College students are graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, which can make it difficult to make monthly student loan payments, let alone get by financially each month.
For those looking to get some help, the federal government offers some potential options, including income-driven repayment plans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Or refinancing your student loans can also help you potentially lower your interest rate or your monthly payment.
One option you may not be aware of is to apply for repayment program “grants.” These grants function similarly to scholarships in that you don’t have to pay them back, at least not monetarily. Instead, post-graduation, you’ll typically agree to work in a certain field for a set period in exchange for the help.
There are several student loan repayment programs that act like grants but don’t technically refer to themselves as such. You might consider them grants to pay off student loans, however, because they don’t require you to pay back the money plus interest.
Here are a few repayment programs to look into:
National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program
Qualifying health care providers can receive up to $50,000 if they agree to a two-year commitment to work in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA).
You can apply if you’re a licensed primary care physician, nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife, physician assistant, dentist, dental hygienist, or a qualifying behavioral and mental health provider.
In addition, to be eligible for this grant you must have qualifying student loan debt and also be:
• A U.S. citizen or national
• As applicable, a provider or be eligible to be a provider in Medicare, Medicaid, or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program
• Fully trained and licensed to practice
National Institute of Mental Health Loan Repayment Program
If you work or plan to work in biomedical, behavior, social, or clinical research, you may qualify for a grant to pay off student loans up to $35,000. You can apply the award to qualifying undergraduate, graduate, or medical school loans.
In return, you’d “agree to engage in at least two years of qualified research funded by a domestic nonprofit organization,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health .
NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program
The Health Resources and Services Administration provides this program to registered nurses (RN), advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), and nurse faculty with nursing debt that meets the program’s qualifications. To qualify, you must also:
• Commit to working at least two years in an eligible Critical Shortage Facility (CSF) in a high-need area or an accredited school for nursing
• Have received your nursing education in an accredited school of nursing in the U.S.
If you qualify, you may receive up to 85% of unpaid nursing debt over three years—that’s 60% over the first two years with an option to extend to a third year for an additional 25%.
Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program
This grant is for health professionals who agree to work in an American Indian or Alaska Native community for at least two years. In exchange, you can receive up to $40,000 in grants to help pay off student loans.
Recipients also have the option to extend their contract each year until their debt is completely paid.
Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program
If you’re a veterinarian working in an area designated by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture as a “shortage area,” you may be eligible to receive up to $25,000 each year for a (minimum) three-year service commitment. The grant is reserved only for veterinary school student loan debt, however.
John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program
This program provides assistance to local, state and federal public defenders, and state prosecutors. To qualify, you would agree to work as a prosecutor or public defender for at least three years.
In return, you may be eligible to receive up to $10,000 in assistance per year up to a total of $60,000.
Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program
If you agree to a three-year service obligation with the Department of Justice as an attorney, you may be able to qualify for loan repayment assistance of up to $6,000 per year in matches based on your payments.
To be eligible, you must have at least $10,000 in qualifying federal student loan debt. The maximum amount you can possibly qualify for is $60,000 in total.
Armed Forces Repayment Programs
Each major branch of the military offers free grants to help enlisted service members pay off student loans. Here’s a high-level overview of some of the notable programs:
• Army Student Loan Repayment Program (College Loan Repayment Program): If you meet specific qualifications and are active duty, Army Reserve, or Army National Guard Soldiers, you can get up to $65,000 of your student loans repaid by the Army.
• National Guard Student Loan Repayment Program: If you enlist for a minimum of six years and satisfy other requirements , you can receive up to $50,000 in assistance.
• Navy Student Loan Repayment Program: With a three-year commitment, you may be eligible to receive up to $65,000 in repayment assistance over that time.
• Air Force JAG Student Loan Repayment Program: Once you’ve completed one year of service as a JAG officer , you may be eligible to receive up to $65,000 in grants to pay student loans over a three-year period.
Several states offer free grants to help pay student loans for borrowers who agree to live and work in the state, usually in a specific field. Here are some examples:
• New York State Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program: Eligible college graduates pursuing a career in farming who agree to operate a farm in New York state for at least five years can receive up to $10,000 per year to help pay their student loans.
• North Dakota Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Student Loan Program: Qualifying college graduates who work in STEM-related fields in North Dakota may be eligible to receive up to $1,500 per year and up to $6,000 total student loan forgiveness.
• Pennsylvania Primary Health Care Loan Repayment Program: If you’re a physician, dentist, or another practitioner who commits to two-years in an underserved area in Pennsylvania , you may be eligible to receive between $30,000 and $100,000 in student loan repayment assistance.
• California Bachelor of Science in Nursing Loan Repayment Program: RNs living in California who agree to a one-year service commitment may receive up to $10,000 to help repay their student loans. They can also renew that commitment for up to two more years and receive up to $10,000 each year they qualify.
• Maine Alfond Leaders Program: If you live in Maine and work in a STEM-designated job, you may qualify for repayment of up to half of your outstanding student loan debt, with a $60,000 maximum.
What to Do While You’re Waiting for Your Grant Money
If you qualify for a grant or student loan repayment based on your career or where you choose to work and live, the assistance can make a world of difference for your student loan repayment strategy.
But in the meantime, you’ll still have to make regular payments on your loans. One way to potentially get a lower payment or interest rate is student loan refinancing.
Depending on the terms you qualify for, you could significantly reduce the amount of money you pay in interest over the life of the loan. Or you could extend your loan term and potentially reduce your monthly payments, but that would mean you’d pay more in interest overall (longer term=more payments).
One thing to keep in mind, though: If you’re applying for grants that only apply to federal loans, you may want to hold off on refinancing, because you’ll lose your federal loan benefits when you refinance.
If you qualify to refinance with SoFi, there are no origination fees or prepayment penalties. You can even use our convenient student loan refinancing calculator to compare your current loan with a SoFi loan to get an idea of how refinancing could help you accelerate your student loan repayment.
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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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