A career in public service is a great way to make a difference through your work. Even better news — the federal government might forgive a substantial portion of your student debt. Starting in 2017, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) could erase thousands of dollars of your Direct Loan debt. Find out what it takes to qualify and how much federal student debt gets forgiven.
Qualifying for Student Loan Forgiveness
To qualify for the PSLF Program, you will need to work full time in a public service job. However, the job doesn’t necessarily have to involve working for government agencies. These jobs qualify for PSLF:
- Government organizations. These include any federal, state, or local agency as well as public child and family service agencies and tribal colleges and universities.
- 501(c)(3) organization. Working at a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization could qualify you for PSLF.
- Private not-for-profit. With the exclusion of political organizations and labor unions, your work for a not-for-profit could qualify for PSLF. If your not-for-profit employer provides emergency management services, public safety or law enforcement, or public interest law services, then you could qualify for PSLF.
- Public health services. Your work as a nurse or full-time health professional could erase your student loans.
- Teaching in a public school or working for a licensed early childhood center or Head Start could qualify as public service.
- Human services. If you work for a not-for-profit that assists the elderly or people with disabilities could fall under PSLF.
- Library services. Working as a public school librarian or in a public library setting could mean getting rid of a chunk of your debt.
- Military services. Not-for-profits that provide military services might be eligible for PSLF. In addition, Sallie Mae offers some loan forgiveness benefits for private student loans to military members.
Full-time work means at least 30 hours per week, and combined part-time jobs that total 30 hours could qualify. If you’re a teacher, you have to work for 30 hours weekly at least eight months per 12-month calendar year. If you work in a not-for-profit, and your duties combine public service with religious instruction or worship services, the time you spend conducting religious activities does not count toward the 30-hour requirement.
Getting a Public Service Job
If you’d like to work in a management position at a state, local, or federal government agency, you should apply to a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program. Right now, federal government job openings are increasing more quickly than they can be filled, so it’s a good time to work for the federal government.
Government jobs aren’t the only public service jobs that require college-level training. To become a teacher, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in education or early childhood education; a master’s degree could lead to a higher-paying job. You’ll also need to become licensed to teach according to the requirements in your state. Public school librarians usually complete master’s degrees and earn licensure as well.
Emergency services and law enforcement take a wide range of candidates. You might find law enforcement or fire department jobs without a specific bachelor’s degree, but a degree in criminal justice or fire science can lead to better-paying work. Health services jobs require appropriate training, whether you’re earning licensures as an LPN or RN or whether you’re becoming a doctor or dentist. Some emergency personnel, including paramedics, find jobs with just an associate degree.
Get Your Loans Forgiven
After making 120 student loan payments and simultaneously completing 10 years of public service work, you can request PSLF. It’s crucial that you make your current student loan payments on time during your 10-year qualifying period. Late payments and defaults could make you ineligible. Start by completing an employment certification form for your current employer. You can change employers during your 10-year period as long as you work for a qualifying employer, continue to meet the full-time requirement, and fill out a new form each time.
The PSLF Program applies toward federal Direct Loans only. If you have Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), Perkins Loans, or Health Professions Student Loans, combine them using a Direct Consolidation Loan to take advantage of PSLF.
Explore PSLF further by reading through this FAQ page. Thanks to loan forgiveness, public service can be both emotionally and financially rewarding.