When compared to other kinds of debt, student loans are in a category all to themselves.
There’s no such thing as “income-based mortgage repayment” (although that would be nice). And good luck trying to find a credit card issuer that will forgive all your debt as long as you spend 10 years working at a nonprofit. But those are both viable student loan repayment strategies.
With most types of debt, you simply have to pay them off. But with student loans, you have more options. If you want to know how to get rid of student loans apart from paying them off normally, here are some of the best ways.
How to get rid of student loans through forgiveness programs
If you want to know how to get rid of student loan debt legally, there are a number of forgiveness programs you may qualify for. Here are a few of the best ones available today:
Income-driven repayment plan forgiveness
If you have federal student loans, you can apply for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. The four plans available today are Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Income-Based Repayment (IBR) and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR).
With REPAYE, PAYE and IBR, your monthly payment will be 10% of your discretionary income. And if you have a balance remaining after 20 to 25 years, it will be forgiven. With ICR, your payment will be 20% of your discretionary income, and you’ll be eligible for forgiveness after 25 years of payments.
Keep in mind that with IDR forgiveness, you’ll be taxed on the forgiven amount. So if you’re planning to use IDR repayment and forgiveness, save a little each year for your student loan forgiveness “tax bomb.”
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
If you work in public service or at a nonprofit, you can apply for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. With PSLF, you’ll be eligible for forgiveness after only 10 years (120 qualifying payments). That’s twice as quick as IDR forgiveness. And the forgiven amount isn’t taxable.
With PSLF, your payments don’t have to be consecutive. If you leave a qualifying employer for a few years, that’s OK. You can pick right back up where you left off if you’re hired by a qualifying employer again later on.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness
With the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, highly qualified teachers can receive up to $17,500 of forgiveness on your federal student loans.
To qualify, you’ll need to work full time for five years in a low-income school or educational service agency. Unlike PSLF, your five years of service must be consecutive.
Profession-specific forgiveness programs
There are a number of forgiveness programs available exclusively to people who work in certain fields. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Many student loan forgiveness programs are geared toward health-care professionals. Here’s a list of some of the best forgiveness and repayment programs for doctors and nurses:
- National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program: Up to $50,000 of student loan forgiveness.
- Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program: Up to 85% of student loans repaid
- Faculty Loan Repayment Program: Up to $40,000 of student loan repayment
- Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program: Up to $40,000 of repayment assistance
- National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs: Up to $35,000 per year of student loan repayment assistance
- Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Education Debt Reduction Program: Up to $200,000 of student loan repayment.
- State-sponsored programs: Your state may also have student loan forgiveness programs for medical professionals.
If you’re an attorney who works in a public service position, you may be eligible for student loan forgiveness or repayment assistance. Here are a few programs worth checking out:
- John R. Justice Program: Repayment amount varies by state
- Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program: Up to $60,000 of student loan repayment assistance.
- Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program: Up to $16,800 of student loan repayment.
- State-sponsored loan repayment assistant programs (LRAPs): According to the American Bar Association, there are 24 state-sponsored LRAPs.
If you’re a vet, you may qualify for up to $75,000 of student loan repayment assistance through the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program. You may also want to check with the American Veterinary Medical Association to see if your state offers any vet school loan assistance programs.
Military forgiveness programs
If you’re a military veteran or currently serve on active duty, you may be eligible for student loan forgiveness. Here are a few programs worth looking into:
- Army College Loan Repayment Program: Up to $65,000 of student loan repayment.
- Army Reserve College Loan Repayment Program: Up to $20,000 of student loan repayment assistance.
- National Guard College Loan Repayment Program: Up to $20,000 of student loan assistance.
- Navy Loan Repayment Program: Up to $65,000 of student loan repayment.
- Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) Student Loan Repayment Program: Up to $65,000 of student loan repayment assistance.
- Healthcare Professions Loan Repayment Program: Up to $120,000 of student loan forgiveness for medical professionals and veterinarians.
To learn more about military student loan repayment options, read our complete guide to military student loan forgiveness.
How to get rid of student loans through discharge
With student loan forgiveness, you usually need to work in a particular profession or join a specific repayment program. But even if you don’t qualify for one of the programs above, there are times when you may qualify for a government discharge.
If you want to know how to get rid of student loan debt legally apart from forgiveness, here are a few possibilities.
Closed school discharge
If your school closed while you were enrolled or shortly after you stopped attending, the government may discharge 100% of your student loans. In order to qualify for closed school discharge, you’ll need to be enrolled when the school closes or have withdrawn no more than 120 days beforehand. You can also qualify if you were on an approved absence when the school closed.
False certification discharge
This discharge program is intended to help victims of identity theft. If someone falsely took out student loans in your name, there’s a good chance that you qualify for false certification discharge.
You may also qualify if your school signed your application without your consent or you were given student loans when you didn’t meet loan eligibility requirements.
Discharge for school violations
If your school used deceptive tactics or broke state laws while it was recruiting you, you may be eligible for borrower defense discharge.
Another time that a school violation can lead to student loan discharge is when you withdraw before taking classes but your school doesn’t refund the lender. In that situation, you could be eligible for unpaid refund discharge. You’ll only be eligible for discharge on whatever portion of your loans the school should have returned.
Total and Permanent Disability Discharge
If you suffer a disability, your federal student loans could be discharged under the Total and Permanent Disability Discharge (TPD) program.
To see if you qualify, begin by completing the TPD application. You’ll also need to meet the requirements for being “totally and permanently disabled.” And you’ll need to provide documentation from a doctor, the VA or the Social Security Administration.
If you die before you’ve paid off your federal student loans, they’ll be discharged by the U.S. Department of Education. In the case of Parent PLUS Loans, these are discharged upon the death of the parent or the student who the loans were taken out for.
Much has been said about how difficult it can be to have student loans discharged in bankruptcy. In order for this to happen, the court must determine that your student loans are causing “undue hardship.”
Unfortunately, there’s no black-and-white math formula that’s applied here. Each borrower is at the mercy of the court justice to decide whether or not their loans cause undue hardship. If undue hardship is determined, you could be eligible for total discharge, partial discharge or new terms (like a lower interest rate).
How to get rid of student loans faster with refinancing
If you don’t qualify for any of the programs, above, refinancing to a lower interest rate could make payoff easier and save you money.
However, if you owe only a small amount (about $20,000 or less), it may not be worthwhile to refinance. In that case, you should probably focus on just paying off your student loans. There are no magic solutions.
But if you owe more than that, refinancing your student debt could save you real money — especially if you have a good credit score and a healthy income.
If you decide to refinance, you’ll want to shop around for the best deal. Start by checking out our best banks to refinance student loans.
If you owe $50,000 to $1 million in student loans, you may want to book a consultation with one of Student Loan Planner’s consultants. Each of them is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), and they’ve helped over 2,500 clients learn how to get rid of student loans. If you’d like a custom student loan plan, book a consultation today.