Student Loan Forgiveness: The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

Student loans are, for many, a necessary means to an end. Whether you are the borrower or the spouse, one of your main concerns upon graduating is how to pay off student debt and/or how to have those loans forgiven ASAP. 

I am a lucky spouse whose husband had a cry-worthy amount of law school debt upon graduation. When he landed his first job at a non-profit hospital, an entirely new world of student loan forgiveness opened its doors to us. Enter the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. 

What is this program and why might it be important to you?  

This program, if you qualify, allows your student debt to be forgiven after 10 years (as opposed to the traditional 20 or 25) and the forgiven amount is tax free to you as the borrower. If 10 years isn’t enough to make you excited, the taxfree aspect of this should be. If you are a borrower and you are thinking about going into a non-profit career (and yes, being a medical doctor at a hospital can count – I have a family member to prove it!), this is a program you should not ignore. 

Here are the basics to qualify: 

  1. You must work for the government or a qualifying non-profit organization. 
  1. You must work full time. 
  1. Your loans must be Direct (don’t worry, you can consolidate your federal loans into a Direct Loan if they aren’t Direct already). 
  1. You will repay your loans with an income-based repayment program. 
  1. You will make 120 qualifying payments. 

There is some documentation involved with this program and proof of your annual income and that of your spouse (if applicable) is required.  

Here is where the help of a financial professional can come in handy:  

The payments that you make are based on your annual income so the lower your annual income, the lower your monthly payments, and thus the higher the amount of debt that can be forgiven after 10 years. This means paying attention to things like deferrals to retirement accounts and whether you should file jointly with your spouse or separately. There are some stringent rules to follow and it is advisable to discuss with a financial professional AND make a call to the studentaid.gov helpline before making any decision that could affect your loan repayment plan. 

Is it worth the hassle?  

First, let’s be honest, student loan repayment in general is a hassle – whether it’s trying to figure out which repayment program makes sense for you, fighting a high interest rate, or making payments according to any income-based repayment program. Second, my short answer is yes. Even if you decide to change careers down the road or decide that you would rather work for a for-profit institution, you have still made qualifying payments on your loans and are steps closer to either loan forgiveness or full repayment. 

Finally to reemphasize, I highly recommend talking to a financial professional and the student aid helpline when you are considering taking on student debt, repaying student loans, and of course, generally planning for your financial future. 

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