Study: These Borrowers May Be Eligible for PSLF

In the fall of 2021, the U.S. Department of Education announced changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program to make it more accessible to federal student loan borrowers. One major change was that federal borrowers can get credit for their student loan payments made on previously ineligible plans — as long as they file the required paperwork by Oct. 31, 2022.

The Department of Education estimates that this PSLF limited waiver opportunity will help more than 550,000 borrowers who had already consolidated their loans in their progress toward forgiveness and grant the average borrower an additional 23 payments toward their total requirement of 120 payments.

To understand the full impact these PSLF changes will have on borrowers, Student Loan Hero researchers collected data from the Education Department, U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve to estimate how many workers with federal student loans might now be eligible for forgiveness through PSLF on a state-by-state basis.

Key findings

  • An estimated 9.3 million employees from PSLF-eligible organizations in the 50 states and District of Columbia are potentially eligible to have their federal student loans forgiven. This represents 22.9% of federal student borrowers.
  • More than half of borrowers (52.5%) in Alaska may be eligible for PSLF — the highest proportion of any state. Three other places may have at least 40% of federal borrowers who are potentially eligible: Hawaii (48.2%), Wyoming (42.1%) and the District of Columbia (41.5%).
  • Georgia has the smallest percentage of potentially eligible borrowers at 16.5%. Just ahead of Georgia are Louisiana (17.2%) and Nevada (17.5%).
  • California could have the most student debt eligible for forgiveness at a total of $38.8 billion, followed by New York ($24.8 billion) and Texas ($22.0 billion).

Estimated 9.3 million employees could have their student loans forgiven

More than 40.7 million federal student loan borrowers across the U.S. hold an estimated $1.71 trillion in education debt. (An additional 4.4 million borrowers live outside the 50 states or didn’t report their locations.) While not every borrower will qualify for PSLF, borrowers who work at a nonprofit organization or a U.S. federal, state, local or tribal government might. Military service also qualifies, and payments now count even if the borrower paused them while on active duty.

Note: While our data includes most PSLF-eligible organizations, we couldn’t find separate data on tribal organizations. However, our government counts do include student loan borrowers in the military.

According to our study, we found that 9.3 million borrowers from PSLF-eligible organizations in the 50 states and District of Columbia are potentially eligible to have their federal student loans forgiven. This represents nearly one-quarter (22.9%) of federal student borrowers.

Percentage of federal student borrowers in the 50 states and District of Columbia who may be eligible for PSLF
Number of student borrowers 40,732,100
Estimated number of PSLF-eligible borrowers 9,312,213
Estimated percentage of borrowers who are eligible 22.9%
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Reserve data. Note: An additional 4.4 million borrowers live outside the 50 states or didn’t report their locations.

Along with working at an eligible workplace, you must make at least 120 on-time payments to qualify for PSLF. While the program previously required that you make these payments on an income-driven plan, you can now get credit for payments made on any plan, as long as you file your PSLF forms by Oct. 31, 2022.

What’s more, you can get credit for the entire period of emergency forbearance put in place as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, even if you haven’t made any payments during this time. However, you’re not going to get PSLF automatically — you’ll still need to submit your PSLF form every year and communicate with your loan servicer to ensure that you’re on track.

More than half of borrowers in Alaska could be eligible for PSLF

When we broke down the data by state, we found that some states had a high proportion of potentially PSLF-eligible borrowers to all student loan borrowers.

Alaska had the highest proportion, with more than half of borrowers (52.5%) in Alaska potentially eligible for PSLF. In total, Alaska has an estimated 34,994 potentially eligible borrowers out of its 66,600 total federal student loan borrowers.

These borrowers were fairly evenly spread out among nonprofits and local, state and federal government organizations. About 8,000 of these borrowers work at a nonprofit or in local government, for instance, while about 8,800 work in state government and about 9,800 work in the federal government.

That group of nearly 35,000 borrowers is a relatively small amount of Alaska’s total working population at 1.8%. Still, it does suggest that a significant number of federal student loan borrowers there end up working in a nonprofit or governmental organization.

States with the largest percentage of federal student loan borrowers who may be eligible for PSLF
Rank State Percentage of student loan borrowers potentially eligible for PSLF Rank State Percentage of student loan borrowers potentially eligible for PSLF
1 Alaska 52.5% 6 North Dakota 33.7%
2 Hawaii 48.2% 7 Virginia 33.1%
3 Wyoming 42.1% 8 Washington 32.9%
4 District of Columbia 41.5% 9 Maryland 32.7%
5 Vermont 34.5% 10 New Mexico 32.1%
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Reserve data. Note: Based on state of resident, not state of employment.

We also found three other places where at least 40% of borrowers are potentially eligible: Hawaii (48.2%), Wyoming (42.1%) and the District of Columbia (41.5%). In Hawaii alone, that 48.2% represents 57,628 borrowers who could potentially get their loan balance forgiven from the PSLF program. This group makes up 1.6% of all workers in Hawaii.

Like Alaska, the largest group of PSLF-eligible borrowers eligible borrowers in Hawaii work in the federal government at 19,926. A much smaller number are local government employees, at just 6,244.

This pattern is not the same for all states, however. In Michigan, for example, 119,787 borrowers work at nonprofits, while the federal government employs only 18,710.

While the workplaces may vary, any nonprofit or government organization employees with federal student loans are potentially eligible for PSLF.

Georgia has the fewest potentially PSLF-eligible borrowers

On the flip side, Georgia had the lowest proportion of borrowers who might be eligible for PSLF at 16.5%. While the proportion is lower than other states, it represents a fairly large number of borrowers: 265,190 out of a total of more than 1.6 million. That group represents 1.3% of workers in the whole state.

States with the smallest percentage of federal student loan borrowers who may be eligible for PSLF
Rank State Percentage of student loan borrowers potentially eligible for PSLF Rank State Percentage of student loan borrowers potentially eligible for PSLF
1 Georgia 16.5% 6 Florida 18.4%
2 Louisiana 17.2% 7 Indiana 18.5%
3 Nevada 17.5% 8 South Carolina 18.7%
4 Ohio 18.2% 8 Michigan 18.7%
4 Mississippi 18.2% 10 Texas 18.8%
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Reserve data. Note: Based on state of resident, not state of employment.

Louisiana and Nevada also had relatively low proportions of PSLF-eligible borrowers to all student loan borrowers at 17.2% and 17.5%, respectively. But compared with Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming, these states have greater numbers of total student loan borrowers: 341,300 in Nevada, and 636,800 in Louisiana.

However, these groups are still a small minority compared to the total number of workers in the state. The total number of PSLF-eligible workers in Louisiana represents just 1.2% of the total population, while the total number in Nevada makes up just 0.7% — lowest in the U.S.

Full rankings

Percentage of student loan borrowers who may be eligible for PSLF
Rank State Total potentially eligible employees (estimated) Total federal student borrowers (actual) Percentage of student loan borrowers potentially eligible for PSLF
1 Alaska 34,994 66,600 52.5%
2 Hawaii 57,628 119,500 48.2%
3 Wyoming 22,260 52,900 42.1%
4 District of Columbia 48,065 115,900 41.5%
5 Vermont 26,002 75,300 34.5%
6 North Dakota 28,606 84,800 33.7%
7 Virginia 350,235 1,059,400 33.1%
8 Washington 254,824 775,300 32.9%
9 Maryland 268,573 820,100 32.7%
10 New Mexico 72,220 225,000 32.1%
11 Montana 37,396 123,700 30.2%
12 Utah 88,338 302,200 29.2%
13 Massachusetts 249,350 876,400 28.5%
14 California 1,046,331 3,852,400 27.2%
15 New York 649,608 2,404,100 27.0%
16 Nebraska 65,102 241,900 26.9%
17 South Dakota 30,114 112,700 26.7%
18 Maine 48,104 182,700 26.3%
19 New Hampshire 47,934 185,900 25.8%
20 Kansas 95,806 376,200 25.5%
21 Oregon 134,732 535,800 25.1%
22 Rhode Island 34,920 139,700 25.0%
23 Wisconsin 176,816 713,200 24.8%
24 Minnesota 190,631 774,100 24.6%
25 Colorado 184,100 759,400 24.2%
26 North Carolina 297,837 1,268,400 23.5%
27 Connecticut 111,622 482,300 23.1%
27 Delaware 28,534 123,400 23.1%
27 Idaho 49,582 214,400 23.1%
30 Oklahoma 109,352 478,100 22.9%
31 Illinois 361,196 1,598,200 22.6%
31 Iowa 96,468 426,000 22.6%
33 West Virginia 50,260 222,900 22.5%
34 Missouri 175,195 819,200 21.4%
35 Alabama 126,720 618,400 20.5%
35 Arizona 177,872 868,400 20.5%
37 New Jersey 237,814 1,165,000 20.4%
37 Tennessee 172,018 843,900 20.4%
39 Pennsylvania 356,455 1,779,400 20.0%
40 Arkansas 75,691 381,700 19.8%
41 Kentucky 113,126 589,700 19.2%
42 Texas 664,081 3,535,600 18.8%
43 Michigan 260,863 1,392,200 18.7%
43 South Carolina 133,166 712,500 18.7%
45 Indiana 165,278 892,600 18.5%
46 Florida 472,620 2,562,200 18.4%
47 Mississippi 78,245 431,000 18.2%
47 Ohio 320,933 1,765,200 18.2%
49 Nevada 59,892 341,300 17.5%
50 Louisiana 109,514 636,800 17.2%
51 Georgia 265,190 1,608,100 16.5%
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Reserve data. Note: Based on state of resident, not state of employment. Total borrowers are as of June 30, 2021.

By the numbers: State breakdown of estimated borrowers by employment type

Estimated number of student loan borrowers who could be eligible for PSLF
State Nonprofit, charitable or tax-exempt organizations employees Local government employees State government employees Federal government employees Total employees
Alabama 37,673 33,695 32,777 22,575 126,720
Alaska 8,414 7,973 8,762 9,845 34,994
Arizona 55,133 55,700 40,778 26,261 177,872
Arkansas 24,408 16,741 26,292 8,250 75,691
California 332,852 387,827 209,070 116,582 1,046,331
Colorado 63,858 55,758 33,461 31,023 184,100
Connecticut 47,482 36,064 20,247 7,829 111,622
Delaware 10,426 3,828 10,505 3,775 28,534
District of Columbia 21,352 4,847 2,521 19,345 48,065
Florida 158,102 167,185 80,099 67,234 472,620
Georgia 76,519 81,419 60,943 46,309 265,190
Hawaii 13,533 6,244 17,925 19,926 57,628
Idaho 16,483 13,848 12,311 6,940 49,582
Illinois 154,731 113,051 62,209 31,205 361,196
Indiana 76,678 43,792 31,770 13,038 165,278
Iowa 37,139 27,497 25,106 6,726 96,468
Kansas 30,429 28,388 23,534 13,455 95,806
Kentucky 38,970 27,171 32,820 14,165 113,126
Louisiana 31,518 32,569 30,626 14,801 109,514
Maine 23,661 12,618 7,570 4,255 48,104
Maryland 82,500 58,918 34,816 92,339 268,573
Massachusetts 129,255 67,731 35,283 17,081 249,350
Michigan 119,787 68,014 54,352 18,710 260,863
Minnesota 90,261 55,206 33,521 11,643 190,631
Mississippi 18,178 17,339 30,288 12,440 78,245
Missouri 78,630 42,474 32,603 21,488 175,195
Montana 12,428 10,108 9,003 5,857 37,396
Nebraska 26,014 18,762 13,605 6,721 65,102
Nevada 12,156 23,987 13,097 10,652 59,892
New Hampshire 22,731 14,012 6,578 4,613 47,934
New Jersey 81,290 85,559 49,682 21,283 237,814
New Mexico 17,716 18,463 19,340 16,701 72,220
New York 263,194 232,381 108,424 45,609 649,608
North Carolina 93,990 71,308 87,929 44,610 297,837
North Dakota 10,383 7,692 5,806 4,725 28,606
Ohio 140,699 99,839 51,370 29,025 320,933
Oklahoma 30,560 23,551 34,040 21,201 109,352
Oregon 53,910 39,568 29,732 11,522 134,732
Pennsylvania 190,990 82,093 51,459 31,913 356,455
Rhode Island 15,764 9,178 5,726 4,252 34,920
South Carolina 37,869 33,094 41,892 20,311 133,166
South Dakota 12,318 8,124 5,354 4,318 30,114
Tennessee 61,073 54,124 33,232 23,589 172,018
Texas 190,640 217,966 160,665 94,810 664,081
Utah 28,473 23,777 23,844 12,244 88,338
Vermont 13,634 6,289 4,264 1,815 26,002
Virginia 93,154 88,510 48,224 120,347 350,235
Washington 83,964 68,124 63,077 39,659 254,824
West Virginia 14,232 12,968 15,002 8,058 50,260
Wisconsin 73,918 54,344 37,805 10,749 176,816
Wyoming 5,041 7,848 6,266 3,105 22,260
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Reserve data. Note: Based on state of resident, not state of employment.

California could see $38.8 billion in student loan debt eligible for forgiveness

If all the eligible borrowers pursue loan forgiveness through PSLF, most states could see a total of more than $1 billion in forgiven student loan debt. That amount is highest in California, which has a statewide debt of $38.8 billion spread out among more than 1 million borrowers that could be eligible for forgiveness.

New York has the second-highest amount at $24.8 billion among more than 649,000 borrowers, and Texas has the third-highest at $22 billion among about 664,000 borrowers.

States with smaller populations of student loan borrowers will unsurprisingly see smaller amounts of debt wiped out. Wyoming, for instance, has just over 22,000 potentially eligible borrowers, leading to an implied statewide debt eligible for forgiveness of about $673 million; North Dakota has 28,606 eligible borrowers and could see a total of about $843 million in student loan debt forgiven in its state.

Estimated amount of debt eligible for PSLF
Rank State Implied statewide debt eligible for forgiveness (billions) Rank State Implied statewide debt eligible for forgiveness (billions)
1 California $38.8 27 Louisiana $3.8
2 New York $24.8 28 Kentucky $3.7
3 Texas $22.0 29 Oklahoma $3.5
4 Florida $18.2 30 Kansas $3.2
5 Virginia $13.9 31 Iowa $3.0
6 Illinois $13.8 32 Mississippi $2.9
7 Pennsylvania $12.8 32 Utah $2.9
8 Maryland $11.6 34 District of Columbia $2.7
9 North Carolina $11.3 35 Arkansas $2.5
10 Ohio $11.2 35 New Mexico $2.5
11 Georgia $11.1 37 Hawaii $2.1
12 Michigan $9.5 37 Nebraska $2.1
13 Washington $9.1 39 Nevada $2.0
14 Massachusetts $8.6 40 New Hampshire $1.7
15 New Jersey $8.5 41 Idaho $1.6
16 Colorado $6.8 41 West Virginia $1.6
17 Minnesota $6.5 41 Maine $1.6
18 Arizona $6.3 44 Montana $1.3
18 Tennessee $6.3 45 Alaska $1.2
20 Missouri $6.2 46 Rhode Island $1.1
21 Wisconsin $5.7 46 Delaware $1.1
22 Indiana $5.5 48 Vermont $1.0
23 South Carolina $5.2 48 South Dakota $1.0
24 Oregon $5.0 50 North Dakota $0.8
25 Alabama $4.7 51 Wyoming $0.7
26 Connecticut $4.0
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Reserve data. Note: Based on state of resident, not state of employment.

How to pursue Public Service Loan Forgiveness

While the PSLF program has had a notoriously low acceptance rate in years past, recent reforms may make it more accessible for borrowers. However, it’s crucial to file your paperwork before the end of October 2022 if you want to get credit for payments made on a previously ineligible repayment plan.

This means kicking off the process with the PSLF Help Tool. You’ll also need to submit the PSLF certification and application form annually, as well as any time you change employers. You’ll also submit this form when you’ve made your 120 required payments.

Along with filling out this documentation, it’s worth reading up on the requirements of the PSLF program to ensure you’re fulfilling them. Keep in contact with your loan servicer to ensure you’re on track — in addition, note that PSLF applicants typically work with FedLoan Servicing, but this may change in December 2022 when this servicer’s contract ends.

If you decide to stop working in public service before you’ve made your 120 student loan payments, you’ll likely no longer qualify for the PSLF program. However, it could be worth researching your options for other loan forgiveness programs if you can qualify. Plus, you can search through our student loan repayment assistance programs database to see if any could help you pay off your student loans.



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