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I think I can, if I'm understanding the rules right, but I was wondering if anyone had done this/could give advice.

I recently completed a JD. My dream in college was always to get a PhD in literature, but for several reasons, some good some bad, I chose to go for the JD instead (it isn't completely unrelated to my literature interests, so it isn't a total wash). I am working in the public sector after graduation, and will be paying down my JD loans using Public Loan Forgiveness, so when I sat down and thought about it I realized I might not have to abandon my PhD dream after all. After a year or two breather from school, I'd like to go back and start working towards a PhD, because if law school and working in the legal field has convinced me of one thing it is that literature (and hopefully a professorship) are where I will be truly happy.

As an overview of PLF: after 120 monthly payments made on my loans while working in the public sector (10 years) the government would forgive my federal loans (which make up 90% of my loans). I can pay income-based repayment while working towards PLF as well. I will never be able to pay my loans off on a gov salary otherwise, but 10 years and then they are forgiven is actually a pretty sweet deal.

Basically to qualify for PLF I have to be employed in a public sector job--generally government or a nonprofit--working full time, or two public sector jobs that combined mean at least 30 hours/wk. As most TA or RA positions for funded programs (MA or PhD) seem to be about 20 hours a week, doing 10 hours a week in another public position would, if I'm right, qualify me for public loan forgiveness. Probably I'd look at doing 10-15 hours of legal aid through a nonprofit or government agency to keep my legal skills up.

Has anyone done PLF while finishing a PhD? Is this dream possible, or am I crazy? I don't mind not making a lot of money--I never have, and am not making much $$ now. But I really want to go back to literature. I'm just hoping the JD won't have killed that dream for me. :/

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    I'd be extremely surprised if being a TA or RA at a public university counted as a public sector job. But to get a definitive answer, you'd need to ask whatever office or agency coordinates PLF.
    – user37208
    Jun 3 '16 at 5:03
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    Working 20 hours per week as a TA or RA, being a full time graduate student and also working another job for 10 or more hours per week would be extremely difficult. Jun 3 '16 at 5:07
  • Note that many funded programs pay you through some combination of assistantship and fellowship. When you're funded by a fellowship, you might not be considered an employee, and then you wouldn't be eligible
    – ff524
    Jun 3 '16 at 5:14
  • @user37208 it's not specific to public universities. If a TA/RA job is considered employment for purposes of this program, then private non-profit universities (i.e. almost all universities) are also eligible employers.
    – ff524
    Jun 3 '16 at 5:16
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    @BrianBorchers: And, as I recently learned in another question, in some cases having another job might actually be forbidden. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/69600/… Jun 3 '16 at 5:19
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My understanding is that you can only participate in PSLF when you are required to make a payment; as at least a half-time graduate student, regardless of your employment at the time, you are not required to make a payment, so you cannot participate.

Source: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service#qualifying-payment

Student aid reps at your institution might be a better source for clarification on this; perhaps you can declare yourself not a student for the purpose of your undergraduate/JD loans, and begin making payments? However this would also prevent you from using your student status to limit interest accrual on some of your loans.

If you have friends in tax/financial law this might be a good time to call in a favor on a 5-minute consultation.

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Came across this post as I was researching the same question (4 years later). My understanding is the same as yours: as long as you get up to 30 hours between two qualifying employers, you are eligible.

Per the PSLF FAQs page, you are eligible "as long as the combined number of hours you work for each employer equals at least 30 hours per week. Each employer must be a qualifying employer for the employment to be included in determining whether you are employed on a full-time basis. For example, if you worked for one qualifying employer for 10 hours per week and you concurrently worked for a second qualifying employer for 20 hours per week, this would meet the 30 hours per week requirement."

Regarding whether the university is an employer (per the same FAQs page): "If a qualifying employer hired you, pays you, and sends you a Form W-2 (Wage and Tax Statement) at the end of each tax year, you are employed by the qualifying employer." I think this means an assistantship would qualify, but a fellowship (which usually provides a 1099, not W2) would not.

Can I ask - did you end up pursuing this option, and have you gotten confirmation that your payments qualify?

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  • Oh, and regarding a previous answer given, it's true that you "can make qualifying monthly payments only during periods when you’re required to make a payment." However, that just means your loans can't be in, e.g., in-school forbearance. The same page provides: "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." I've confirmed elsewhere that's possible, so as long you take your loans out of forbearance while in your PhD program, you should be able to make qualifying payments.
    – Tom D
    Jul 1 '20 at 19:36

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