If your student loan monthly payments are unmanageable and a source of major stress, student loan forgiveness can be an attractive option to lessen the burden of debt.
There are many types of student loan forgiveness programs. You can get your student loans forgiven by meeting a program’s criteria and submitting all requested documentation on time. Eligibility for forgiveness is extremely specific and often times takes a number of years and payments on a particular repayment plan.
You can apply for various types of forgiveness through government or state applications. But what programs are out there and how exactly do you apply?
In this 2021 guide, we’ll cover how to get student loans forgiven through the biggest and most popular student loan forgiveness programs.
2021 Federal student loan forgiveness programs
If you have federal student loans issued by the Department of Education, there are various federal student loan forgiveness programs you may be eligible for.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Do you have a job in the public sector working for the government or a nonprofit? They are likely a qualifying employer, which makes you eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
In the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, public sector employees who are federal student loan borrowers can receive loan forgiveness after completing 10 years of service and 120 qualifying payments. Your payments do not have to be in consecutive order, but they must be made on an income-driven repayment plan.
In order to qualify, you must submit a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Employment Certification Form each year. Then at the end of 10 years, submit the formal Public Service Loan Forgiveness application.
One major perk of this program is that your forgiven loans are not considered taxable income. No matter the amount forgiven or tax bracket, your loans will be forgiven outright without any tax consequences.
If you don’t qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you may qualify for the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (TEPSLF).
Income-driven repayment forgiveness
There are four income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. These plans allow student loan borrowers to pay 10% to 15% of their discretionary income for 20 to 25 years. The different types of IDR plans are:
- Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR)
- Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR)
- Pay As You Earn (PAYE)
- Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)
Depending on your plan and eligibility, if you have a student loan balance after making consistent payments over the 20 to 25 year repayment period, you can get your loans forgiven.
However, the forgiven amount is considered taxable income. Since you’ll be responsible for paying taxes on this amount, be sure to prepare financially for a future “tax-bomb.”
You can use our IDR calculator to determine which plan makes the most sense for you.
Parent PLUS loan borrowers aren’t eligible for income-driven repayment plans. However, if they consolidate their loans using a federal Direct Consolidation Loan they can qualify for the Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR).
Teacher Loan Forgiveness
Are you a teacher working in a low-income school or some type of educational service agency? You could be eligible for forgiveness and receive up to $17,500.
In order to get Teacher Loan Forgiveness:
- You must not have any balances on Direct or Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL Loans) as of October 1, 1998 (Federal Perkins Loans and PLUS loans also don’t qualify for this program).
- You must teach full-time for five consecutive academic years at a low-income elementary school or secondary school.
- You must be deemed a “highly qualified teacher.”
- Your school must be in the Annual Directory of Designated Low-Income Schools for Teacher Cancellation Benefits (Low-Income School Directory) in order to qualify for this program.
All teachers must have the proper degrees and state certifications. Considerations for “highly qualified teachers” vary based on the grade level you teach.
You can read more of the requirements listed on the Student Aid website.
How much will be forgiven?
Though the program provides student loan forgiveness of up to $17,500, the amount you get forgiven will depend on the subject matter you teach.
Math, science and special education teachers may be eligible for the full amount. If you are not under that umbrella, you may be eligible for up to $5,000.
After five years of service at a low-income elementary school, you can submit the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application to receive student loan forgiveness.
Federal Perkins loan cancellation
Federal Perkins loan borrowers could have up to 100% of their loans forgiven by working as a teacher. In order to qualify, you must teach at a low-income school or work in special education, teach math, science or any other subject in need.
Teachers who qualify can get their loans forgiven over a period of five years. After each year, a percentage of your loans can be forgiven (these amounts can cover interest as well):
- 15% for year one and year two
- 20% for year three and year four
- 30% for year five
Other professions may be eligible for cancellation too. For example, borrowers who were in the military, a corrections officer, firefighter or librarian may also be eligible to have a portion of their loans forgiven.
You can review this chart provided by the Federal Student Aid website to see the professions that qualify as well as the amount forgiven.
When you’re ready to get your loans forgiven you must contact the school that provided the loan or the Perkins loan servicer. They can assist you with the forms to fill out in order to get Perkins Loan cancellation.
How to qualify for student loan forgiveness
In order to qualify, you will want to recertify your plan every year by submitting an income-driven repayment plan application.
Stay on top of your recertification and keep in touch with your loan servicer. This will help you score student loan forgiveness if there’s still a balance at the end of the repayment period.
The downside of this type of student loan forgiveness is that you could be hit with a tax bill. If the amount forgiven is considered taxable income, you should plan to start saving for taxes now.
Your loans may also qualify for forgiveness under borrower defense to repayment. This applies to borrowers who can prove they have been misled or told misinformation by their schools. Misinformation could be in relation to educational programs or their loans. Unlawful conduct by the school can also qualify your loans for forgiveness.
Total and permanent disability discharge
If you are disabled, you may be eligible to get your federal student loans forgiven through Total and Permanent Disability discharge (TPD).
In order to qualify, you would need to submit a TPD discharge application and provide additional documentation of your disability. You can get this documentation from:
- A doctor
- The Social Security Administration
- The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
Depending on the source of your documentation, there are different requirements. For example, you must get certification from a doctor who can confirm that your disability has lasted for five years or is expected to continue for five years.
For Veterans Affairs, the office can show documentation that you have received a service-related disability designation.
Borrowers who are on Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income can show the notice of award document from the Social Security Administration or the Benefits Planning Query.
This shows that your disability review will occur five to seven years or more after your disability designation.
How to qualify for student loan forgiveness by profession
Depending on your profession, there may be specific student loan forgiveness programs that you are eligible for. See below for various programs available, by profession.
Being a healthcare professional– whether you’re a doctor, a dentist with student loans, nurse, etc.– can be a rewarding job, but one that comes with a lot of debt. Luckily there are several student loan forgiveness programs designed just for healthcare professionals.
1. The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program
The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program (NHSC LRP) offers student loan repayment assistance to primary care clinicians in a variety of fields.
In exchange for a two-year service commitment, applicants who work full-time can receive between up to $30,000 to $50,000 depending on where they serve.
Who is eligible for this program?
- Allopathic physicians (MD) — including psychiatry
- Osteopathic physicians (DO) — including psychiatry
- Physician’s Assistant (PA) — including mental health and psychiatry
- Nurse Practitioners (NP) — including mental health and psychiatry
- Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM)
- Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
- Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD)
- Dental Hygienists
- Health Service Psychologists (HSP)
- Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW)
- Psychiatric Nurse Specialists (PNS)
- Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT)
- Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC)
In order to qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen, licensed to serve at a NHSC-site and be a provider in the Medicaid, Medicare system as well as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
You can submit your application online. The application process and providing supporting documents can take up to three weeks. You can find more program information and how to apply on the NHSC website.
2. Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program
Registered nurses who work full-time in a qualified Critical Shortage Facility should keep tabs on this program.
If you fulfill this criteria and work in a designated high need area may be eligible for the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program.
If accepted to this program, applicants can get 60% of their student loans forgiven with a two-year service commitment. It’s possible to get an additional 25% of your student loans forgiven with a third year of service.
This program is currently not taking applications but check back with the HRSA for updates.
3. Faculty Loan Repayment Program
Healthcare professionals that want to explore teaching can get loan repayment assistance through the Faculty Loan Repayment Program.
Under this program, applicants can receive up to $40,000 for a two-year service commitment.
To qualify, applicants need to be from an economically or environmentally “disadvantaged” background, have a qualified degree, and a commitment to serve as a faculty member for a minimum of two years.
Applications are currently closed but check the Faculty Loan Repayment Program page for updates.
4. Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program
The Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program offers a variety of healthcare professionals — from counselors to dentists, optometrists to dieticians and more — up to $40,000 in student loan repayment assistance for a two-year service commitment.
Applicants must work in eligible facilities that serve American Indian as well as Alaska Native communities.
The great part about this program is that applicants can renew their contract each year until their student loans are paid off. You can apply on the Indian Health Service website.
5. NIH Loan Repayment Programs
The NIH Loan Repayment Programs offer student loan repayment assistance for health professionals pursuing careers in biomedical or biobehavioral research.
In exchange for working in research that supports the mission of the National Institute of Health, applicants get up to $50,000 each year for their student loans.
It’s no secret that lawyers can take on a hefty amount of student loans. Lawyers that work in the public sector or legal aid may be eligible for student loan repayment assistance with the following programs.
1. John R. Justice Program
2. The Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program
The Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program offers student loan assistance to lawyers working with the Department of Justice.
In exchange for a three-year service commitment, applicants can receive up to $6,000 per year. In total, the award cannot exceed $60,000.
3. Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program
Under the Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program, eligible candidates can receive up to $5,600 per year in student loan repayment assistance for up to three years.
Attorneys must be one of the grantees of Legal Services Corporation and have $75,000 in student loan debt or more. The program is a lottery system and awards up to 125 attorneys each year.
4. State-sponsored LRAPs
Aside from general law-related repayment programs, you may be able to find some student loan assistance specific to your state. Of course each state will have their own eligibility requirements, but there are many options for lawyers working in the public sector.
According to the American Bar, there are 24 state-sponsored LRAPs. The states include:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
You can find more information on the program details through the American Bar site.
The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) offers eligible veterinarians with student loans up to $25,000 in student loan repayment assistance. This amount is offered each year for up to three years. To qualify, veterinarians must work in a qualified shortage area. Apply here.
Also, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation has a list of state-specific loan repayment assistance programs in:
- North Dakota
The professions listed above have the most robust student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance options.
In addition, teachers also have available state-specific loan forgiveness options. The American Federation of Teachers has a searchable database that you can check out.
All other professions’ loan forgiveness options may be limited.
State-sponsored loan repayment programs
Depending on where you live, there may be state-sponsored loan repayment programs available. The programs can be geared toward certain professions, such as law or healthcare fields, and have restrictions on which type of employment qualifies.
Here are some of the most noteworthy options with the highest level of forgiveness as well as programs in the most populated states.
Arizona has two State Loan Repayment Programs (SLRP) for borrowers looking for student loan forgiveness. Programs offered by the state include:
- Primary Care Provider Loan Repayment Program (PCPLRP)
- Rural Private Primary Care Provider Loan Repayment Program (RPPCPLRP)
The PCPLRP is designed for healthcare providers who work in Health Professional Shortage Areas. The RPPCPLRP is geared toward healthcare providers in rural areas that are underserved.
How to qualify
To qualify for the program you must be an MD, DO, pharmacist, dentist, and other behavioral health providers. There are options for both full-time and half-time employees.
The award amount varies depending on where you are serving. You’ll get student loan repayment assistance over five years. The first two years of the program, you may qualify for between $52,000 and $65,000. The amount you get in subsequent years goes down.
If you’re interested, you can fill out an application online.
The California State Loan Repayment Program offers up to $50,000 for a variety of healthcare professionals that work in underserved areas. The service requirement is working full-time for two years or half-time for four years.
Applicants must be licensed in the state and practice at an eligible site to get the award. You can apply for the California SLRP online.
The Steven M. Thompson Loan Repayment Program offers up to $105,000 in exchange for three years of service in a shortage area. Applicants must be newly licensed physicians or surgeons to qualify.
The CDA Foundation Student Loan Repayment Grant program is geared toward dentists working in designated shortage areas. Under this student loan repayment assistance program, dentists can get up to $35,000 to $105,000 in exchange for three years of service.
The Colorado Health Service Corps offers student loan repayment assistance to a variety of healthcare professionals such as physicians and dentists.
In exchange for a three-year service commitment at an eligible site, applicants can receive between $20,000 and $90,000 for full-time work, depending on profession.
The Delaware Student Loan Repayment Program is available to healthcare professionals who work in underserved areas. Applicants could receive up to $30,000 to $100,000 for a two-year service commitment.
The Florida Bar Foundation offers lawyers working in legal aid up to $5,000 per year. This organization works with full-time and half-time employees who work in legal aid for 12 months at a time a qualified organization. You can find more program information and how to apply here.
Florida also offers the Nursing Student Loan Forgiveness Program offers nurses loan repayment assistance of up to $4,000 per year for up to four years. In order to qualify, nurses must work at an eligible site such as a public school, health department, and other qualified locations. You can find more program information and how to apply here.
The Veterans’ Home Medical Providers’ Loan Repayment Program offers medical providers who work in veterans’ homes up to $5,000 for a maximum of four years. Applicants must meet specific licensing requirements to qualify. You can find more program information and how to apply here.
The Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program is similar to that program. It also offers up to $5,000 for a maximum of four years. To qualify for this, applicants must be a nurse educator and have instruction experience at a qualified institution. You can find more program information and how to apply here.
New York borrowers have as many as nine student loan forgiveness programs to help manage student loan debt. Below are some of the more notable programs when looking for ways to get student loans forgiven.
The NYS Licensed Social Worker Loan Forgiveness Program offers licensed social workers who work in critical services like mental health, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS up to $26,000 in repayment assistance. Applicants can receive $6,500 each year for up to four years.
If you’re a nurse, New York could be a good place to be. The Nursing Faculty Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program offers nursing faculty up to $40,000. Applicants can receive up to $8,000 per year for five years.
If you’re a farmer, there’s even student loan forgiveness for you. The New York State Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program offers farmers in New York State up to $50,000. Applicants can earn $10,000 each year for up to five years. You can find more program information and how to apply here.
Like New York, Texas offers borrowers as many as nine state-sponsored student loan forgiveness programs. Below is information and updates on specific programs within the state.
Under the Physician Education Loan Repayment Program, physicians could be eligible for up to $180,000 in exchange for fours of service in a shortage area. The amount you get each year is a percentage that goes up incrementally.
Other programs like Border County Doctoral Faculty Education Loan Repayment Program and St. David’s Foundation Public Health Corps Loan Repayment Program offer more robust forgiveness options, but aren’t currently open for applications.
How to get student loans forgiven
As you can see, there are numerous student loan forgiveness options available.
Many are also based on location, profession or need. It’s important to read through the fine print, eligibility requirements and submit fully completed applications.
Applying for student loan forgiveness
Each student loan forgiveness program has it’s own qualifications, forms and application processes.
Make sure you are aware of all requirements and fill out application forms carefully. Be sure to utilize automated reminders for documents that are due annually, like the Employment Certification Form for PSLF.
Getting your information together and applying for one of these programs can help free up some stress and get you the student loan repayment assistance you need.
Need additional help? You’re not alone. Get in touch for a student loan consult with one of our student loan consultants. We’ve advised thousands of professionals like you with five and six figure student loan burdens how to utilize student loan forgiveness in the most efficient way. We’d love to reduce your student loan anxiety so you can focus on what’s important!
How can I get rid of student loans without paying?
You can opt for student loan forgiveness if you’re a federal student loan borrower and don’t want to pay back all of your debt. You must qualify and apply to receive forgiveness.
What happens if I can’t pay my student loans?
If you can’t pay your student loans you should reach out to your loan servicer to see about deferment and forbearance options.