Q: Do teachers qualify for PSLF?

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Teachers who work for a public school, nonprofit private school, or nonprofit charter school all qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. You qualify no matter what grade you teach. Elementary school teachers, secondary school teachers (high school), and college professors all qualify. So too do adjunct professors.

It doesn't matter what subject area you teach.

You could be a math teacher, a science teacher, a foreign languages (bilingual education), etc.

Likewise, there's no such thing as a qualifying school under the PSLF Program.

You don't need to work in a teacher shortage area. You don't need to be a highly qualified teacher. You don't need to work in a low-income school or a school that helps low-income families. You don't need to work in a high-need area that has a shortage of qualified teachers.

Those are all qualifications for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program.

Click here to read more about How to Get Teacher Loan Forgiveness

That Program is good. But the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is the better forgiveness option

It forgives much more of your student loan debt than does the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program.

The only teachers who don't qualify for the PSLF Program are teachers who:

  • work part-time or
  • work for a for-profit entity

Again, all other full-time public school teachers and nonprofit private school teachers qualify for the PSLF Program.

PSLF eligibility requirements

Teachers have to meet 5 requirements to be eligible for the PSLF program:

  1. work full-time
  2. work for a PSLF qualifying employer
  3. have Direct Loans
  4. make monthly payments under an income-driven repayment plan
  5. make 120 qualifying student loan payments

Let's talk about each requirement briefly.

Full-time

You work full-time if:

  • your employer considers you to be a full-time employee or
  • you work an average of 32 hours per week.
Adjunct professors who work part-time at two different schools can qualify for PSLF so long as their total work hours are greater than 32 hours per week.

There's no way to make the payments faster. You have to make each payment within 15 days of the due date.

PSLF qualifying employer

You work for the government if you work for the public school district.

You work for a nonprofit if your school is a qualified nonprofit entity. A qualified nonprofit entity includes 501(c)(3) entities. Many private schools are 501(c)(3) entities.

You can check with your school's HR department to identify your school's nonprofit status.

You can also check the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) nonprofit directory.

Click here to learn How to Get Nonprofit Student Loan Forgiveness

You also qualify if you quit being a teacher after 3 years of teaching and go work for the federal government.

All that matters is that you work for the government or a qualified nonprofit.

Direct Loans

Only Direct Loans qualify for the PSLF Program.

Borrowers with Federal Perkins Loans, Federal Stafford Loans, or Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) do not qualify for the PSLF Program. They may be eligible for other loan forgiveness options like Perkins Loan Cancellation or Teacher Loan Forgiveness. But they're not eligible for the PSLF Program.

Click here to download the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application

In my practice as a student loan lawyer, I've come across many teachers who thought they qualified to have their federal student loans forgiven simply because they've been teaching for 20 years.

When they submitted their application, they learned they didn't have eligible loans.

Remember this: Teaching, by itself, isn't enough. You have to have Direct Loans.

Here are the different types of Direct Loans you can have:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct Consolidation Loans
  • Direct Parent Plus Loans
  • Direct Graduate Plus Loans

If you don't have Direct Loans, you can consolidate your other federal student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan. (You can't consolidate your private student loans with your federal student loans.)

When you consolidate, choose FedLoan Servicing as the loan servicer. They're the authorized loan servicer for the PSLF Program.

There's no way to get retroactive credit for your past years of working.

Likewise, there's no way to get credit for the student loan payments you made before.

Under the current rules, you have to make 120 qualifying payments on the Direct Consolidation Loan.

Income-Driven Repayment Plan

You have to make your monthly payments under an income-driven repayment plan to qualify for the PSLF Program.

There are 4 income-driven repayment plans:

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

These are the only student loan repayment plans that qualify for the PSLF Program.

Any payments you made under a different repayment plan, Graduated or Extended, do not qualify for the Program.

But if you made payments under one of those repayment options on a Direct Loan, you may qualify for the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

120 qualifying payments

Your payments qualify for the PSLF Program if:

  • you make the payment within 15 days of the due date and
  • you make the payment under an income-driven repayment plan

You can not make the payments in one lump sum. You have to make them within 15 days of the due date.

The easiest way to make your payments on time is to put your account on autopay.

The payments don't need to be made in consecutive years. You can miss a month. You can skip a year. You can quit working as a teacher and then come back to the classroom.

You're not eligible for loan forgiveness until after you make your 120th payment.

How to protect your loan forgiveness

Educators can take steps to protect their loan forgiveness by submitting the Employment Certification Form each year.

You're not required to submit this form each year. But it's helpful to keep track of your eligibility each year.

In addition to submitting the form each year, I suggest saving a copy of all the letters you receive from your loan servicer. I also recommend downloading your monthly statements each year.

You want to save those documents, so you have proof you made the required payments and when you made them.

Final thoughts

Teachers have multiple student loan forgiveness programs to choose from.

But unlike other programs, the PSLF Program isn't limited to qualified special education teachers, secondary mathematics teachers, or teachers who work at an educational service agency.

The PSLF Program is open to all full-time teachers at government and qualified nonprofit schools.

Plus, the PSLF Program will forgive a more significant portion of your student loan debt than those other programs.

This Program will forgive your remaining balance. The one catch is that you don't get loan forgiveness after your fifth year of teaching service. The U.S. Department of Education makes you wait 10 years before your balance is forgiven.

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