I’ve heard from several government contractors who were disappointed with their progress toward student loan forgiveness.
Working as a government contractor doesn’t mean it is impossible to qualify for student loan forgiveness. However, it does make things more difficult.
Today we will cover the eligibility rules as they apply to government contractors and explore the best ways to eliminate debt.
Sherpa Tip: For years, 1099 workers were always excluded from PSLF. However, new regulations issued on 7/1/23 now permit some contractors to qualify for PSLF.
Jump to the contractor exception section for more details.
Do Government Contractors Qualify for PSLF (Public Service Loan Forgiveness)?
The crown jewel of the federal student loan forgiveness program is PSLF. Public service employees can have their student loans forgiven after ten years of certified payments.
Unfortunately, strict rules govern what constitutes an eligible employer. Direct employees of the government are eligible, but employees of government contractors are not eligible.
PSLF qualifications depend entirely on who employs you rather than the work you do. Where you work has no impact. If you are a janitor at the U.S. Capitol, you may or may not be eligible for PSLF. If your employer is the federal government, you will be eligible. If a cleaning services subcontractor employs you, you are not eligible.
Due to this limitation, government contractors usually don’t qualify for PSLF. The one exception would be if they work for an eligible nonprofit organization that the government has contracted.
Those who are desperate to qualify for PSLF will need to find an employer eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Alternatively, they may also want to explore becoming an employee of the government rather than a government contractor.
Forgiveness Programs that Apply to All Borrowers
PSLF may be the best forgiveness program, but it is far from the only option.
Borrowers on an income-driven repayment plan can qualify for forgiveness after 20 years. This option applies to all borrowers regardless of employer. Due to the extended qualification period, IDR forgiveness is best suited for borrowers struggling financially or those who have massive amounts of federal student debt.
The Government Contractors Who Qualify for PSLF
If you are self-employed or work for a for-profit firm, a new regulation may allow you to qualify for PSLF.
In some cases, state law prohibits a government entity from directly hiring the individual providing the service. For example, in many cases, courts will hire attorneys to represent indigent clients. The attorney may still be employed by a private firm or working on their own, but as long as they manage a full-time caseload, meaning at least 30 hours per week, they can qualify for PSLF.
This handout from the National Legal Aid and Defender Foundation does a great job of explaining how this exception works.
Pivoting Towards Aggressive Repayment
Many borrowers may reach the point where they give up on student loan forgiveness.
If the previously mentioned strategies won’t work for your situation, aggressive repayment becomes a more reasonable option. The goal behind aggressive repayment is to eliminate the debt as quickly as possible. The sooner you pay off your student loans, the less you spend on interest.
One standard shortcut for aggressive repayment is refinancing. The advantage to a student loan refinance is that it immediately lowers interest rates. However, the risk is substantial. By refinancing, you convert federal loans into private loans, and private loans won’t qualify for student loan forgiveness.
The following lenders currently offer the best refinance rates:
|Rank||Lender||Lowest Rate||Sherpa Review|
|2||5.49%||Laurel Road Review|
|3||5.72%*||Splash Financial Review|
Those considering a pivot towards aggressive repayment should read this article on developing an accelerated repayment strategy.