Student Loan Forgiveness for Firefighters

By Julia Califano · December 26, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Student Loan Forgiveness for Firefighters

Student loan payments are a heavy burden for many people working in public service. The pandemic-related pause on payment and interest accrual on student loans offered many firefighters relief from their student loan payments. But in October 2023, student loan payments resumed. Now, many borrowers, including firefighters, are struggling. About 40% of all federal borrowers missed their first payments.

Don’t let stress make you put off taking action on your debt. There are actually a number of relief programs that can help firefighters lower their monthly payments, even get the balance of their loans forgiven. Here’s a guide to help you navigate your forgiveness and repayment options.

Understanding Student Loan Forgiveness for Firefighters

If you’re hoping to become a firefighter, or already working as one, you’ve made a noble choice. Besides putting out local blazes, firefighters also rescue victims, educate the public on fire prevention, attend to medical emergencies, and respond to disasters.

While working as a first responder can be rewarding, repaying your student loans can be a challenge on a firefighter’s salary. The good news is that firefighters have options for student loan assistance and forgiveness, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness, income-driven repayment plans, consolidation, and refinancing. What follows is an overview of student loan forgiveness and relief programs for firefighters.


💡 Quick Tip: Often, the main goal of refinancing is to lower the interest rate on your student loans — federal and/or private — by taking out one loan with a new rate to replace your existing loans. Refinancing makes sense if you qualify for a lower rate and you don’t plan to use federal repayment programs or protections.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness for Firefighters

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program cancels qualifying student loans for individuals, including firefighters and emergency medical personnel, who have worked in public service for 10 years and have made 120 payments on their loans. If you’re eligible, this can be one of the best ways to get loan forgiveness as a firefighter.

Qualifying Criteria for Firefighters Under This Program

To qualify for PSLF, you need to be employed full time by a federal, state, local, or tribal government or qualifying not-for-profit organization. You can use the Department of Education’s employer search tool to see if your employer qualifies for PSLF.

In addition, you must:

•   Have federal Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans into a Direct Loan)

•   Repay your loans under an income-driven repayment plan or a 10-year Standard Repayment Plan

•   Make a total of 120 qualifying monthly payments that need not be consecutive

Note that payments that would have been due during the pandemic-related pause count toward PSLF as long as you meet all other qualifications. You will get credit as though you made monthly payments.

If you have Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), Federal Perkins Loans, or student loans from private lenders, these do not qualify for PSLF. However, you do have other relief and repayment options (more on those below).

Steps to Apply and Track Progress for Loan Forgiveness

To be considered for PSLF, you’ll need to submit a PSLF form. The easiest way to do this is by using the government’s PSLF Help Tool.

You can use this tool to request that your employer’s eligibility be reviewed (if it is not already in the government’s database), prepare and sign your PSLF form, and request certification and signature from your employer.

You can log in to StudentAid.gov any time to track your PSLF progress. Keep in mind that you’ll need to certify your employment every year and any time you change employers.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans and Loan Forgiveness

If you don’t qualify for PSLF, you may find that an income-driven repayment plan helps reduce student loan payments so they fit more easily into your budget.

With an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, you make regular payments based on your income and family size for 20 or 25 years. Payments could even be $0 if you’re currently unemployed or earn less than 150% or 225% of the poverty threshold, depending on the plan you choose.

Whatever balance is left at the end of the repayment term is forgiven.

Loan Forgiveness Options Available Through Income-Driven Plans

The following income-driven repayment plans may be eligible for forgiveness:

•   Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE), which replaced the REPAYE plan

•   Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

•   Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

•   Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

All income-driven repayment plans share some similarities: Each caps payments to between 10% and 20% of your discretionary income and forgives your remaining loan balance after 20 or 25 years of payments. (With the SAVE Plan, those with undergraduate loans will see payments decreased from 10% of discretionary income to 5% starting July 2024.)

The plans also have some distinct differences, so before enrolling in any income-driven plan, you’ll want to plug your loan information into Federal Student Aid’s Loan Simulator. This will give a good idea of your monthly bills, overall costs, and forgiveness amounts under each plan.

Payments under every IDR plan count toward PSLF. If you’ll qualify for this program, choosing the plan that offers you the smallest payment is likely your best bet.

Steps to Enroll in an Income-Driven Repayment Plan

You can apply for an IDR plan online at the government’s IDR request page. You’ll need:

•   A verified FSA ID

•   Your income information

•   Your personal information (address, email, etc)

•   Your spouse’s information (if applicable)

Once you log in online, you can click “I want to enter an income-driven plan.” The application process is quick and easy and should take about 10 minutes. You can save and continue the application later, so you don’t need to finish it in a single session.

Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation for Firefighters

A Perkins Loan is a type of subsidized federal student loan based on financial need. The Perkins Loan Program ended in 2017. However, people who received a Perkins Loan are still required to pay those loans and are eligible for the benefits of the Perkins Loan Program.

As a firefighter, you may be eligible to have up to 100% of your loan balance canceled in the following increments:

•   15% per year for the first and second years of service

•   20% for the third and fourth years

•   30% for the fifth year

Eligibility Requirements for Firefighters

To be eligible for Perkins Loan cancellation, you need to be:

A firefighter with five years of full-time service employed by a federal, state, or local firefighting agency to extinguish destructive fires or provide firefighting-related services that began on or after Aug. 14, 2008.

Process to Apply for Perkins Loan Cancellation

You can apply for Perkins Loan forgiveness by contacting the school that issued the loan. The financial aid office or billing office should be able to provide the necessary paperwork.

The college will process your completed application. You will need to provide them with proof that you work for a qualifying employer as a full-time firefighter to be eligible for Perkins Loan forgiveness.

If approved, you’ll get your Perkins Loan balance, plus the interest on the loan, forgiven in five stages, provided you remain employed as a full-time firefighter.

While you are enrolled in the Perkins Loan forgiveness program, you don’t have to make monthly loan payments. If you stop working for a qualified employer as a full-time firefighter, however, loan payments will resume right away.

Loan Consolidation for Firefighters

If you have multiple federal student loans and want to simplify repayment, you might consider federal loan consolidation. If you have FFEL, Perkins, or parent PLUS loans, you will need to consolidate to be eligible for income-driven repayment, public service loan forgiveness. or other relief programs.

When you consolidate federal loans, the government pays them off and replaces them with a Direct Consolidation Loan. Your new fixed interest rate will be the weighted average of your previous rates, rounded up to the next one-eighth of 1%. Your new loan term could range from 10 to 30 years, depending on your total student loan balance.

You can access the direct consolidation loan application at StudentAid.gov. You’ll need to finish the application in one session, so you’ll want to gather the documents listed in the “What do I need?” section before you start, and set aside about 30 minutes to fill it out.

During the application process, you’ll get the opportunity to choose a repayment plan. You can either get a repayment timeline based on your loan balance or pick one that ties payments to income. If you pick an IDR plan, you’ll need to next fill out an IDR plan request.

Loan Refinance for Firefighters

If you have higher-interest federal or private student loans, you may be able to refinance your debt with another lender to get a lower interest rate, lower monthly payments, or both. Be cautious about extending your loan term to get lower payments, however. Longer loan terms could mean you’ll pay more interest over time.

Refinancing involves taking out a new loan with a private lender and using it to pay off your existing student loans. While your credit rating doesn’t matter when you take out a federally-backed student loan or consolidate federal student loans, you’ll need a solid credit score and record of stable employment to qualify to refinance a student loan with a new lender. Generally, borrowers with excellent credit get lower interest rates and better loan terms.

You can often shop around and “browse rates” without any impact to your credit scores (prequalifying typically involves a soft credit check). Just keep in mind that refinancing federal loans with a private lender means losing access to government protections like IDR plans and student loan forgiveness programs.


💡 Quick Tip: Refinancing could be a great choice for working graduates who have higher-interest graduate PLUS loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and/or private loans.

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The Takeaway

As a full-time or volunteer firefighter, the return to repayment of federal student loans after a nearly three-and-a-half-year pause may be putting a significant strain on your budget. We want to help you figure out your best plan of attack on debt. Some options that may be able to help ease the burden of repayment for firefighters include PSLF, IDR plans, consolidating, and refinancing.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.


With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.



SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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