We don’t celebrate our teachers enough. For educating our rambunctious kids and ornery teenagers, and for spending their nights and weekends creating lesson plans and grading English papers and math tests, teachers are the real heroes. (Can you imagine grading 100+ papers in a night? That is insane.)
For the teachers out there with student loans from their own schooling, you might be wondering if there is any way to access some respite from those loans. With all the hard work you’ve done to serve our youth, you’d certainly deserve it. And luckily, there are several options for teachers seeking to reduce their student loan debt through 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 your role and what subject you teach. (Have you ever heard of a program where science, math, or special education teachers qualify for loan forgiveness? This is likely the program those teachers utilized.)
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:
You are not eligible to apply until you’ve completed the five years of service. Once you have, fill out the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application . (You may find it 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 your entire 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 program , 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). In fact, you may not need to be a teacher at all.
That’s because the requirements are that you are 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, you must be on an income-driven repayment plan . An income-driven repayment plan will lower your monthly payment in accordance to your income. You must utilize one of these plans because otherwise, you’ll pay off the full loan in the standard, 10-year repayment plan.
Sometimes, there is confusion about which forgiven loan balances are taxable and which aren’t. If you meet the qualifications for PSLF and your loans are forgiven, the forgiven amount will not be taxed . If you are utilizing an income-driven repayment plan to have your 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. Of course, to understand more about these tax nuances, consult a licensed tax advisor.
To qualify for PSLF, your 120 qualifying monthly payments do not need to be consecutive. For example, if you have a period of employment with a non-qualifying employer, you will not lose credit for any prior qualifying payments you made with a PSLF-approved employer.
While it is possible to partake in both the Teacher Loan Cancellation Program and PSLF , you are not able to do so concurrently. Your five years of service under 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.
Turn in your PSLF Employment Certification as soon as you are eligible to be certain that your employment qualifies for the program. Once received by the Department of Education, they will send you a response telling you whether or not you qualify, and if you don’t, what you need to do to qualify. If you do qualify, they will tell you how many qualifying payments you’ve already made and how many more you have to go.
Every time you switch jobs, you will need to send in an updated Employment Certification form . Otherwise, you will be required to submit an Employment Certification form for each of your previous employers when you apply for forgiveness.
Once you have received notification that your PSLF Employment Certification has been approved, keep making those on-time student loan payments. Once you’ve made 120, you may 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
If you are eligible for the Perkins Loans Cancellation n for Teachers, it is possible to have all of your 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 your 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 contact the school that administered your Perkins Loan.
State and Local Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
Lots of states offer loan forgiveness programs for teachers, especially for those that work in subject areas in high need. A good 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 you do if you have other loans (like private loans) that don’t qualify for federal teacher loan forgiveness?
One option is to look into refinancing your student loans. When you refinance a student loan or multiple loans, you are essentially paying those loans off with a new loan from a new lender. Ideally, the new loan has a better interest rate than the existing loan(s), which could potentially lower the borrower’s monthly payments.
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.
You work hard as a teacher and deserve to achieve the loan forgiveness you are working towards. Good luck and a million “thank yous” for educating our next generation.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.