Eligibility For Federal Student Loans

Are you eligible for federal student loans?

The answer to this question is a little more complicated than you might think.

The federal government offers many different types of student loans, and each one has its own set of eligibility requirements. To be eligible for a particular type of loan, you need to meet the criteria for both the type of loan and your specific situation. Here’s a quick rundown on which types of federal student loans are available and who may qualify for them:

Direct Subsidized Loans: You must be enrolled at least half-time in an eligible program at an eligible school. Your total cost of attendance must also be less than your expected family contribution (EFC). Your EFC is calculated using information on your FAFSA application. If you’re interested in applying for direct subsidized loans, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). And if you’re still not sure whether or not you qualify, have no fear—the US Department of Education has a whole page just dedicated to explaining how exactly they calculate EFCs!

Direct Unsubsidized Loans: If your EFC is below $20,000 as determined by FAFSA, then you’ll likely qualify for direct unsubsidized

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Eligibility For Federal Student Loans

Basic Eligibility Criteria

Our basic eligibility requirements are that you must

  • demonstrate financial need (for most programs);
  • be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen;
  • have a valid Social Security number (with the exception of students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau);
  • be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program;
  • be enrolled at least half-time to be eligible for Direct Loan Program funds;
  • maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or career school;
  • Sign the certification statement on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA®) form stating that
    • you are not in default on a federal student loan,
    • you do not owe money on a federal student grant, and
    • you will use federal student aid only for educational purposes; and
  • show you’re qualified to obtain a college or career school education by
    • having a high school diploma or a recognized equivalent such as a General Educational Development (GED) certificate;
    • completing a high school education in a homeschool setting approved under state law (or—if state law does not require a homeschooled student to obtain a completion credential—completing a high school education in a homeschool setting that qualifies as an exemption from compulsory attendance requirements under state law); or
    • enrolling in an eligible career pathway program and meeting one of the “ability-to-benefit” alternatives described below.

Additional eligibility requirements can apply in certain situations including for non-U.S. citizens, students with criminal convictions, and students with intellectual disabilities.

Some federal student aid programs have their own eligibility criteria in addition to the general requirements listed above. Check with your college’s financial aid office if you have questions about a particular program.

Registering for Selective Service

Your registration status with Selective Service no longer affects your eligibility to receive federal student aid. However, you can still register through the FAFSA form. For general information about registering, call Selective Service toll-free at 1-888-655-1825 or visit sss.gov.

Note: If you are a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau, you are exempt from registering.

Ability-to-Benefit Alternatives

If you were enrolled in college or career school prior to July 1, 2012, or if you are currently enrolled in an eligible career pathway program*, you may show you’re qualified to obtain a higher education by

  • passing an approved ability-to-benefit test* (if you don’t have a diploma or GED, a college can administer a test to determine whether you can benefit from the education offered at that school) or
  • completing six credit hours or equivalent course work toward a degree or certificate (you may not receive aid while earning the six credit hours).

*For more information about these criteria, talk to the financial aid office at your school. Your financial aid counselor can tell you whether your school offers an eligible career pathway program and can advise you about any ability-to-benefit tests the school uses.

federal student loans forgiven

Types of Forgiveness, Cancellation, and Discharge

The summaries below offer a quick view of the types of forgiveness, cancellation, and discharge available for the different types of federal student loans.

The PSLF Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer.

PSLF Resources

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Help Tool
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) & Temporary Expanded PSLF (TEPSLF) Certification & Application
  • Limited PSLF Waiver Information
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program FAQ
  • Submit a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Reconsideration Request

Qualifying for PSLF

To qualify for PSLF, you must

  • be employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization (federal service includes U.S. military service);
  • work full-time for that agency or organization;
  • have Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans into a Direct Loan);
  • repay your loans under an income-driven repayment plan*; and
  • make 120 qualifying payments.

To ensure you’re on the right track, you should submit a Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) & Temporary Expanded PSLF (TEPSLF) Certification & Application (PSLF Form) annually or when you change employers. We’ll use the information you provide on the form to let you know if you are making qualifying PSLF payments. This will help you determine if you’re on the right track as early as possible.

*This provision will be waived through October 31, 2022, as part of the limited PSLF waiver. 

Suspended Payments Count Toward PSLF and TEPSLF During the COVID-19 Administrative Forbearance

If you have a Direct Loan and work full-time for a qualifying employer during the payment suspension (administrative forbearance), then you will receive credit toward PSLF or TEPSLF for the period of suspension as though you made on-time monthly payments in the correct amount while on a qualifying repayment plan.

To see these qualifying payments reflected in your account, you must submit a PSLF form certifying your employment for the same period of time as the suspension. Your count of qualifying payments toward PSLF is officially updated only when you update your employment certifications.

Digital signatures from you or your employer must be hand-drawn (from a signature pad, mouse, finger, or by taking a picture of a signature drawn on a piece of paper that you then scan and embed on the signature line of the PSLF form) to be accepted. Typed signatures, even if made to mimic a hand-drawn signature, or security certificate-based signatures are not accepted.

Note: In-grace, in-school, and certain deferment, forbearance, and bankruptcy statuses are not eligible for credit toward PSLF.

Have questions? Find out what loans qualify and get additional information about student loan flexibilities due to the COVID-19 emergency.

Qualifying Employer

Qualifying for employment for the PSLF Program isn’t about the specific job that you do for your employer. Instead, it’s about who your employer is. Employment with the following types of organizations qualifies for PSLF:

  • Government organizations at any level (U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal) – this includes the U.S. military
  • Not-for-profit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code

Serving as a full-time AmeriCorps or Peace Corps volunteer also counts as qualifying employment for the PSLF Program.

The following types of employers don’t qualify for PSLF:

  • Labor unions
  • Partisan political organizations
  • For-profit organizations, including for-profit government contractors

Contractors: You must be directly employed by a qualifying employer for your employment to count toward PSLF. If you’re employed by an organization that is doing work under a contract with a qualifying employer, it is your employer’s status—not the status of the organization that your employer has a contract with—that determines whether your employment qualifies for PSLF. For example, if you’re employed by a for-profit contractor that is doing work for a qualifying employer, your employment does not count toward PSLF.

Other types of not-for-profit organizations: If you work for a not-for-profit organization that is not tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, it can still be considered a qualifying employer if it provides certain types of qualifying public services.

Full-time Employment

For PSLF, you’re generally considered to work full-time if you meet your employer’s definition of full-time or work at least 30 hours per week, whichever is greater.

If you are employed in more than one qualifying part-time job at the same time, you will be considered full-time if you work a combined average of at least 30 hours per week with your employers.

If you are employed by a not-for-profit organization, time spent on religious instruction, worship services, or any form of proselytizing as a part of your job responsibilities may be counted toward meeting the full-time employment requirement.

Eligible Loans

Any loan received under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program qualifies for PSLF.

Loans from these federal student loan programs don’t qualify for PSLF: the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program and the Federal Perkins Loan (Perkins Loan) Program. However, they may become eligible if you consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Student loans from private lenders do not qualify for PSLF.

Under normal PSLF Program rules, if you consolidate your loans, only qualifying payments that you make on the new Direct Consolidation Loan can be counted toward the 120 payments required for PSLF. Any payments you made on the loans before you consolidated them don’t count. However, if you consolidate these loans into a Direct Loan before October 31, 2022, you may be able to receive qualifying credit for payments made on those loans through the limited PSLF waiver. 

Qualifying Payments

A qualifying monthly payment is a payment that you make

  • after Oct. 1, 2007;
  • under a qualifying repayment plan;
  • for the full amount due as shown on your bill;
  • no later than 15 days after your due date; and
  • while you are employed full-time by a qualifying employer.

Most of the PSLF qualifying payment rules have been suspended through October 31, 2022. Under this temporary waiver, you may get credit for payments you’ve made on loans that would not normally qualify for PSLF. These payments will count even if you didn’t pay the full amount or on time. However, only payments made after Oct. 1, 2007, can count as qualifying payments. For more information, visit the limited PSLF waiver page.

You can make qualifying monthly payments only during periods when you’re required to make a payment. Therefore, you can’t make a qualifying monthly payment while your loans are in

  • an in-school status,
  • the grace period,
  • a deferment, or
  • a forbearance.

If you want to make qualifying payments, but you’re in a deferment or forbearance, contact your federal student loan servicer to waive the deferment or forbearance. However, you can still receive credit toward PSLF during the COVID-19 payment pause.

Your 120 qualifying monthly payments don’t need to be consecutive. For example, if you have a period of employment with a nonqualifying employer, you will not lose credit for prior qualifying payments you made.

The best way to ensure that you are making on-time, complete payments is to sign up for automatic debit with your loan servicer.

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