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Your Complete Guide to Military Student Loan Forgiveness

If you’ve served or plan to serve in the United States military, thank you for courage, bravery and sacrifice. You are true heroes and deserve the utmost respect.

We can’t put a price tag on all that you give to serve our country. But it’s only right that you should receive student loan incentives. In this guide, you’ll find a complete list of military and veteran student loan forgiveness programs available today.

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General military student loan forgiveness programs

Most military members should qualify for these military student loan forgiveness programs.

Military College Loan Repayment Program

The College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP) was passed by Congress as a way to encourage enlisting in the military. Members of the military can receive student loan repayment assistance of up to $65,000.

Each military branch is free to decide how much it’s willing to offer (more on this below). Regardless of which branch you serve in, you’ll need to be a new recruit serving in an eligible military occupational specialty (MOS). You’ll also need to have preexisting student loan debt to qualify and must decline enrollment in the Montgomery GI Bill.

It’s important to note that your student loans must be federal and cannot be in default.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) isn’t a military-specific student loan forgiveness program. Rather, it’s available to anyone with federal Direct Loans who's working in a public service profession — and military service qualifies.

There are lots of things to love about PSLF. It allows borrowers to receive forgiveness in as little as 10 years. And the forgiven amount isn’t subject to income tax.

You’ll need to make 120 student loan payments while working for a qualifying employer. This could be a problem unless you plan to spend 10 years in the military. If not, you’ll need to find full-time work with another qualifying employer after your discharge. Law enforcement, firefighter and park ranger jobs all tend to be popular with ex-military members, each of which qualifies for PSLF.

Related: What Counts as Full-Time Employment For PSLF?

To apply for the PSLF program, you’ll need to sign up for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. With IDR plans, your monthly payments are based on your monthly income and family size. Even if you don’t end up spending 10 years working in a public service profession, you’ll be eligible for IDR forgiveness after 20 to 25 years of payments.

Note that servicemembers have until June 30, 2024 to consolidate and get benefits under the IDR Waiver, including full cancellation.

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was passed by the Bush Administration in 2003. It includes a range of protections and benefits to active duty military personnel.

But one of the most interesting benefits included in the SCRA is a 6% interest cap on any debt incurred before enlisting in the military. This rule applies to not only student loans but every other kind of debt as well, such as credit cards, mortgages and personal loans.

What’s so interesting about this interest rate cap is that creditors are required to apply it retroactively as of the date that you were called to an active duty military operation. You may receive money back from the bank or lender for any interest you were charged above 6%.

That means you could receive forgiveness for any student loan payments you made with an annual percentage rate (APR) over 6%. And if you have high-interest credit card debt, you could receive a hefty payment back from your credit card issuer that could be put toward your student loans.

0% interest on active duty

Your federal student loans could qualify for a 0% interest rate during your deployment. You'll need to have been deployed to an area of hostility and received special pay in order to qualify. Note that this benefit only applies to Direct Loans or the portion of a Direct Consolidation Loan that was used to repay loans that were taken out on or after October 1, 2008.

The 0% interest rate is available for as many months as you serve in an area of hostile fire, up to a maximum of 60 months. Once again, the 0% interest rate can be applied retroactively. Even if you’re no longer serving in a hostile area, it’s not too late for you to apply for this benefit.

Note that many private lenders offer active duty military deferment as well. If you have private student loans, it's worth checking with your lender to see if this one of the benefits they provide.

Note that thanks to the Heroes Act waiver, active duty service members also aren't required to submit an annual employment certification form for income-driven repayment plans. So even if your income goes up, your monthly payments can stay the same until you've finished your deployment.

National Defense Student Loan Discharge

National Defense Student Loan Discharge (NDSLD) is only available to borrowers who have National Defense Student Loans or Perkins Loans.

If you have either of these, you may qualify for partial student loan forgiveness. You also need to have served at least one full year in an area of hostile fire or imminent danger.

Due to the limited number of student loan types that are eligible, denials are common with NDSLD. But if you think you meet the requirements, you can apply by sending a copy of your DD 214 discharge form to your servicer.

Veterans Total and Permanent Disability Discharge

If you were permanently disabled while serving in the military, you could have all of your student loans forgiven through the Department of Education’s total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge program.

To qualify, you’ll need to provide documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The letter from the VA will need to state that you either have a service-connected disability that is 100% disabling or that you’re totally disabled based on an individual unemployability rating.

Branch-specific military student loan forgiveness programs

Below is a complete list of the branch-specific military college loan repayment programs for the Army, Navy, and Air Force (unfortunately the Marine Corps doesn't currently offer any CLRPs).

With each of these programs, you'll want to make sure that they are included as a provision of your enlistment. If you don't see the benefit explicitly mentioned on your enlistment contract, ask your recruiter to add it in before you agree to sign.

Army student loan forgiveness

The Army College Repayment Program pays up to $65,000 of your student loan debt (less taxes) for solider who meet the program's eligibility criteria. You’ll need to have a score of 50 or higher on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). You'll also need to serve in an eligible MOS to qualify.

The Army will pay 33.3% of your outstanding student loan balance or $1,500 — whichever is greater — for a total of three years. Soldiers must agree to a service term of three years or more.

Army Reserve student loan forgiveness

The Army Reserve College Loan Repayment Program pays up to $20,000 of a soldier’s student loans. You’ll need a score of 50 or higher on the ASVAB and must serve in an eligible MOS to qualify.

The Army will pay 15% of your outstanding student loan balance or $1,500, whichever is greater. Service members must also enlist for a minimum of six years.

National Guard student loan forgiveness

The National Guard Student Loan Repayment Program pays up to $20,000 of a service member’s student loans. You’ll need a score of 50 or higher on the ASVAB to qualify. You’ll also need to serve in an eligible MOS.

The Army will pay 15% of your outstanding student loan balance or $1,500, whichever is greater. And the National Guard will pay this amount for each year of service.

Navy student loan forgiveness

The Navy Student Loan Repayment Program (LRP) pays up to $65,000 toward your student loan debt. For sailors to qualify, they must enlist in the delayed entry program as active duty and have an eligible rating.

The Navy will pay 33.3% of your outstanding student loan balance or $1,500 — whichever is greater — for up to three years of service. However, 25% to 33% of your annual LRP award will be withheld for taxes.

Air Force student loan forgiveness

Unfortunately, the Air Force doesn't currently have a CLRP program for new enlistees. At one time, it offered up to $10,000 of loan repayment via this program (still less than the Army and Navy). But right now, this benefit isn’t available.

However, the Air Force offers student loan repayment if you’re a legal professional, in an effort to incentivize becoming an Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG).

Attorneys who serve as JAG officers are eligible for up to $65,000 toward student loan repayment, for up to three years. Benefits can begin after you’ve completed your first year of service.

Medical professionals student loan forgiveness

If you’re a health professional, you may be able to qualify for up to $40,000 of student loan repayment per year under the Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP).

The following health professionals qualify for the program:

  • Physicians who have completed post-graduate training in family practice medicine, general internal medicine, general pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, psychiatry or osteopathic general practice
  • Dentists practicing in general or pediatric dentistry
  • Nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners and physician assistants practicing in primary care specialties
  • Registered nurses
  • Dental hygienists
  • Mental health providers, including licensed clinical social workers, clinical psychologists and professional counselors

You also must agree to serve in an area of critical need. If you’re interested in taking advantage of this program, talk to your recruiter for more information.

Summary

Our military members have to shoulder a heavy burden. But thankfully, student loan debt is one burden you can find relief from.

Whether you’ve served our country in the past or are still on active duty, student debt doesn’t have to weigh you down. There are military student and veteran student loan forgiveness programs designed just for you.

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