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Frequently Asked Questions
NRSA Payback
Last Revised: April 25, 2008

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  1. Who incurs a payback obligation?
    Any NRSA postdoctoral trainee or fellow appointed after June 10, 1993, incurs a payback obligation during their first year of support. But only the first year of training incurs a payback obligation; the second year of training pays back the first year, with each month of qualifying payback activity paying back one month of NRSA support. Trainees and fellows who receive two full years of NRSA training fulfill their payback obligation at the end of the second year of NRSA research training.

    Predoctoral NRSA trainees or fellows appointed since 1993 do not incur a payback obligation.
  2. How can I determine if I incurred a payback obligation?
    All new postdoctoral trainees are appointed to a grant by signing a Statement of Appointment (PHS 2271) and Payback Agreement (PHS 6031) form, which outline the obligations incurred by accepting NRSA support.
  3. What does NIH mean by payback?
    Payback means that you will perform qualified research or teaching activities for a length of time equal to the period of NRSA support you received. Receiving 12 months of postdoctoral training support obligates you to perform 12 months of qualified research or teaching activities as payback. Only the first year of training incurs a payback obligation; the second year of training pays back the first year, with each month of qualifying payback activity paying back one month of NRSA support. If you receive two full years of NRSA training, you will have completed your payback obligation. In general, payback activity must involve at least 20 hours per week and be conducted over 12 consecutive months. Special exceptions to these requirements may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  4. What is considered acceptable payback service?
    There is a wide range of acceptable forms of payback service.
    Continued NRSA Research Training
    Continued NRSA research training support is considered acceptable payback service. Beginning with the 13th month of NRSA research training, the first year’s obligation is automatically repaid on a month-by-month basis until the 24th month is completed. At that point, NRSA payback is fulfilled.
    Health-Related Research or Teaching
    Trainees or fellows that complete less than 24 months of NRSA research training can discharge their obligation by engaging in health-related research or teaching, as defined below: Research Research is defined as an activity that involves the design of experiments, development of protocols, and collection and interpretation of data. In addition, review of original research or administration of original research, which includes providing scientific direction and guidance to research, may be acceptable if a doctoral degree and relevant research experience is required of individuals filling such positions. Such research can be conducted in an academic, government, commercial, or other environment in either a foreign or domestic setting. In addition, when consistent with the cumulative amount, type, and frequency of research or research training experiences, functions that involve analytic or other technical activities conducted in direct support of research, as defined above, also will satisfy the service payback obligation.
    Teaching is an instructional activity that takes place in an organized educational or other instructional environment. Activities classified as teaching generally are carried out in a formal didactic setting; however, other activities will be considered if they are consistent with the certifying institution’s policy on the definition of teaching responsibilities. Such teaching can be conducted at universities, professional schools, research institutes, teaching hospitals, primary schools, secondary schools, or colleges. When calculating hours of teaching per week, it is permissible to include three hours of preparation time for each hour of direct instruction. Acceptable teaching activities must have a biomedical, behavioral, or health-related relevance.
    Health-Related Activities
    This incorporates a broad range of activities related to the description, diagnosis, prevention, or treatment of disease—from the most basic biomedical or behavioral research to applied or clinical research. In addition to fields usually considered directly related to human disease, activities in other fields, such as agriculture, environmental sciences, biotechnology, and bioengineering, also will be considered health-related research.
  5. What are some examples of acceptable payback service?
    According to NRSA guidelines, acceptable payback service is any health-related research or teaching that averages at least 20 hours per week. This can include dissertation-related research, clinical teaching, or research during the pursuit of a medical education. Research and teaching duties may include time spent in the laboratory and/or classroom, as well as time spent preparing for teaching activities (up to three hours of preparation for each hour of direct instruction).
  6. What activities do not qualify as payback service?
    Patient care or any activity unrelated to biomedical or health-related research or teaching does not qualify.
  7. What happens after the end of my NRSA research training?
    The NRSA Payback Service Center will contact you approximately one year after your NRSA training grant appointment or fellowship has concluded. At that time, you will be asked to complete the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Annual Payback Activities Certification (APAC) form indicating any payback service you have completed since then. It is important to keep the Payback Service Center updated of any change of address.
  8. When must I begin my payback service?
    Trainees and fellows are required to begin engaging in payback service within two years of the end of the NRSA research training. If there are extenuating circumstances and a trainee plans on conducting payback activities in the future, they may indicate on the APAC form that an extension is necessary before payback service can begin. If a trainee is a participant in the NIH Loan Repayment Programs (LRP), their NRSA payback service must be deferred until completion of the program. Once their LRP participation ends, the trainee is expected to immediately engage in NRSA payback activities.
  9. Can I pay back my NRSA payback obligation while participating in the NIH Loan Repayment Programs (LRP)?
    No, the NRSA payback obligation cannot be fulfilled while participating in the LRP. You must request a deferral of NRSA payback service prior to acceptance into the LRP. It is important to note, though, that you may continue to receive your stipend from the NRSA. The deferral form can be obtained by contacting the LRP Help Line at 866-849-4047.
  10. Do I have to stay at the funding institution to do my payback?
    No. You can fulfill your payback obligation at any institution (including private industry) where biomedical or behavioral health-related research and/or teaching is performed.
  11. Can payback service be conducted outside the United States?
    Yes, as long as all other payback conditions are met.
  12. How do I document my payback service?
    To document your payback service, you must complete a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Annual Payback Activities Certification (APAC) form and submit it to the NRSA Payback Center each year for approval until your service obligation is completed.
  13. Can the Program Director of the training grant sign the APAC form?
    A supervisor who can verify that you performed the reported payback service activities must sign the APAC form. If you remained under your Program Director’s supervision after your training grant appointment, then your program director may sign as your supervisor. If you moved to a new institution after your NRSA research training, then your supervisor at your new location will need to sign the form.
  14. What if I cannot begin my service payback within the required two-year time period?
    You may request a 12-month extension by completing the APAC form and submitting it to the NRSA Payback Service Center. A valid plan to engage in payback service should be presented on the APAC form.
  15. What are the consequences of not completing two full years of NRSA training or payback service?
    If you receive NRSA training and are unable or unwilling to complete the required payback service, you must reimburse the U.S. Government for the investment made in your career by repaying the stipends received (plus interest, in some cases). Special exceptions are rarely granted, but may be considered in extraordinary circumstances. If you do not repay your NRSA obligation by service, your file will be forwarded to the NIH Office of Financial Management, which will contact you regarding your financial obligation.
  16. Are there any circumstances where payback can be waived?
    Although waivers are rarely approved, a medical waiver can be requested by submitting a recent letter from your physician (on official letterhead) documenting your medical condition and inability to work. In considering waiver requests, NIH may waive the payback obligation, in whole or in part, upon determination that compliance by the individual is impossible or would involve substantial hardship, and enforcement of the obligation to that individual would be inequitable and against good conscience.
  17. Where can I find the NRSA policies?
    Policy guidelines for NRSA awards are described in detail in the NIH Grants Policy Statement on the NIH website (specific requirements for payback are outlined in the section “Payback Reporting Requirements”) and on the Payback Agreement Form PHS 6031.
  18. What do I do if my address changes prior to the completion of my payback service?
    Notify the NRSA Payback Center of your address change by emailing us at NRSA Payback Center or calling 866-298-9371. You also should notify the funding NIH Institute or Center. If you continue to interact with the NIH as an applicant, investigator, or reviewer, you should also update your contact information in the eRA Commons.
  19. What is the best way to contact your office with questions?
    Call the NRSA Payback Center’s toll free number at 866-298-9371 or email us at NRSA Payback Center.

Go to NRSA Payback Service Center Home Page

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This page last updated on April 25, 2008
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