Does the Government’s PSLF Help Tool Actually Help?

 October 1, 2019
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Public Service Loan Forgiveness

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The requirements for receiving Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) are either too cumbersome to meet or too confusing to follow, critics of the program say. They cite the fact that less than 1% of PSLF applicants have so far gained approval.

Even knowing whether you’ll qualify for PSLF is a challenge. For its part, the Department of Education also hopes its free tool, released in 2018, will help.

What does the PSLF help tool do?

PSLF is a powerful solution to some borrowers’ student loan repayment problems. It could wipe away your remaining balance after you meet the requirements, though these requirements are quite strict.

The Department of Education contends that its new tool should lead to fewer denied applications by helping potential applicants understand the eligibility rules. Consider these requirements and the related questions that the department’s online tool will help you answer:

Working full-time for the government or an eligible nonprofit Does your employer qualify?
Having Direct Loans in repayment Do your loans qualify?
Enrolling in income-driven repayment* Do you need to adjust your repayment plan?
Submitting 120 prompt and full payments How many payments have you made?
Completing application and employment certification forms Which form should you submit?


*Important update as of October 2021: The government has expanded the type of repayment programs eligible for PSLF. Click here for the latest details.

The tool also takes care of some legwork by automatically generating a completed form for your employer to sign and send off to FedLoan Servicing, which manages Public Service Loan Forgiveness for the government.

How to use the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) help tool

You can find the tool on the Federal Student Aid website You could probably work your way through it in 10 minutes or less if you have the following information handy and ready to input:

  • Most recent W-2s (or your organization’s Federal Employer Identification Number)
  • Starting and ending dates (if applicable) of your employment
  • Employer information, such as the tax-exempt status of a nonprofit

Once you’re ready to use the tool, you’ll also need to locate your FSA ID to log in. Then you’ll be guided through a six-step process.

In step two, for example, you’ll confirm that your debt is eligible for future forgiveness. If it’s not, the tool will alert you to your options, such as grouping them into a qualifying Direct Consolidation Loan.

The tool isn’t necessarily for one-time use. The Department of Education recommends you return to it each time you switch jobs and again once you believe you’ve reached the 120-payment mark. This way, you can ensure you stay on track for relief.

Is the PSLF help tool worth using?

If you’re pursuing PSLF, it can’t hurt to use the Department of Education’s qualification tool. It might take some time to gather your information and get comfortable using, but it could help you determine whether you’re a fit for the program.

The Department of Education’s tool is also a better use of your time than similar quiz and assessment applications provided by third-party websites. After all, the government is your lender — only it can independently confirm your eligibility for and progress toward PSLF relief.

With that said, the tool (at least in its current form) isn’t perfect — currently, it doesn’t allow you to…

  • Electronically sign your PSLF paperwork and submit it online, in one fell swoop
  • View your progress toward PSLF in real-time, since FedLoan Servicing’s processing time typically takes 10 days

So after submitting your hardcopy form, you might be left still wondering about some basic facts, such as how many qualifying payments you’ve made. The tool would be even more useful, then, if it were more immediate.

And although helpful overall, the PSLF help tool also doesn’t quickly determine how much relief you could receive. For that dollars-and-cents figure, plug your information into our similarly easy-to-use PSLF calculator.