Ask The Get Out of Debt Experts Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

I’m Curious if All of My IBR Payments Will Count Towards Loan Forgiveness? – Sharon

Written by Steve Rhode

Question:

Dear Steve,

I am currently on an IBR plan and have been for the past 3 years, with a payment of 0 for these year. I have about 120,000 in fed backed loans from a doctoral program which I am scheduled to complete this school year. I took this program on thinking that I could continue to work in public education and move into administration at some point, which will never happen now.

I was working as a teacher in an urban district and was attacked by a student in 2013 and had to retire due to a disability which arose from said attack. I retired after 19.2 yrs of public school teaching with a state disability retirement in 7/14. I was receiving income from a private disability insurance until the end of Jan 2016 because I found another full time job. I am now working for a small college and love the job I am doing.

The job I have pays about 35% of what I was formally making, but with the small and I mean small pension I received from teaching, with a change in lifestyle, I have been keeping my head just above water. I am 55 and also a single mom of 13 yr old twins. My plan was to use the federal loan forgiveness act to discharge my loans after the 10 years, as I plan on working for a non-profit hopefully in the job I have because I really enjoy what I am doing now, for as long as I can.

My question is with my background as a teacher prior to my retirement, the 2 years that I didn’t work due to my disability and having $0 payment during the same 2 years and with my current return to work situation, my payment is still $0, does all/any of this time count towards the 10 years?

Also, do I need to submit paperwork to the feds for each year because I haven’t done that except for one time. I did submit some paperwork I think it was back in 2010 from the employer that I retired from, but I was not in repayment then. I think my repayment started in the end of 2011 or beginning of 2012. Can you kindly advise me on how to handle my situation? I would appreciate it.

Sharon

Answer:

Dear Sharon,

You provide another tragic example of the dangers facing teachers every day. My mother was a lifelong teacher and told stories about facing potential confrontations back in the 1950s in classrooms. Scary stuff.

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I think I’ve got some good news for you moving forward.

A error many make about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) plan that completely eliminates your federal student loans in 10 years is there can’t be a gap. There can be.

The PSLF is truly not a 10 year program but in fact a 120 payment program. The conforming payments do not need to be consecutive. That facts surprises many and it surprised me the first time I figured that out.

Qualifying repayment plans include all of the income-driven repayment plans like the IBR. So as long as you were employed by a qualifying entity, all of your IBR payments would count.

A qualifying entity is described as working more than 30 hours per week for any of the following:

  • Serving in a fulltime AmeriCorps or Peace Corps position
  • A government organization (including a federal, state, local, or tribal organization, agency, or entity; a public child or family service agency; or a tribal college or university)
  • A not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
  • A private, not-for-profit organization (that is not a labor union or a partisan political organization) that provides one or more of the following public services:
    • Emergency management
    • Military service
    • Public safety
    • Law enforcement
    • Public interest law services
    • Early childhood education (including licensed or regulated health care, Head Start, and statefunded prekindergarten)
    • Public service for individuals with disabilities and the elderly
    • Public health (including nurses, nurse practitioners, nurses in a clinical setting, and full-time professionals engaged in health care practitioner occupations and health care support occupations)
    • Public education
    • Public library services
    • School library or other school-based services

So while you have found an employer that would qualify as long as they are either a public school or non-profit school, your time as a student or disabled would not qualify.

To confirm and verify you are marching along on the path to forgiveness, you should complete the Employment Certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness form each year.

If you submit the form, the Department of Education will take the following actions:

  • We will review your Employment Certification form to ensure that it is complete, and to determine whether your employment is qualifying employment for the PSLF Program.
  • We will notify you if the form you submitted is incomplete or if we cannot determine, based on the information provided on the form, whether your employment qualifies. We may ask you to provide additional information or documentation to help us determine whether you were employed by a qualifying public service organization.
  • If we determine that your employer is not an eligible public service organization, we will notify you that your employment does not qualify. If you believe there is additional information that would establish the eligibility of your employer, you will have the opportunity to provide that information.
  • If we determine that your employment qualifies, and if some or all of your federal student loans that are owned by the U.S. Department of Education are not already serviced by FedLoan Servicing (PHEAA), those loans will be transferred to FedLoan Servicing (PHEAA). You will then have a single federal loan servicer for all of your federally held loans. You will receive a notice if your loans are transferred.
  • If we determine that your employment qualifies, we will then review your payment history (including any payments you made to another federal loan servicer before your loans were transferred) to determine how many payments made during the period of employment certified on the Employment Certification form are qualifying monthly payments for PSLF. We will then inform you that your employment qualifies and notify you of the total number of qualifying payments you have made, and how many payments you must still make before you can qualify for PSLF.
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Currently the only gotcha is the fact you have to make all 120 payments to have the loans forgiven. You will need to work till at least 65.

Recently there was a bill introduced in Congress to change this silly all or nothing approach on forgiveness. See Congress Wants to Change the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to lear how it would really benefit you.

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Steve Rhode

Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.

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