Now that the pandemic-related pause on federal student loan repayment has ended, you may be wondering if there are any grants or scholarships to help you pay down, further delay, or even forgive some or all of your student loan debt. The answer is yes. While some grants and programs are targeted to borrowers with financial need or who work in a certain field, others are open to anyone. Read on to learn how to find “free money” to help you manage your student loan debt.
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Federal Government Grants
There are a number of grant programs that are available from the U.S. Department of Education that can help people pay off their student loans or reduce the amount of debt they owe.
Government grants are funds given out by the federal government or other organizations that do not have to be repaid. Below are some popular grant programs you may be able to tap while you are still in school.
Federal Pell Grant
The Federal Pell Grant is a financial aid program for students who are still enrolled in undergraduate courses at an accredited college or university and who demonstrate need. It does not have to be repaid and can cover up to the full cost of attendance.
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant
This program provides financial assistance to individuals pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in education. The TEACH Grant offers up to $4,000 per year for students enrolled in eligible educational programs at accredited universities. However, to maintain your TEACH grant, you have to work in a high-need field or at a low-income school for at least four years. If you don’t, the grant turns into a loan you must repay.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant
The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant is designed to help students whose parents or guardians died due to service in Iraq or Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. To qualify, you need to be under 24 and demonstrate financial need based on information submitted in your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). This grant has to be applied for on an annual basis in order to receive the funds.
💡 Quick Tip: Ready to refinance your student loan? With SoFi’s no-fee loans, you could save thousands.
State & Local Grants
Many states offer grants that can help residents pay off their student loans. In some cases, you need to work in a certain field and/or in an underserved area. For example, the New York State Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program provides loan forgiveness awards to individuals who get an undergraduate degree from an approved New York State college or university and agree to operate a farm in the state on a full-time basis for five years.
California’s Department of Health Care Access and Information , on the other hand, offers a range of loan repayment programs for those working in the healthcare field, including doctors, therapists, dentists, and more.
No matter what field you are in, it can pay to research loan repayment opportunities in your state. This tool on the Department of Education’s website can help you find the agency that distributes education grants in your state.
Recommended: Search Grants and Scholarships by State
Private Scholarships to Pay off Student Debt
There are actually numerous private grants and scholarships that can help you pay off your student loans. Aid might be need-based, merit-based, or a combination of both. You can also look for private funding options using a search engine like Fastweb or FinAid. SoFi also offers a Scholarship Search Tool.
To uncover more obscure scholarships, you may want to reach out directly to companies and organizations you have some connection to. This might include:
• Family members’ employers and associations
• Community service groups with whom you’ve volunteered
• Identity/heritage groups listed on Scholarships.com
• Religious communities you’re involved with
While private scholarships can be small, if you can piece together a few, you may be able to make a significant dent in your student debt.
Recommended: Finding & Applying to Scholarships for Grad School
Student Debt Forgiveness Programs
While the Biden Administration’s broad, one-time loan forgiveness program was struck down by the Supreme Court in June 2023, the President has announced plans to pursue a similar initiative through the federal rulemaking process. In the meantime, here are some other loan forgiveness options you may want to explore.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
If you’re employed by a government or not-for-profit organization, you might be eligible for the government’s Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. The PSLF Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you’ve made the equivalent of 120 qualifying monthly payments under an accepted repayment plan, while working full-time for an eligible employer.
To see if your employer qualifies and to apply for the PSLF program, you can use the PSFL Tool on the Department of Education’s website.
If you have private student loans, however, you aren’t eligible for the PSLF program
Income-Driven Loan Forgiveness
An income-driven repayment plan sets your monthly federal student loan payment at an amount that is intended to be affordable based on your income and family size. Not only that, it forgives your remaining loan balance after 20 or 25 years of payments. The Department of Education currently offers four income-driven repayment plans:
• Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE Plan)
• Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE Plan)
• Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR Plan)
• Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR Plan)
The newly announced Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan will eliminate the REPAYE Plan by July 2024. According to the Department of Education, the new SAVE plan can significantly decrease your monthly payment amount compared to all other income-driven repayment plans. If you enroll (or already are enrolled) in the REPAY plan, you will be automatically switched over to SAVE.
If you’d like to repay your federal student loans under an income-driven plan, you need to fill out an application at StudentAid.gov.
Recommended: Student Loan Debt Guide
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program will pay up to $17,500 on your Federal Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized Loans. To receive this loan benefit, you must be employed as a full-time qualified teacher for five consecutive academic years at a low-income school or educational service agency.
If you are a teacher interested in learning more about the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, you can go to this federal webpage.
Armed Forces Loan Payment Programs
Many branches of the United States military offer loan payment programs that can help you pay off your federal student loans. Programs include:
• Air Force JAG Program
• Army College Loan Repayment
• Army Reserve Loan Repayment
• National Guard Loan Repayment
• Navy Student Loan Repayment
While each military loan repayment program works in a slightly different way, these grants can potentially pay off a significant portion (or even all) of your student loan debt.
Corporate Loan Repayment Grants
Another way you may be able to get student loan repayment help is to simply ask your boss. Many companies now offer help with student loan repayment as a job perk. As more and more employees struggle with debt, employers have started to offer these benefit programs in order to attract and retain top-notch talent.
In some cases, a company will make regular, direct payments to your student loan servicer or lender on your behalf. In others, an employer may offer to contribute to your retirement if you put a certain percentage of your paycheck toward student loans. Wondering if your employer offers the same perks? Check with HR to see if you can take advantage of a company-wide loan repayment benefit program.
Student Loan Refinancing
One way to potentially make both your public and your private loans more affordable is to consider student loan refinancing.
With a student loan refinance, you exchange one or more of your old loans for a new one, ideally with a lower rate or better terms. This process can be helpful if you have a solid credit score (or have a cosigner who does), since it might qualify you for a lower interest rate. In addition, you could choose a shorter repayment term to get out of debt faster.
You can refinance both federal and private student loans. Keep in mind, however, that refinancing federal student loans can result in a loss of certain borrower protections, such as income-driven repayment and student loan forgiveness. Because of this, you’ll want to consider the potential downsides of refinancing before making changes to your debt.
💡 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.
While you may think of grants as a way to help finance your education while you are in school, there are grants (as well as scholarships and other programs) available that can also help you repay your student loans. Options include federal and state programs, private/corporate grants, and federal loan forgiveness and repayment plans. Another option that could potentially make student repayment more manageable is 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.
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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