven after 10 years?
Federal student loans made under the Direct Loan Program can be forgiven after 10 years if you work for the government or a nonprofit organization. The department is also working on a new forgiveness program that will wipe out borrowers’ loans a decade after they’ve left undergrad.
Private student loans aren’t eligible for any of these loan cancellation opportunities. Many private lenders offer only one forgiveness program, and it’s only available if you become disabled.
Learn More: Can Private Student Loans Be Forgiven?
Will all student loans be forgiven after 10 years?
Not all federal student loans will be forgiven after 10 years. The White House has said that it plans to limit the relief to people who borrowed $12 thousand or less to pay for their undergraduate education. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that this targeted debt cancellation will allow students who borrowed federal loans to pay for a community college to be debt-free 10 years after leaving school.
The department is still working to make the 10-year student loan forgiveness program official. But given the legal challenges the Biden administration has faced with the president’s mass debt cancellation plan, this may never happen.
Can you get student loan forgiveness before 10 years?
There are three ways you can get student loan forgiveness before you’ve been in repayment for 10 years:
Your school closed while you were still enrolled.
Your school defrauded you by lying about job placement rates, career services support, ability to transfer credits, etc. Read more about borrower defense.
You suffered a physical or mental disability that left you unable to work. Read more about what disabilities qualify for student loan forgiveness.
None of these programs require that you make payments before getting your loans forgiven. So it’s possible to get student loan forgiveness if you’re unemployed or haven’t had any income.
How to get federal loans forgiven after paying for 10 years
You can have your federal student loans forgiven if you make 120 qualifying payments while working for the government or a nonprofit organization or volunteering with AmeriCorps or Peace Corps. A qualifying payment is one that you made on time, for the full amount due, and under a qualifying repayment plan, i.e., one of the income-driven repayment plans — IBR, ICR, REPAYE, etc. — or the 10-Year Standard Repayment Plan.
Related: What Repayment Plans Qualify for PSLF?
Working in public service and making monthly payments under the right repayment plan isn’t enough to get your loans forgiven. You also have to have the right type of loan: Direct Loans.
The Department of Education used to offer three types of federal loans:
Federal Direct Loans.
Federal Family Education Loans.
Federal Perkins Loans.
It ended the FFEL and Perkins Loan programs by the mid-2010s. If you went to school before then, you might have loans that don’t qualify for PSLF.
Related: How to Consolidate Student Loans for PSLF?
The good news is that you can consolidate your non-qualifying loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan. This will combine all of your loans into one loan. The bad news — at least until recently — is that you’ll have to make student loan payments on the new loan for 10 years before your remaining balance can be forgiven.
The White House temporarily changed the eligibility requirements for the PSLF program during the pandemic by expanding which borrowers could get credit for their payments. Before it ended on Oct. 31, the Limited PSLF Waiver counted payments borrowers made under any student loan repayment plan. It also gave them credit for some of their time in forbearance or deferment. Read more about retroactive student loan forgiveness.
Even though the waiver ended on Halloween, you can still take advantage of it if (1) you have Direct Loans and (2) you used the PSLF Help Tool on the Federal Student Aid website, StudentAid.gov, to generate an employment certification form before the deadline passed.
If you still work in public service, you can also take advantage of permanent changes to the PSLF rules. Borrowers can now receive credit for late, piecemeal, and lump sum payments thanks to those fixes. The department will also credit them for certain periods of deferment or forbearance, including for cancer treatment and service in the military, AmeriCorps, National Guard, or Peace Corps.
Submit an employment certification form to MOHELA before May 1, 2023, to apply for PSLF under the new relaxed rules.
Related: Public Service Loan Forgiveness for Military Service