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YOUR OPTIONS

Have you ever wished your student loans would just go away? While there’s no way to snap your fingers and have your student loan debt magically disappear, there are ways to get it forgiven.

There are various student loan forgiveness programs out there for people who work in public service, education, and other areas. Some states are even helping debt-saddled graduates pay off their loans.

Whether you’re struggling with six-figure debt or looking for “free money” to pay off your student debt, student loan forgiveness could save the day.

Get a PDF of the forgiveness programs. Yours to keep forever.

Click on the links below to learn more about each option, or scroll down for the complete list of student loan forgiveness programs:

  1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness
  2. Forgiveness from an income-driven plan
  3. Federal Perkins Loan cancellation
  4. Loan forgiveness for teachers
  5. Loan forgiveness for nurses
  6. Loan repayment assistance for doctors and other health care professionals
  7. Loan repayment assistance for lawyers
  8. Additional student loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs)
  9. Military student loan forgiveness and assistance
  10. Student loan discharge for special circumstances

1) Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program helps people working in public service jobs. Professionals across a variety of fields can qualify for PSLF. For this program, it doesn’t matter what your job is as much as where you work.

After 120 payments, you could qualify for 100 percent loan forgiveness.

Who’s eligible?

To be eligible, you must be a full-time employee at a federal, state, or local government agency. Organizations with a 501(c)(3) designation also qualify. Religious-based nonprofits, however, do not.

Which loans qualify?

Here are the loans that qualify for PSLF:

  • Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct PLUS Loans
  • Direct Consolidation Loans

Federal Perkins Loans and Family Education Loans (FFEL) are only eligible for PSLF if you consolidate them first via a Direct Consolidation Loan.

What are the requirements?

  • Make 120 on-time payments toward loans
  • Payments must be under a qualifying plan. Qualifying plans include: Income-Based Repayment (IBR), Pay As You Earn Repayment (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Income-Contingent (ICR) and Standard Repayment. For most borrowers, it makes sense to get on an income-driven plan to maximize the amount you will have forgiven and lower your monthly payments.
  • Work full-time at a qualifying organization.

How can I become eligible?

To make sure you’re eligible for PSLF, submit the Employment Certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness form. The program requires this form for every year of service, so submitting it on an annual basis will help ensure you’re on track for PSLF.

Another important step is switching to an income-driven repayment plan. You’ll lower your monthly payments while extending your term to 20 or 25 years. If you stay on the standard plan, you won’t have any balance left to forgive after 10 years of payments.

Finally, you may wish to consolidate your student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan. This step is helpful if you have Perkins or FFEL Loans. Plus, it simplifies your monthly payments, so you’ll only have one loan to pay each month.

If it sounds like you might not qualify for PSLF, answer a few questions below so we can help point you towards other repayment options. Otherwise, scroll down to read on.

Choose Your Situation

Which option below fits your current student loan situation?
I’m unable to make payments
I’m struggling to make payments
I’m comfortable making payments

How do you apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

  1. Fill out and submit the Employment Certification Form each year, or as you change jobs.
  2. FedLoan Servicing will review your information and let you know if you qualify. They may ask for more information, like pay stubs, W-2s, or other documentation.
  3. FedLoan Servicing will let you know how many qualified payments you have made, and how many payments you will need to make until you qualify for forgiveness.

Currently, there is no limit on the amount forgiven under PSLF. The full amount of your federal student loans is eligible for forgiveness.

2) Forgiveness with Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

While this isn’t a forgiveness program in the typical sense, you can get your loans forgiven through the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program.

Through IBR, your student loan payments are capped at 10 to 15 percent of your discretionary income. After making consistent payments under IBR for 20 or 25 years (terms depend on when you borrowed), any remaining loan balance will be forgiven.

Under current tax law, loans that are forgiven under this program can be taxed as income. Keep this in mind when pursuing this program, so you are not surprised by a potentially large tax bill.

Who’s eligible?

To be eligible for the Income-Based Repayment plan, your payments on IBR must be less than what your payment would be under the Standard Repayment Plan. This is an easy requirement to meet if you have a large debt load compared to your income.

Which loans qualify?

  • Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct Grad PLUS loans
  • Subsidized and Unsubsidized FFEL Stafford Loans
  • FFEL PLUS Loans made to grad students
  • Federal Perkins Loans, if consolidated
  • Direct Consolidation Loans, unless they repaid Parent PLUS Loans or FFEL Loans made to parents

What are the requirements?

Borrowers must make consistent payments for 20 or 25 years and update their loan servicers when their income changes. IBR is best for borrowers who expect to stay in low-paying fields but have high-figure debt loads.

How do you apply?

To apply for Income-Based Repayment, submit an online application at StudentLoans.gov. You can also obtain a paper application from your loan servicer. You will need to provide documentation as requested, such as proof of income and a tax return.

3) Forgiveness with Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

Pay As You Earn is similar to Income-Based Repayment in that it isn’t a typical forgiveness plan, but you are eligible for forgiveness after a certain period of time.

The Pay As You Earn program caps your monthly payment at 10 percent of your discretionary income. Under the Pay As You Earn program, borrowers make payments for 20 years. Any remaining balance is then eligible for forgiveness.

As with IBR, your forgiven balance may be treated as taxable income.

Who is eligible?

Your PAYE payments must be less than what they would be under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan.

Which loans qualify?

  • Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct Grad PLUS loans
  • Subsidized and Unsubsidized FFEL Stafford Loans, if consolidated
  • FFEL Loans made to grad students, if consolidated
  • Federal Perkins Loans, if consolidated
  • Direct Consolidation Loans, unless they repaid Parent PLUS Loans or FFEL Loans made to parents

What are the requirements?

You must make consistent payments under the program for 20 years in order to be considered for loan forgiveness. Your payments will be based on your income and family size. In order to qualify for the program, you need to be a new borrower as of Oct. 1, 2007, with a Direct Loan disbursement after Oct. 1, 2011.

How do you apply?

To apply for this program, complete an application on StudentLoans.gov and be prepared to send in income documentation.

While pursuing student loan forgiveness or cancellation may seem like an easy option, it still takes years of repayment.

4) Forgiveness with Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)

Revised Pay As You Earn works much the same way as Pay As You Earn. Under this plan, your payments will be capped at 10 percent of your discretionary income. Undergraduate loans are forgiven after 20 years and graduate school loans are forgiven after 25 years.

Unlike IBR and PAYE, however, there’s no income eligibility requirement to get on REPAYE. Anyone with eligible loans can apply.

That being said, you could end up with high monthly payments on REPAYE. If you start making a lot of money, you could end up paying more on REPAYE than you would on the standard 10-year plan.

Who’s eligible?

Anyone with qualifying federal student loans is eligible for REPAYE.

Which loans qualify?

  • Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct Grad PLUS loans
  • FFEL Stafford Loans, if consolidated
  • FFEL PLUS Loans made to grad students, if consolidated
  • Federal Perkins Loans, if consolidated
  • Direct Consolidation Loans, unless they repaid Parent PLUS Loans or FFEL Loans made to parents

What are the requirements?

Borrowers with undergraduate loans must make consistent payments for 20 years. Those with loans for graduate school or professional study must make payments for 25 years.

How do you apply?

As with other income-driven plans, you’ll submit an application on StudentLoans.gov. Plus, you’ll upload any necessary income documentation.

5) Forgiveness with Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

Income-Contingent Repayment also adjusts your monthly payments according to your income. You’ll either pay 20 percent of your discretionary income or what you’d pay on a fixed 12-year plan, whichever is less.

While ICR may not lower your payments as much as other plans, it does have one advantage. ICR is the only income-driven plan available to borrowers with Parent PLUS loans. If you have Parent PLUS loans, you can apply for ICR as long as you consolidate them first.

After 25 years of on-time payments, you’ll get the rest of your loan balance forgiven.

Who’s eligible?

Anyone with eligible federal student loans is eligible for ICR.

Which loans are eligible?

  • Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct PLUS Loans made to grad students
  • Direct Consolidation Loans
  • FFEL Stafford Loans, if consolidated
  • FFEL Loans made to parents, if consolidated
  • Parent PLUS Loans, if consolidated
  • Federal Perkins Loans, if consolidated

What are the requirements?

Anyone with eligible student loans can apply for Income-Contingent Repayment.

How do you apply?

Submit your income documentation and application on StudentLoans.gov. For more information, speak with your loan servicer.

6) Federal Perkins Loan cancellation

If you took out a Federal Perkins Loan to pay for school, you could qualify for loan cancellation in a variety of ways. The Perkins Loan cancellation and discharge program typically forgives a certain percentage of student loan debt after every year of service. Over time, you could get up to 100 percent of your Perkins Loan canceled.

Who’s eligible?

Perkins Loan Cancellation is a popular program among teachers, as many people who work in education qualify. You might be a teacher, librarian, speech language pathologist, or professional in the Head Start program.

Other eligible occupations include, but aren’t limited to, firefighters, law enforcement officers, nurses, public defenders, and service volunteers. People in the military might also qualify.

What are the requirements?

You must have a federal Perkins Loan and work in a qualifying profession. Most recipients work full-time for at least one year. Additional eligibility requirements vary by profession, but they often involve working in a high-needs or critical shortage area.

How do you apply?

To learn more about Perkins Loan cancellation and apply, speak with your loan servicer and school’s student loan office.

7) Student loan forgiveness for teachers

Teachers are a key asset to the community and play an indispensable role in the lives of children. But it’s no secret that teachers are underpaid, which can affect how they pay back their student loans.

Fortunately, there are several loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs for teachers. For instance, teachers can qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness or Federal Perkins cancellation. Below are some additional programs specifically for teachers.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

This national loan forgiveness program helps teachers pay back their student loans. You must work in a qualifying school for at least five consecutive years. Check out the Teacher Cancellation Low Income Directory to see if your school qualifies.

Loan forgiveness amounts vary depending on what subject you teach. Most elementary school teachers receive up to $5,000. Secondary school teachers who teach math, science, or special education could receive up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness.

Which loans are eligible?

  • Subsidized and Unsubsidized Direct Loans
  • Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans

Note that if you only have PLUS Loans, you’re not eligible for this student loan forgiveness program for teachers.

What are the requirements?

  • You must teach in a qualifying organization. These include elementary and secondary schools, as well education service agencies, that serve low-income people.
  • You cannot have loans that originated before Oct. 1, 1998.
  • Your loans must not be in default.
  • You have to work full-time as a teacher for five consecutive years.
  • You’re a highly qualified teacher, meaning you have state certification or a teaching license.

How do you apply?

After teaching for five years, you can apply for teacher loan forgiveness by completing the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application. Return your application to your loan servicer.

Student loan repayment assistance programs for teachers

The Teacher Forgiveness Program isn’t your only option for student loan help. Many states also offer loan repayment assistance for teachers. Most of these programs require state licensure, as well as a commitment to working for two years in a qualifying area.

The Iowa Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, for example, forgives up to 20 percent of a teacher’s student debt every year. The Teach for Texas Program gives yearly assistance to teachers in designated shortage areas.

8) Student loan forgiveness for nurses

Like teachers, nurses also have access to a variety of federal and state programs for loan forgiveness. This first program is available to nurses all across the country.

NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program

If you work in an underserved community, you might be eligible for the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program. You can get up to 60 percent of your student loans paid over two years of employment. If you work for a third year, you could qualify for forgiveness toward another 25 percent.

What are the requirements?

To qualify for the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program, you must be a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, or nurse faculty member. Nurses must work in a critical shortage area and serve a high-needs population. Nurse faculty members must be at an accredited school of nursing.

How do you apply?

Applications are accepted once a year, and guidelines are updated annually. Check the program requirements and guidelines ahead of time — and make sure to turn in your application on time.

Student loan repayment assistance programs for nurses

In addition to national programs, many states offer loan repayment assistance to nurses. The Illinois Nurse Educator Program, for example, awards up to $5,000 per year for four years to qualifying nurses and nurse educators in Illinois. The RISLA Nurse Educators Program offers the same for nurses in Rhode Island.

9) Loan repayment assistance for doctors and other health care professionals

Physicians have a number of options when it comes to student loan forgiveness. Most of these programs also award money to other health care professionals, like pharmacists. Here are some national and state forgiveness programs for doctors and other people in health care.

National Health Service Corps (NHSC) loan repayment assistance

The NHSC program awards up to $50,000 to licensed health care providers. You must be a primary care doctor, dentist, or a mental or behavioral clinician. In exchange for this student loan assistance, you must commit to work for two years at an eligible site.

Students to Service Program

If you’re in your last year of medical service, you could qualify for significant loan assistance from the Students to Service Program. This student loan forgiveness program provides up to $120,000. To qualify, you’ll commit to working as a primary health care provider at an approved site for three years.

Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program

The IHS Loan Repayment Program encourages doctors to practice in American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. You must commit to two years of service. In exchange, the program will repay up to $40,000 of your student loans.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Programs

The NIH program offers aid to health professionals in research careers. If you commit to two years of research at a qualifying nonprofit, the program will repay up to $35,000 of your student loans.

Loan forgiveness for doctors in the Armed Forces

The military offers a number of student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs to health care professionals. Army doctors could receive up to $120,000 from the Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program. The Navy Financial Assistance Program offers up to $275,000 in loan assistance for medical residents.

State LRAP programs for doctors and other health care professionals

While all of the programs above are available on a national basis, you might also find loan assistance from your state. There are a variety of state LRAPs across the country.

The Massachusetts Student Loan Forgiveness Program, for instance, awards up to $50,000 to health professionals working in shortage areas. Use this student loan repayment assistance program tool to find programs in your state.10) Loan repayment assistance for lawyers

Law school isn’t cheap, but fortunately some attorneys may qualify for student loan repayment assistance. Not only do lawyers have national and state programs, but some also get help from their former law schools. If you’re an attorney, make sure to explore all your options for student loan forgiveness.

Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program

Lawyers who work for three years at the Department of Justice could earn up to $60,000 in loan assistance. To qualify, you must have at least $10,000 in federal loans.

John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program

The John R. Justice program helps lawyers in the public sector. If you’re a public defender, you could earn up to $10,000 per year for a maximum of $60,000.

Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program

This student loan forgiveness program repays up to $5,600 in student loans to about 70 attorneys each year. Besides being employed in a qualifying organization, there’s not much you can do to qualify. The program uses a lottery system to pick a few lucky recipients every year.

State and university-sponsored LRAPs

Like teachers and doctors, lawyers may also qualify for state or local repayment assistance programs. The Florida Bar Foundation, for instance, awards up to $5,000 to lawyers in Florida.

Plus, some universities help their alumni pay back their loans. The University of Virginia School of Law, for instance, will cover up to 100 percent of student debt for graduates who make less than $55,000 per year. With this incentive, the law school seeks to encourage its students to work in public service.

Beyond checking your state for LRAPs, find out if your law school helps its graduates pay back their loans.11) Student loan repayment assistance programs for other careers

Most state LRAPs award loan assistance to professionals in exchange for two years of service. The most common occupations are doctors, nurses, teachers, and lawyers, but some other career paths qualify, too.

Several LRAPs for doctors, for instance, help out pharmacists and veterinarians. Other programs award people in STEM careers, like the Alfond Leaders Program in Maine.

Even if you’re not a doctor, teacher, or lawyer, check your state’s offerings to find out if it has a loan repayment assistance program for you.

12) Military student loan forgiveness and assistance

Not only does the military offer loan forgiveness for Army and Navy doctors, but it also helps armed forces members and veterans. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Guard all offer loan repayment assistance programs.

The Army’s College Loan Repayment Program, for instance, pays one-third of your loans every year for three years. In total, you could get up to $65,000 in aid. The Navy program also awards up to $65,000, and the National Guard LRAP contributes up to $50,000.

13) Student loan discharge for special circumstances

While student loan discharge isn’t the same as forgiveness, it could leave you debt-free. In rare circumstances, borrowers can get their student loans canceled outright.

In fact, there are six situations when you could qualify for student loan discharge. These are the options:

  • Closed school discharge
  • Student loan discharge in bankruptcy
  • Loan cancellation for Total and Permanent Disability
  • Discharge for false certification or unauthorized payment
  • Unpaid refund discharge
  • Borrower defense discharge

You can learn more about each scenario on the Federal Office of Student Aid website. If you think you could qualify or want to learn more, speak with your loan servicer.

Other options for managing your student loans

Not everyone qualifies for student loan forgiveness. If you’re ineligible but are struggling to pay your loans, here are a few approaches that could help:

  • Getting on an income-driven repayment plan
  • Putting your loans in deferment
  • Putting your loans in forbearance
  • Consolidating your loans with a Direct Consolidation Loan or a private student loan refinancing company

When it comes to student loans, you don’t have to stick with your original repayment plan. You may be able to lower monthly payments on an income-driven plan or snag a reduced interest rate through student loan refinancing.

The key is to explore all your options to find the best student loan solution for you.

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