Will I qualify for PSLF?

After some high profile new stories about the initial 99% rejection rate for PSLF application, I wrote back in 2018 about how using that number as a means of summarizing the PSLF program was essentially clickbait.

I still see the 99% figure used all the time by ill-informed people in arguments about how everyone should abandon all hope and rush to the arms of an immediate private refinance without any consideration of critically important details such as the size of an individual’s crippling debt or how that relates to their current or expected income. Dunning-Kruger in action.

That said, the high rejection rate does illustrate the need for due diligence and careful planning, because what it really signifies is a lot of people’s general lack of attention to detail when it comes to critically important financial matters (e.g. the impact of investment fees on retirement planning):

Wrong loans. Wrong repayment plan. Wrong/unconfirmed number of payments. And (more rarely) wrong job.

A small fraction of that 99% also probably included some people who actually did know better but we’re hoping for a windfall. No harm in asking right?

Current borrower, the program is safe

If you’ve already borrowed loans, you’ll note that the master promissory note you signed includes this:

A Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is also available. Under this program, we will forgive the remaining balance due on your eligible Direct Loan Program loans after you have made 120 payments on those loans (after October 1, 2007) under certain repayment plans while you are employed full-time in certain public service jobs. The required 120 payments do not have to be consecutive. Qualifying repayment plans include the REPAYE Plan, the PAYE Plan, the IBR Plan, the ICR Plan, and the Standard Repayment Plan with a 10-year repayment period.

The MPN is a binding contract between you and the lender (the federal government). It cannot be legally changed. This is why all new proposals, from the Obama-era PSLF cap to the Trump’s hoped abolition, have always specifically excluded current borrowers. They have to. To change the rules of the game for an old borrower runs afoul of the common law doctrine of estoppel. In layman’s terms, you can’t go back on your word.

I know that sounds good in theory, but everyone who reads internet forums, social media, or the annual PSLF clickbait articles (even from major news outlets) is leery. Thankfully, there’s already some existing case law!

The Department of Education under Trump-appointee Betsy DeVos could at best be charitably described as the perfect example of how cabinet-level executive departments can be politically undermined while being used as political bait for horrible and/or clueless people. Under DeVos, the DOE did try to change the rules after the fact for a tiny number of people with non-501(c)(3) nonprofit jobs that did (and then “did not”) provide qualifying services. These jobs are approved on a case by case basis by FedLoan, and the DOE tried to retroactively undo FedLoan’s approvals.

So how did it turn out? The government basically lost. You can’t do that. I explained the details of the case here (I think they’re interesting).

The PSLF program is an entitlement. Entitlements are hard to change and hard to get rid of, and you can’t simply pull the rug out from under folks who made decisions based on you holding up your end of the bargain.

So, with that long preamble, I’d like to answer the question at the title of this post:

Will I qualify for PSLF?

I’ll answer with another question:

Well, are you doing the things that it says on literally every single document that you need to do?

Then yes!

After a 10+ year boondoggle of administrative suffering, you too can enjoy your free money.

You need:

  • Qualifying loans (Direct, not FFEL)
  • Qualifying repayment plan (REPAYE, PAYE, IBR, ICR, or 10-year Standard)
  • Qualifying full-time employment (Government or 501(c)(3) non-profit are the most straightforward)
  • 120 on-time monthly payments

That’s it.

You don’t need to wonder; you should know at every point during the process. If you have any doubts, keep submitting those employment certification forms to FedLoan. If there’s an unanticipated problem, you can find out within months. Unless you’re trying to get a non-501(c)(3) non-profit job approved (like in that lawsuit), there really shouldn’t be any question.

Yes, FedLoan can be terrible. And yes, sometimes you need to submit a CFPB complaint to get those manual payment recounts done when it seems that basic arithmetic is beyond their reach. No one said the process was pleasant.

But at this point, no one else needs to be surprised after a decade.


I don’t normally talk much about the places I work or the institutions I’ve been affiliated with on the site. After all, these views are my own.

But I’m just going to drop this here briefly because I’ll freely admit that I was honored and gratified to win Teacher of the Year my first full year as faculty at Baylor Dallas. Great group of residents.



Also, crystal apples are surprisingly heavy.

What I Read in 2019

Continuing my tradition of posting my annual book diet, this year wasn’t nearly as good of a reading year as 2018. 2019 was (extremely?) busy with the birth of our baby daughter, the continued raising of our four-year-old son, my wife starting a solo private practice (that’s another post), and my first full year as an attending (and winning teacher of the year to boot!).

  1. Get Jiro! by Anthony Bourdain (weird)
  2. How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King (kids are ruthless)
  3. War of the Blink by Michael Nicoll and Yahgulanaas
  4. Anthem: The Graphic Novel by Ayn Rand
  5. Voice Lessons for Parents by Wendy Mogel
  6. Power Moves by Adam Grant
  7. Replay: The History of Videogames by Tristan Donovan (very interesting, at least if you’re me)
  8. Meet the Frugalwoods by Elizabeth Willard Thames
  9. Contact by Carl Sagan (classic)
  10. Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar (no Emperor of All Maladies, but pretty good)
  11. Junk by Les Bohem
  12. Company of One by Paul Jarvis (synopsis: there’s more to business than growth; something hospitals and academic centers would do well to remember)
  13. The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
  14. Black Crow, White Snow by Michael Livingston
  15. The Rule of One by Ashley and Leslie Saunders (near-future dystopia, but the twist is that the main characters are twins [and the authors are twins!]. The protagonists aren’t awesome athletes or killers, but it’s also not as good as [the first two books] of The Hunger Games or the [first two books] of Divergent.)
  16. The Rule of Many by Ashley and Leslie Saunders (the conclusion)
  17. Skyward by Brandon Sanderson (he’s better at fantasy, but still highly enjoyable YA light-sci-fi.)
  18. The Physician Philosopher’s Guide to Personal Finance by James Turner (reviewed here)
  19. Educated by Tara Westover (excellent memoir)
  20. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (Chabon is my Jewish writer spirit animal.)
  21. The Vexed Generation by Scott Meyer (Magic 2.0 #6) (meh)
  22. Everything is F-cked by Mark Manson (though neither really treads new ground, his first book was much better and genuinely enjoyable. This one suffers from sequelitis.)
  23. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (Be thoughtful in how you use technology. Hint: Less is more. The weakest of his books, but still has enough meat to have warranted several blog posts.)
  24. Fall by Neal Stephenson (Long, good. What happens when people figure out how to live as digital avatars after death?)
  25. Chop Wood, Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf
  26. Space Force by Jeremy Robinson (hilarious, page-turning shoot ’em up thriller. I don’t laugh out loud very often, but I did a lot with this one. What happens if we create Trump’s Space Force,  everyone realizes how dumb it is, we cancel the program, and then immediately experience an alien invasion?)
  27. The Mage Fire War by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (Sage of Recluce #21[!])
  28. Level Five by William Ledbetter
  29. Keep Going by Austin Kleon
  30. Bushido Online: War Games (#3) by Nikita Thorn (I’d never heard of let alone read a “LitRPG” book before this series, and I’ll probably never read another one. But I like this series! Yes, it’s silly. And yet.)
  31. Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (A really good memoir; also, Jobs seems like a pretty not nice guy.)
  32. Make it Stick by Peter C. Brown (Probably the definitive book on modern learning science)
  33. The Toll by Neal Shusterman (Arc of a Scythe #3)
  34. The Others by Jeremy Robinson
  35. Indistractable by Nir Eyal (meh)
  36. Ultralearning by Scott Young (more anecdotal than #31)
  37. Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle (hands-down best thing on Instagram)

I think 2020 is going to be a good year. I already know what my first book is going to be.

The Resident to Midlevel Ratio

As a great bookend to my recent brief article about resident pay, here’s an interesting little data point from this article about the shutdown of UNM’s neurosurgery residency for ACGME violations:

In the immediate future, UNM plans to double the number of neurosurgeons on staff by March. They have also hired 23 advanced practice providers to the staff to handle the workload of the departing residents.

23! There are 10 residents total. Even ignoring the attending coverage (which could in part be needed to provide adequate supervision), 23:10 is an amazing ratio.

To be sure, neurosurgery is one of if not the most valuable residency fields for a hospital. And highly trained upper-level residents obviously are capable of providing high-level and highly-remunerative largely independent care. And, in this case, the workload was clearly too much for even the ten residents they did have. According to the NRMP match data from the past several years, UNM only offered 1 spot in the match (and has over the past decade offered 2 in some years), so I can imaging the call burden must have been absolutely insane.

But damn.

And, just for fun, here’s a back of the napkin cost analysis:

Here’s a breakdown of UNM resident salaries for 2019-2020:

  • PGY I $53,898
  • PGY II $55,646
  • PGY III $57,671
  • PGY IV $59,800
  • PGY V $62,396
  • PGY VI $64,692
  • PGY VII $67,343

So, on average: $60,206 (we know that two of the residents are graduating this year, so a simple average isn’t quite right, but it works for illustrative purposes).

According to “salary.com”, staring PA/NP salaries in the area average around $92,000.

So, as usual, a new midlevel outearns even an overtrained senior resident.

And, with 23 advanced practice providers to replace 10 residents, UNM can expect to spend around $1.5 million more per year to replace residents with nonphysician providers.

(That doesn’t include the residents’ salaries themselves, which UNM must also continue to pay while the residents continue training elsewhere as part of losing their ACGME accreditation. Assuming 8 residents evenly distributed, adding those back in is would be in the neighborhood of another $2 million (though presumably that money really comes from CMS and represents a loss to the system of that sweet extra dough not eaten up by salary/benefits that helps pay for the “cost” of training a resident, maybe an extra $ 1 million total).

A pretty costly mistake, to be sure. But given the bare-bones staffing UNM was presumably using for years, they probably still end up in the black.

Talking Student Loans with SLP

I was on the Student Loan Planner podcast with Travis Hornsby this week dispelling myths and getting into the weeds on student loan loopholes. Good times, and we discuss some really good tips. Check it out.

In related news, I made my usual periodic updates to my definitive, comprehensive, and completely free student loan books as well, so now’s a great time to get a Hanukkah present from me and get up to speed on taking care of that brain mortgage.

I’m obviously a firm believer that people should self-educate about this stuff (and all personal finance), even if they plan to hire a professional. And I think anyone can do it themselves if they put some time in. I don’t do “recommended advisor” pages around here, but I do send folks who need or want professional help to Travis, because we’ve been internet friends for years and he’s one of the few people in the industry that consistently knows his stuff (and he gives my readers an extra 6 months of follow-up questions when they hire him).

If you’re getting free advice about loans over a steak dinner, that advice is almost certainly wrong.