There are several options for teachers seeking to reduce their student loan debt, including loan forgiveness, cancellation, or certain grants. For example, teachers may qualify for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), and Perkins Loans Cancellation for Teachers. Also, there are state and local loan forgiveness, cancellation, or grant programs. We’ll discuss these options in more depth below.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
Up to $5,000 or up to $17,500, depending on the subject area taught.
Which loans might qualify:
Direct (or Stafford) Loans, both subsidized and unsubsidized, and FFEL Program Loans. For borrowers with Direct Consolidation Loans, the outstanding portion of the consolidation loan that repaid an eligible Direct Subsidized Loan, Direct Unsubsidized Loan, Subsidized Federal Stafford Loan, or Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan may qualify as well. Learn more here .
• Teaching at a low-income school; you can search for a school in this directory
• Teaching for five complete and consecutive academic years
• Existing student loans cannot be in default
The maximum amount that a borrower can have forgiven under this program depends on the role and subject taught. Teachers are eligible to receive up to the highest forgivable amount, $17,500, if they are considered “highly qualified” as defined by the program and are full-time math or science teachers in an eligible school. Teachers working in special education that meet specific requirements may also qualify to have the higher amount forgiven.
Teachers are eligible to receive up to $5,000 if they are a “highly qualified” full-time elementary teacher or a full-time secondary school teacher in all other subject areas.
What does “highly qualified” mean? That the borrower has a full state certification as a teacher or has passed the state teacher licensing exam. With a few exceptions, you must also hold a state license.
How to apply:
Teachers are not eligible to apply until you’ve completed the five years of service. After completing this requirement, borrowers can fill out the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application. (It may be helpful to get acquainted with the application now, because it clearly explains who qualifies for what amount of forgiveness.)
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program
Up to 100% of the remaining loan balance.
Which loans qualify:
Direct Loans, also known as Stafford Loans, and Direct Consolidation Loans
• Must be in certain public sector jobs and employed full-time
• Must have made 120 qualifying payments (this takes 10 years if the borrower makes them consecutively)
• Payments must be made as part of an income-driven repayment plan
• Existing student loans cannot be in default
Unlike with the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application , teachers don’t need to teach for a low-income school or within a particular academic subject when applying for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) .
The requirements for this program are that the borrower is employed by the government on a local, state, or federal level, or work for certain non-profit organizations that provide a qualifying public service—such as general education services.
To qualify for PSLF, borrowers must be on an income-driven repayment plan. An income-driven repayment plan will lower the monthly payment in accordance with the borrower’s income. This payment plan is required because under the standard repayment plan, the loans would be paid in full after 120 payments.
Sometimes, there is confusion about which forgiven loan balances are taxable and which aren’t. If a borrower meets the qualifications for PSLF, the forgiven amount will not be taxed. Borrowers who are utilizing an income-driven repayment plan to have their loans forgiven after 20 or 25 years (without participation in the PSLF program), it is possible that the forgiven amount will be taxed as income. To understand more about these tax nuances, consult a licensed tax advisor.
To qualify for PSLF, the 120 qualifying monthly payments do not need to be consecutive. For example, if a borrower has a period of employment with a non-qualifying employer, they will not lose credit for any prior qualifying payments made with a PSLF-approved employer.
While it is possible to partake in both the Teacher Loan Cancellation Program and PSLF, it’s not possible to do so concurrently. For example, your five years of service under the Teacher Loan Cancellation Program would not count toward your qualification for PSLF—you would have to qualify for PSLF under a different period of teaching service. Furthermore, payments made when working toward the Teacher Loan Cancellation Program would not qualify for PSLF—you would have to make 120 additional qualifying payments for the PSLF program.
Borrowers may want to turn in the PSLF Employment Certification as soon as they are eligible to be certain that their employment qualifies for the program. Once received by the Department of Education, the borrower will receive a response telling them whether or not they qualify, and if they don’t, what needs to be done to qualify. If the borrower does qualify, they will tell them how many qualifying payments have already been made and how many need to be made.
Every time someone switches jobs, they’ll need to send in an updated Employment Certification form. Otherwise, borrowers will be required to submit an Employment Certification form for each of their previous employers when they apply for forgiveness.
Once a borrower has received notification that their PSLF Employment Certification has been approved, they’ll want to continue making those on-time student loan payments. After making 120 payments, they can apply for forgiveness.
Perkins Loans Cancellation for Teachers
Up to 100% of the loan, done in increments over a five-year period.
Which loans qualify:
Federal Perkins Loans (The Federal Perkins Loan program expired in September 2017, but loans disbursed through the program may still qualify.)
A minimum one year of teaching and at least one of the following requirements:
• Teaching at a low-income school; search for a school in this directory
• Teaching science, math, foreign languages, bilingual studies, or special education
• Teaching a subject that has a shortage of qualified teachers in your state
• Teaching in a school operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or on a qualifying Indian reservation
Those who are eligible for the Perkins Loans Cancellation for Teachers may have all of their Perkins Loans forgiven. The catch is, cancellation happens in stair-step increments over five years. And in order to qualify for this program, an employee must work directly for the school system—qualifying is entirely contingent on position duties. Here’s how the incremental forgiveness system works:
• 15% of the original Perkins loan balance is canceled per year for the first and second years of service
• 20% is canceled in both the third and fourth years
• 30% is canceled in the fifth year
Each school has its own process, so borrowers should contact the school that administered the Perkins Loan.
State and Local Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
Some states offer loan forgiveness programs for teachers, especially for those that work in subject areas in high need. One place to start your search for a state and local teacher loan forgiveness program is through this database created by the American Federation of Teachers.
What About My Other Student Loans?
So far, all of the programs we’ve discussed only apply to federal loans. What can be done if borrowers have other loans (like private loans) that don’t qualify for federal teacher loan forgiveness?
One option is to look into refinancing the student loans. When a borrower refinances a student loan or multiple loans, they are essentially paying those loans off with a new loan from a new lender. Ideally, the new loan has a more competitive interest rate than the existing loan(s), which could potentially save the borrower money over the life of the loan.
Borrowers can refinance both private and federal student loans, so it is an option for teachers who don’t have loans that qualify for one of the federal forgiveness or cancellation programs.
Because refinancing happens with a private lender (not the government), a borrower would lose federal loan benefits such as access to the PSLF program and the Teacher Loan Cancellation Program.
Teachers with federal student loans may be able to pursue loan forgiveness through programs like Teacher Loan Forgiveness or Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Borrowers who hold Perkins Loans may also be able to pursue Perkins Loan Cancellation for Teachers.
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