Does Medical or Maternity Leave Count for Loan Forgiveness?

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By Mark Kantrowitz

June 22, 2020

During our webinar about Student Loans 101 (Forgiveness), a participant asked a question about the impact of maternity leave on public service loan forgiveness. Medical and maternity leave are counted as though the borrower is working full-time, the same as with vacation time.

I am close to my 10-year mark of having worked at a nonprofit/government agency but was on maternity leave for 7 months and then came back part time. How do I count my time for loan forgiveness? I am trying to qualify for PSLF. I work for city government in NYC and have filed qualification forms nearly every year and been approved. When I came back part time, I started off at 20 hours a week, then upped my hours to 25 then worked 30 hours for a number of months until coming back full time.

Eligibility for public service loan forgiveness is based on the number of payments, not the number of years. Borrowers must make 120 qualifying payments to receive loan forgiveness. Since there are 120 months in 10 years, 10 years is the shortest period of time required for a borrower to make 120 qualifying payments.

But, it could take longer to make 120 qualifying payments if employment in a qualifying job is interrupted due to unemployment or working for a period of time in a non-qualifying job.

The qualifying payments do not have to be consecutive. A borrower can take a break for medical or maternity leave, for example, and continue making qualifying payments afterwards.

A qualifying payment must be made when the borrower is employed full time in a qualifying job. Full-time employment is defined as working 30 or more hours per week. Working 29 or fewer hours per week does not count toward public service loan forgiveness, not even if the borrower is working in a qualifying job. However, a combination of part-time jobs may satisfy the requirement for full-time employment if each job is a qualifying job and the total number of hours per week is 30 hours or more.

But, the 30 hours per week requirement is an annual average. So, if a borrower works more than 30 hours a week the rest of the year, it is possible to compensate for weeks during which the borrower worked less than 30 hours a week. 

For example, if the borrower was on medical leave for 3 months during the year, followed by 3 months of 20 hours a week, and worked 40 hours a week during the rest of the year, the average number of hours per week is 33 during the 9 months when the borrower was not on medical leave. This qualifies as full-time employment during the entire year.

The time during which a borrower is on medical or maternity leave is excluded from the calculation of the annual average. Specifically, vacation time and leave taken for a condition that is a qualifying reason for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is considered to be the equivalent of having worked full-time in a qualifying job, per the regulations at 34 CFR 685.219(b). 

The loan servicer who manages the public service loan forgiveness program for the U.S. Department of Education does not always count the number of qualifying payments correctly, especially when it involves the annual average as opposed to a monthly average. So, compare the loan servicer’s count of the number of qualifying payments with your own records.

Filing an employment certification form (ECF) every year and whenever you change jobs will make it easier to qualify for public service loan forgiveness, since the ECF form confirms that the payments and employment are qualifying. 

A good place to start:

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