Getting thousands of dollars of student loans forgiven overnight sounds too good to be true, but for those who work in public service, it can be a reality. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, approximately 25 percent America’s workforce is eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, the program that cancels a person’s qualifying federal student loan debt. However, only a tiny percentage actually applies for it; others completely miss out and end up paying back the debt themselves.

The Wall Street Journal reports that college graduates owe over $28,000 in student loans, on average. A large chunk of graduates are late on their payments and one in ten will default on their loans, wrecking their credit and jeopardizing their chances of getting a job, renting an apartment or buying a car. For people who are eligible, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Programs can be life changing, eliminating debt and giving them room in their budgets.

What Qualifies For PSLF Programs?

Under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, educators, government workers, nonprofit employees and other public service workers can qualify to have their debt eliminated. To be eligible, you need to be employed in public service and make your minimum payments on time for ten years. This program only applies to federal loans, not private ones. If you defer your payments, or if you take a brief stint at a for-profit institution, the ten-year countdown starts over again until you’ve made 120 qualifying monthly payments.

The program is best for those who work for non-profits who take lower salaries in return for meaningful work. At the end of ten years, you likely still have a substantial amount of loans left, so the program is a huge benefit for you. For some, it is not as practical or as helpful.

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Is it Worth Spending 10 Years in PSLF?

While working in public service should be commended, staying in your role just for loan forgiveness is not always the best option. If you earn a decent salary and keep up with payments under a standard repayment plan, the majority of your loans will be paid off by the end of the ten-year window, minimizing its benefit to you.

Also, you may lose out on a much more lucrative salary in the for-profit world by staying in public service. According to Non-profit Quarterly, the average wage for a nonprofit management-level employee is $72,509. In the corporate sector, the average salary is $94,628. That is a significant difference; the increased salary can pay off the loans faster and give you greater earning potential over the term of the loan, negating the value of the Public Service For Loan Forgiveness. Your net worth could be increased substantially by working in the corporate world versus the non-profit sector.

Whether or not you decide to pursue Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a very personal decision, based on your unique financial situation and career goals. While it can be a smart way to eliminate your loans while doing work you enjoy, it is not a solution for everyone. For some, going into corporate is a much more cost-effective route.