New data shows that the majority of those who apply for this student loan forgiveness program are denied

New data released by the US Department of Education shows that the majority of borrowers who apply for a key student loan forgiveness program are denied relief.

The data shows that 98% of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) applications from November 9, 2020 to April 30, 2021 were rejected. Only two out of every hundred applicants were approved.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is a popular program that allows certain federal student loan borrowers to obtain their student loan forgiveness through extended public service employment. Although the program is often described as a 10-year program, the PSLF technically requires 120 “qualified payments.” These payments do not necessarily have to be made consecutively, but if they are, the total duration of the program is 10 years.

While the PSLF program may seem fairly straightforward, its requirements are complicated, and the program has been plagued with problems for years. A qualified PSLF payment must meet several eligibility criteria:

  • Payments must be made in a Direct Federal Student Loan. Not all federal student loans are issued under the direct loan program.
  • Payments must be made under a income-based payment plan like IBR, PAID OUT, or REPAY. Payments made under the standard 10-year plan also qualify, although this would repay the underlying federal loan in full within 10 years. Other payment plans, such as extended plans and graduated plans, do not qualify.
  • The borrower must make payments on time while working as a full-time employee for a government agency or entity, or a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. Other non-profit organizations that are not 501 (c) (3) may qualify in certain limited circumstances, although the Department of Education makes determinations on a case-by-case basis.

The public service loan forgiveness program has long suffered from low approval rates. When student loan borrowers were first eligible to apply for forgiveness under the program in late 2017, the PSLF had a abysmal initial approval rate of only 1%. The latest statistics indicate that the program has seen minimal improvement since then.


Advocates for student loan borrowers criticized the Biden administration for the continued failures of the PSLF program. “We have been in Joe Biden’s presidency for six months and the public service loan forgiveness program continues to fail teachers, nurses and millions of other public service workers on the front lines of our response to the pandemic,” said Seth Frotman, Executive Director of Student Borrower. Protection Center and former Student Loan Ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Office. “Once again, 98 percent of those who applied for the PSLF were rejected, prompting us to ask: what has this administration done to help public service workers with student debt?”

The Department of Education is also dealing with a continuing backlog of tens of thousands of PSLF applications, forcing some borrowers to wait six months or more for determinations.

Earlier this year, more than 100 student loan borrower advocacy organizations submitted a lyrics to the Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, asking him to use emergency pandemic authorities to conduct a full 90-day audit of the “broken” public service loan forgiveness program and cancel the student loan debt of all borrowers of student loans who have completed ten or more years of public service, regardless of their specific compliance with the complex eligibility criteria of the PSLF program. So far, the Department of Education has not acted.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced the beginning of a long negotiated rulemaking process to review and possibly reform major federal student loan programs, including the forgiveness of utility loans. However, the negotiated rule-making process could take years.

Other readings

More than 500,000 are eligible for student loan forgiveness, but the government has not acted, says the group

Biden Administration Announces Major Overhaul of Income-Based Payment and Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

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Biden Student Loan Forgiveness Review: Should You Take Action Now To Pay Off Student Debt Later?

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