The PDF in which this article appears can be found in Bifocal, VOL 44, Issue 1.
This past June, I was scrolling through the TikTok application on my phone when I came across a video discussing how individuals could pay off the rest of their student loans by applying for the “Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF)” waiver. The video gave step-by-step instructions on how to consolidate any current loans into a qualifying direct loan and then showed how to apply for the TEPSLF waiver.
The information contained on the TikTok video seemed too good to be true. Like many of my legal colleagues, I attended law school at an out-of-state public university and graduated with some substantial student loan debt. Working in both government and not-for-profit agencies for the past seventeen years, I researched the Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program a couple of years ago but was sadly informed that my past payments would not qualify. At the time, to qualify for loan forgiveness, I would have had to consolidate my loans into a direct loan and then make 120 additional payments while continuing to work full-time for a not-for-profit or government agency over the next ten years! I ultimately decided against pursuing this option.
After seeing the TikTok video, however, I decided to investigate whether I now qualified for forgiveness under the TEPSLF waiver. To qualify for the TEPSLF waiver, I found that you must: 1) make all of your payments under a qualifying repayment plan, 2) have at least 10 years of full-time employment certified by a qualifying employer and approved by MOHELA, the Department of Education’s (DOE’s) loan service provider for the PSLF program, 3) meet the TEPSLF requirement for the amount you paid 12 months prior to applying for TEPSLF and the last payment you made before applying for TEPSLF be at least as much as you would have paid under an income-driven repayment plan, and 4) make 120 qualifying payments under the new requirements for TEPSLF while working full-time for your qualifying employer or employers (Department of Education, 2022). While the TEPSLF waiver still requires that applicants have a direct loan, the waiver now allows for any payments made after October 1, 2007, to count as a qualifying payment, regardless of the loan program or plan at the time of the payment. (MOHELA, 2022).
Before consolidating into a direct loan, the DOE suggests that prospective applicants first confirm that their employer qualifies for the waiver. (Department of Education, 2022). Prospective applicants can check to see if their employer qualifies using the “Employer Search” feature or “PSLF Help Tool” on the DOE’s website. (Note: you will need a StudentAid.gov account to use the PSLF Help Tool). The Help Tool also assists prospective applicants in generating a PSLF form to submit to qualifying employers for certification. Following certification by qualifying employers, the prospective applicant can then submit the PSLF form to MOHELA for evaluation and approval. “Qualifying employers” include government organizations at any level, not-for-profit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and anyone serving as a full-time AmeriCorps or Peace Corps volunteer (MOHELA, 2022).
After confirming that your employer or employers qualify, you have until October 31, 2022, to consolidate into a direct loan (if needed) and submit a PSLF form to be eligible for the TEPSLF waiver. Id. If you need to consolidate, a direct loan consolidation application can be done through the DOE’s website at https://studentaid.gov/app/launchConsolidation.action (Note: you will need a StudentAid.gov account to apply for direct loan consolidation). There are also instructions on the PSLF form for how to submit the application to MOHELA. Once MOHELA approves the PSLF form, an online tracker will be set up to count the number of qualifying payments. After 120 qualifying payments are confirmed, all or a portion of the loan will be discharged and forgiven. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not consider loan amounts forgiven under the TEPSLF waiver to be income for tax purposes. (Department of Education, 2022).