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Public Service Loan Forgiveness Waiver Deadline Approaches: Here's How to Apply

You need to apply by Oct. 31 -- but if you have to consolidate your loans, you should act sooner.

Man in blue scrubs and a backpack with a look of relief
It can take up to 45 days to consolidate your loans if you're eligible for PSLF.
Halfpoint Images/Getty Images

Do you know if you're eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness? Some 3.5 million federal student loan borrowers who work in public service careers, including teachers, government workers, first responders and firefighters, could qualify for student loan cancellation under a temporary expansion of the PSLF program. But the window to apply for this "limited PSLF waiver" is closing. 

The PSLF program is not new, but the vast majority of borrowers who applied for forgiveness prior to the expanded waiver were denied loan cancellation. New regulatory changes in October 2021 and April 2022 made forgiveness more accessible to more public servants who have been in a qualifying job for 10 years or more.

This expanded waiver may provide a path to forgiveness retroactively and could count previous payments toward PSLF, giving borrowers the chance to be reconsidered for forgiveness if they were previously denied. 

Now, qualifying borrowers with different federal student loan types, like FFEL or Perkins loans and those on income-driven repayment plans have the opportunity to seek forgiveness. Anyone with qualifying federal loans other than Direct Loans will need to consolidate their loans first though, a process which can take up to 45 days, according to Martin Lynch, director of education at the Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. 

With the waiver set to expire on Oct. 31, anyone who needs to consolidate their loans should do so by the beginning of September to meet the waiver application deadline. Despite many public officials calling on President Joe Biden to extend the limited PSLF waiver, including Richard Cordray, chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid, no decisions have been made.

Here's everything you need to know about applying for the PSLF expanded benefits waiver, including how to find out if you're eligible, when and how to apply and how to consolidate your loans. For more, here's how student loan debt forgiveness can affect your credit score and here's what you need to know about your new loan servicer if you're eligible for the PSLF program.

What is the PSLF program and eligibility requirements?

The PSLF program, first launched in 2007, was designed to help public servants pay off their loans faster. 

The program works by offering loan forgiveness to eligible public servants who have made 120 qualifying student loan payments. Yet, prior to last October's expansion of the program, it had a horrible approval rate: Almost 99% of borrowers who had applied since 2008 were denied.

To qualify for PSLF you must be employed full-time by a US federal, state, local or tribal government agency -- this includes the military -- or a nonprofit organization. You must have federal Direct Loans or other types of federally backed loans that have already been consolidated into Direct Loans and you must make 120 qualifying payments or 10 years of payments. Examples of borrowers who qualify for PSLF are workers like teachers, nurses and firefighters who serve their local communities. 

Do I now qualify for loan forgiveness under the new PSLF terms?

The waiver only applies to federal loans, which make up the vast majority, or more than 90%, of total student loan debt. Borrowers in public service jobs may be able to receive forgiveness for FFEL, federally backed loans made through private lenders, Perkins loans and other nonstandard or non-income-driven repayment plans for federal loans under the expanded waiver (see below). 

Borrowers can also receive credit for previous payments and periods of employment, such as active military duty, that they wouldn't have qualified for in the past. 

The easiest way to figure out if you qualify is to apply for the limited waiver. Filling out the waiver will help you do things like consolidate different types of loans or certify previous periods of employment for credit.

How do I apply for PSLF forgiveness? 

The Department of Education has a dedicated tool to help guide your application for the limited waiver. The deadline to apply for the waiver is Oct. 31, 2022, but the sooner you apply, the better. Some borrowers may not have to take any action to have their loans canceled -- but it's a good idea to confirm your specific details.

If you hold FFEL or Perkins loans, you'll need to consolidate them into Direct Loans. This process can take several weeks, and Lynch recommends completing the process "at least 45 days before filing the PSLF application." That means you should take action to consolidate no later than the first week of September to ensure you have enough time to file. 

Do I need to consolidate my non-Direct Loans?

Previously, only Direct Loans with a standard or income-driven repayment plan qualified for PSLF. However, for a limited time, you may be able to receive credit for past payments on federal loans that did not previously qualify for PSLF, regardless of your repayment plan. Borrowers with FFEL, Perkins and other federal non-Direct Loans must consolidate their loans through the Direct consolidation program before applying for the PSLF expanded waiver.

You can consolidate qualifying federal student loans into a Direct Loan online at the Federal Student Aid website -- you can find the application for consolidation here. This will combine your existing federal loans into one Direct Loan with one interest rate and one monthly payment. By consolidating into one Direct Loan and then applying for the expanded PSLF waiver, your past payments can now count toward loan forgiveness, as long as you are in a qualifying public service job.

How does the student loan payment pause affect my PSLF eligibility?

Federal student loan payments have been on pause for over two years, currently slated to expire on Aug. 31. Under the PSLF, each of those paused payments counts as a qualifying loan payment during this time. So, if your payments were paused for 26 months, that counts as 26 on-time payments, bringing you closer to your goal of 120.

What if I didn't receive credit for past payments?

In the past, if you had been making payments but your loan servicer had incomplete or inaccurate records, you had almost no recourse to counter their claims. Now, with the limited waiver, you can apply for forgiveness and have your payments counted toward your debt and forgiveness. 

Will the expanded waiver become permanent?

The Department of Education said in its statement that it will continue to roll out and update its policies in the coming months as it attempts to get the PSLF program back on track. 

Given that millions of borrowers may lose out on student loan forgiveness if they don't file for the waiver before the deadline, many advocates are urging the White House to extend the waiver opportunity. So far, the Biden administration has not indicated plans to make the new rules permanent.

Correction, Jan. 25: This article previously stated that private loans would be eligible for student loan forgiveness under the new waiver. That was incorrect. In addition to Direct Loans, only FFEL loans -- which are federally backed, but often issued by private lenders -- Perkins Loans and other federal loans may qualify for the PSLF waiver.