When people talk about student loans in the medical community, the conversation can often revolve around physicians. While it’s true that doctors have exorbitant tuition bills, the same can be said for many other medical professionals.
Pharmacists are no exception, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) annual survey data.
Pharmacy school students who graduated in 2023 borrowed $167,711 on average to finance their Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) education, according to the AACP. The vast majority (82.2%) said they had borrowed money to help pay for their PharmD program expenses.
Thankfully, being in the medical field also gives pharmacists access to multiple loan forgiveness options. Read ahead to learn about pharmacy loan forgiveness programs.
Considering Loan Forgiveness as a Pharmacist
Loan forgiveness programs exist to help incentivize graduates to pursue potentially lower-paying, but essential positions. One of the more well-known programs, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), was created in 2007 under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act.
You may qualify for PSLF if you work for a government body or 501(c)(3) nonprofit and make 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan. Working as a pharmacist for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for example, may allow you to apply for PSLF.
Private student loans are not eligible for PSLF, but private student loans may be eligible for other debt relief programs. Pharmacists conducting extramural program research for a university or U.S.-based nonprofit, for example, may qualify for debt relief under the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Program. You can receive up to $50,000 per year in federal and private student debt relief under the NIH Loan Repayment Program.
Below we provide more details about debt relief programs that can lead to pharmacist student loan forgiveness, including PSLF and the NIH Loan Repayment Program.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
If you have a PharmD degree, you may have ample opportunities to work as a pharmacist for a government employer and apply for PSLF.
As mentioned above, the PSLF program is available to eligible government and nonprofit workers with federal student loans. The stipulations require borrowers to make 120 qualifying payments over a 10-year period before becoming eligible for forgiveness. Further, the employer must be qualified by the federal government, and you must work at least 30 hours per week.
The following federal student loans are eligible for PSLF:
To qualify for PSLF, you would typically sign up for a federal income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. The Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan is one of the IDR options you can choose. (All IDR plans can end with federal student loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years, particularly if you’ve borrowed a large amount of federal education loans.)
The SAVE Plan is the most affordable repayment plan for federal student loans, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Beginning July 2024, SAVE Plan payment amounts are based on 5% of discretionary income for undergraduate loans, 10% for graduate loans, and a weighted average for borrowers who have both.
The original PSLF rules made it difficult for borrowers to receive loan forgiveness under that program, but the U.S. Department of Education announced permanent PSLF updates that took effect in July 2023.
The department previously relaxed some of the PSLF requirements for a limited time in 2021 and 2022 during the Covid-19 national emergency. Since then, the department has forgiven $45 billion in federal student debt for more than 650,000 public employees enrolled in the PSLF program, according to Education Department data.
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Can Pharmacists Get Loan Forgiveness?
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 in federal student debt for qualified loan holders in June 2023, but pharmacists can still get student loan forgiveness under a variety of programs.
Pharmacist student loan forgiveness is possible under programs like PSLF if you work for a government or nonprofit employer as a health professional. In addition to PSLF, there are specific loan repayment programs that may offer loan forgiveness for pharmacists.
Student debt refinanced with a private lender is not eligible for PSLF, but refinanced student debt may be eligible for other debt relief programs highlighted below. You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.
💡 Quick Tip: Ready to refinance your student loan? You could save thousands.
Student Loan Forgiveness and Repayment Programs for Pharmacists
Besides the PSLF, you might consider these programs that offer repayment and forgiveness help for pharmacists:
The National Health Service Corps State Loan Repayment Program
The federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has a National Health Service Corps State Loan Repayment Program that provides student debt relief to eligible pharmacists and other health professionals who work in designated Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs).
The California State Loan Repayment Program, for example, offers up to $100K in federal and private student debt relief to pharmacists who work in a qualifying role for three years.
A state-based Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) typically receives federal funding, but states can set their own SLRP eligibility requirements. This means you may not be eligible for pharmacist SLRP student debt relief in all states. It’s also worth noting that offerings may change every year and that states are not obligated to award maximum loan repayment amounts available.
Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Workforce Loan Repayment Program
Pharmacists who work at eligible substance use disorder (SUD) treatment facilities may qualify for student loan repayment assistance under the National Health Service Corps’ SUD Workforce Loan Repayment Program.
Pharmacists can receive up to $75,000 in student loan forgiveness in exchange for three years of full-time service at an approved SUD treatment facility. Such sites may include office-based opioid treatment facilities, state correctional facilities, federal prisons, and community health centers.
The National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Program
As mentioned earlier, pharmacists conducting extramural program research for an eligible employer may receive up to $50,000 annually in federal and private student debt relief through the NIH Loan Repayment Program.
Although private student loans and federal loans are eligible, you must have a sizable student debt-to-income ratio of at least 20% to qualify for an initial NIH Loan Repayment Program award. It’s possible to have all of your student debt repaid through this system, because there’s no limit to how long you can work for a qualified extramural research program.
Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program
Pharmacists who work at Indian health facilities for two years may receive up to $50,000 in student debt relief from the Indian Health Service (IHS) Loan Repayment Program. Private and federal loans are eligible for relief under this program.
Indian health facilities are hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities administered directly by IHS, a Tribal organization, or an Urban Indian program. These facilities are typically based in American Indian or Alaska Native communities. The majority of the locations are rural and remote.
💡 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.
U.S. Department of Defense Educational Loan Repayment Program
Federal law allows branches of the U.S. armed forces to repay federal student debt of enlisted members serving in specified military specialties or commissioned officers serving in specified health professions. Pharmacists who enlist in the U.S. armed forces may qualify for student loan repayment assistance under this program.
The U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, for example, may repay up to $65,000 of qualified federal student loans in good standing. Eligibility for this loan repayment program may require that you serve for three years in a critical military occupational specialty or longer.
Refinancing Your Student Loans
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.
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.
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.