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70,000 student-loan borrowers had debt wiped out after recent reforms. Here’s how to know if you’re eligible.

College graduation.

Andy Sacks/Getty Images

  • The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program forgives debt for public servants after 10 years of payments.
  • Due to recent reforms to the program, 70,000 borrowers have gotten relief.
  • Here’s how to know if you qualify for the program, and what the reforms could mean for you.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which forgives student debt for workers like teachers, firefighters, and nonprofits, isn’t working perfectly. But reforms are underway, and thousands of borrowers have already reaped the benefits.

On Thursday, the Education Department released data on PSLF and found 70,000 student-loan borrowers have successfully had their remaining debt balances wiped out since October. The program, created in 2007 to give student debt relief to public servants like government workers and teachers after ten years of qualifying payments, ran up a 98% denial rate leading up to President Joe Biden’s presidency, which is why the department implemented reforms three months ago to fix the flawed program.

“Over the last year 70,000 first responders, teachers, service members & other public servants received debt forgiveness, 4x the previous total,” Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “We are proud to have their back.”

Before determining if you can get student-loan forgiveness through PSLF, you need to first ensure you meet these three conditions:

  1. Be employed at a US federal, state, local, or tribal government or nonprofit organization
  2. Work full-time
  3. And have direct federal loans.

If you meet those conditions, and make 120 months — or ten years — of payments on your debt, then you are eligible to receive loan forgiveness of any remaining balance. Here’s how the Education Department’s recent reforms to the program could ease the application process for you, along with additional steps you might need to take.

For a limited time, you can count all prior payments toward forgiveness

The waiver, which will run through October 31, 2022, will give you credit for prior payments made to any program that would otherwise not count toward PSLF, as long as you have met the initial three qualifying conditions. If you already have direct loans, or consolidated your debt into direct loans, all you need to do is submit a PSLF form on or before October 31, 2022, to have prior ineligible payments — like those made under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program— counted toward your loan forgiveness progress.

If your loans are not yet consolidated into a federal direct loan — for example, you may have a number of federal student loans under different loan companies — that’s an action you need to take first before submitting the PSLF form, and if your waiver is approved, the Education Department will automatically adjust your payment counts. Also note that this change applies to loans under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, which previously did not qualify for PSLF.

Service members get expanded relief

If you’re a current or former service member, months spent on active duty will now count toward PSLF, even if you put your loans on deferment or forbearance during that time. According to the Education Department, Federal Student Aid will contact you if you are eligible to provide additional information on taking advantage of this change.

In addition, the department will automatically give you credit for PSLF if you are a service member, meaning you will not have to apply and submit paperwork on your own. This will be done by matching Education Department data with information held by other federal agencies regarding service members in the workforce.

Previously denied PSLF applications will get a second look

Leading up to these reforms, a lot of borrowers were mistakenly denied relief. If you believe you are one of those borrowers, there’s no action you need to take as of now. The Education Department is conducting a review of all denied applications to the program, including processing errors the department may have made. Upon completion of that review, if you believe your application was wrongfully denied, you will be able to use a temporary reconsideration process to receive a secondary review of your application next year.

The department is also considering implementing a permanent reconsideration process in the long-term and estimates 550,000 borrowers who had previously seen their applications denied or struggled to access relief could benefit through the new changes to the program.

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