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Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

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Student loans do not go away. And, in most instances, filing bankruptcy will not get rid of them. Besides paying off student loans there is another way to get rid of student loan debt. Your student loan may be eligible for student loan forgiveness.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that one-fourth of the American workforce may be eligible for repayment or loan-forgiveness programs. Figuring out which loan forgiveness programs you qualify for is going to take some research but you could be surprised by the number of options available.

The following is a quick view at some of the Student Loan Forgiveness Programs available:

1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

In 2007, Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act; and, with the passage of that act, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) was established. This program was created to “encourage individuals to enter lower-paying but vitally important public sector jobs such as military service, law enforcement, public education and public health professions.”

Eligible borrowers can cancel the remaining balance of their Direct Student Loans after having worked or served at what is considered a public service organization for 10 years in addition to having made 120 qualifying payments on their student loans.

Anyone employed with a federal, state, local, or tribal organization, agency, or entity; a public child or family service agency; or a tribal college or university may qualify. Other individuals may qualify by working at an organization or a non-profit organization that has been designated as tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). This includes most not-for profit private schools, colleges, and universities and private, non-profit organizations that are not a labor union or partisan political organization.

What loans qualify?

  • Direct Stafford loans
  • Direct Parent and Grad PLUS loans
  • Direct Consolidation loans

2. Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program.

Become a public school teacher in a low-income area. You must teach full time for 5 consecutive years in a designated elementary or secondary school or educational service agency serving low-income families. Borrowers are eligible to receive up to $17,500 of the federal Stafford loan or the entirety of the Perkins loan. Unfortunately loans made before October 1, 1998 do not qualify.

What loans qualify?

  • Stafford loans
  • Consolidation loans

3. Perkins Loan Cancellation And Discharge.

Perkins loan borrowers may qualify for up to 100% of their loan cancelled over 5 years depending on the amount of qualifying service in particular occupations. For instance:

  • 15% of their principal balance and accrued interest can be cancelled after their first and second year of qualifying service.
  • 20% of their principal balance and accrued interest can be cancelled after their third and fourth year.
  • 30% of their principal balance and accrued interest can be cancelled after their fifth year.

Perkins loans also offer concurrent deferment if you are performing qualifying service. Borrowers can combine deferment with the cancellation options which means you could potentially never have to make payments on these loans.

Here are the professions eligible for cancellation:

  • Attorney: You must be a full-time attorney employed in a federal public or community defender organization. You must perform qualified service that includes August 14, 2008, or began on or after that date. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness of your loans.
  • Child or family services agency: You must be a full-time employee of a public or nonprofit child or family services agency providing services to high-risk children and their families from low-income communities. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness of your loans.
  • Firefighter:You must be a full-time firefighter whose service included August 14, 2008, or began on or after that date. Firefighters may receive up to 100% forgiveness of their loans.
  • Head Start: You must be a full-time staff member in the education component of a Head Start program. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness of your loans—15% of the principal balance and accrued interest for the each year of service.
  • Imminent danger area: You must serve in the U.S. Armed Forces in a hostile fire or imminent danger area. You may receive forgiveness for up to 50% of your outstanding loans if your active duty ended before August 14, 2008. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness of your outstanding loans if your active duty includes or began after August 14, 2008.
  • Intervention services provider: You must be a full-time qualified professional provider of early intervention services for the disabled. Service must include August 14, 2008, or have begun on or after that date. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness of your loans.
  • Law enforcement: You must be a full-time law enforcement or corrections officer. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness for your loans.
  • Librarian: You must be a librarian with a master’s degree working in a Title I-eligible elementary or secondary school or in a public library serving Title I-eligible schools. Work must include August 14, 2008, or have begun on or after that date. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness of your loans.
  • Nurse or medical technician: You must be a full-time nurse or medical technician. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness of your outstanding loans.
  • Pre-Kindergarten or child care: You must be a full-time staff member in a prekindergarten or child care program that is licensed or regulated by a state. Work must include August 14, 2008, or have begun on or after that date. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness of your loans.
  • Special education teacher: You must be a full-time special education teacher of children with disabilities in a public school, nonprofit elementary or secondary school, or educational service agency. If the service is at an educational service agency, it must include August 14, 2008, or have begun on or after that date. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness of your loans.
  • Speech pathologist: You must be a full-time speech pathologist with a master’s degree working in a Title I-eligible elementary or secondary school. Your service must include August 14, 2008, or have begun on or after that date. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness of your loans.
  • Teacher at an educational service agency: You must be a full-time teacher in a designated educational service agency that serves students from low-income families. You service must include August 14, 2008, or have begun on or after that date. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness of your loans.
  • Teacher in shortage area field: You must be a full-time teacher of math, science, foreign languages, bilingual education, or other fields designated as teacher shortage areas. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness of your loans.
  • Tribal college faculty member: You must be a full-time faculty member at a tribal college or university. Your service must include August 14, 2008, or have begun on or after that date. You may receive up to 100% forgiveness.
  • Vista or Peace Corps volunteer: You must serve for a period of time in the AmeriCorps Vista program or the Peace Corps. You may receive forgiveness for up to 70% of your loans over the course of 4 years—15% of the principal balance and accrued interest for the first and second years and 20% of the principal balance and accrued interest for the third and fourth years.

4. National Health Service Corps.

Borrowers working in high-need areas may qualify to receive up to $60,000 for an initial 2-year commitment. Student loan forgiveness is available to licensed primary care medical, dental, and mental and behavioral health providers. Additional repayment is given by applying to work for additional years.

What loans qualify?

  • Stafford loans
  • Grad PLUS loans
  • Consolidation loans
  • Perkins loans
  • Private student loans

5. NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program.

Borrowers who are registered nurses and advanced-practice registered nurses working in a critical shortage facility or nurse faculty working full time at an accredited school of nursing are eligible to receive up to 60% of their loans paid for a 2-year service agreement and up to 85% for service of 3 years.

What loans qualify?

  • Stafford loans
  • Grad PLUS loans
  • Consolidation loans
  • Perkins loans
  • Private student loans

6. Join the military.

Each branch of the military has its own student loan forgiveness program. Forgiven loan amounts depends on the level of rank achieved. Those interested should contact their preferred branch to learn about their options.

7. Check with your State.

Yes, some states offer student loan forgiveness if you work in certain professions, for example:

  • In California the CDA Foundation will repay up to $105,000 for 3 years of full-time dentistry services to under-served communities.
  • In Michigan the Michigan State Loan Repayment ​program will repay up to $200,000 of federal and private loans for up to 8 years of medical service. To be eligible you must be a physician, dentist, nurse practitioner, psychiatric nurse, certified nurse midwife, psychologists or practicing in other areas.
  • North Dakota’s veterinarian loan repayment program will repay up to ​$15,000 for the first two years and $25,000 for years three and four for large food animal veterinarians in high-need areas​.
  • New York’s Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program offers loan forgiveness to recent college graduates that pursue careers in farming in New York. To be eligible you must obtain an undergraduate degree from an approved New York college or university and agree to operate a farm in New York, on a full-time basis, for five years.

8. Other ways to qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness.

You may qualify for total or partial loan discharge if….

  • The school closed within 90 days of your enrollment and they were unable to finish their program of study.
  • The school did not properly qualify your status before they began studies.
  • You did not receive a refund that was due to you.
  • Your signature was forged.
  • The school did not properly evaluate your ability to benefit from the course-work before beginning studies.
  • You become totally and permanently disabled.
  • If you or the dependent for whom the loan was borrowed, dies.
  • Your loan is discharged due to bankruptcy. (Typically, student loans cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy).

9. What if you don’t qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness.

After doing your research and you find there are no forgiveness programs that fit your needs, consider applying for the Income-Based Repayment Plan. The program adjusts monthly loan payments to be no more than 15% of your “discretionary” income (the amount of money earned that falls above the federal poverty level). Recent grads could possibly earn so little that they may qualify to make $0 payments.

These are just some ways to qualify for student loan forgiveness. More options exist but you will have to do the legwork to locate a program that fits your needs. Start here with your research:

Public service loan forgiveness

Income-based repayment

Pay as you earn plan

Teacher loan forgiveness program

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s guide

American Student Assistance’s guide

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