Student Loan Forgiveness for Teachers: 4 Ways to Get it

Student Loan Forgiveness for Teachers: 4 Ways to Get it
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Teaching is a noble and rewarding profession, but it’s also a challenging one. Guiding young people along the path of life and teaching them new skills helps them follow their aspirations. With that said, teaching can also be replete with difficulties that need to be overcome such as paying off a student loan. Fortunately, teaching has one perk that simply can’t be underestimated: teacher loan forgiveness.

Statistics from Payscale show that the average salary for teachers in their early years of professional work is around $40,000. Meanwhile, in 2019, U.S. students are graduating with an average debt of close to $30,000 from their student loans. Clearly, teachers need all the help they can get with student loan forgiveness. But one of the best things about teaching is that there are quite a few ways to obtain forgiveness.

If you’re a teacher, you have four main ways/steps to obtain student loan forgiveness. Below, we’ll take a closer look at all four of these options, covering the eligibility requirements and providing overviews of how each system works. We’ll also take a look at a couple of other alternative options you might like to try.

# 1 – Teacher Loan Forgiveness

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is often the first option teachers consider when looking for student loan forgiveness. It can wipe out huge amounts of student debt on your direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, as well as subsidized and unsubsidized federal Stafford loans, offering up to $17,500 of forgiveness.

The Overview

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is aimed at teachers who have been in full-time work for five or more years in certain types of schools or educational agencies. It doesn’t forgive as much of your student loan debt as other options we’ll see further down the list. It comes with some relatively strict eligibility requirements, but it can be the right option for teachers in certain situations.

Eligibility Requirements for Teacher Loan Forgiveness

There are several different eligibility requirements in order to qualify for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, including: 

  • Experience – You’ll need to have worked for five full-time and consecutive academic years as a highly qualified teacher. 
  • Highly Qualified Teacher – The phrase ‘highly qualified teacher’ refers to a teacher who has obtained at least a bachelor’s degree and received full state certification as a teacher. There are also specific requirements depending on what kind of school you do the teaching service at. An elementary school teacher and are new to the profession, for example will need to demonstrate sufficient knowledge and skills in areas like reading and writing by passing a state test.
  • Workplace – You’ll need to have been employed at either a low-income school or educational service agency serving low-income students. To determine whether or not your place of work qualifies in this category, you can consult the Annual Directory of Designated Low-Income Schools for Teacher Cancellation Benefits. Each year, the directory is updated with the list of low-income schools in each state.
  • Additional Requirements – You’ll also need to have taken out the loans in question before the end of your five years of service, and you can’t be in default on the loan.

How Much of the Student Loan Will Be Forgiven?

Those making use of the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program will get varying levels of forgiveness. The amount of debt forgiven actually depends on the subject you teach. Math and science teachers are favored more highly by this program. Those teaching math or science in secondary schools can receive the maximum allowance of up to $17,500 of debt forgiven. 

Special education teachers at both secondary or elementary school level can also receive the maximum amount, as long as they can demonstrate that they worked with children with disabilities in relation to their own training and qualifications. Those who didn’t teach any of these subjects can still receive up to $5,000 in teacher student loan forgiveness.

How to Apply for a Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness

To apply for teacher loan forgiveness through this program, you can simply fill out an application form. It’s important to check through all the eligibility requirements, however, in order to ensure that you do qualify for the program before proceeding with your teacher loan forgiveness application. 

Your superintendent, principal, or human resources officer will also need to fill out part of the form, and if you’ve worked at several different schools, you’ll need a representative from each one to fill out the form.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness: Worth it?

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness program doesn’t offer the highest amounts of forgiveness, but if you meet the requirements involved, it’s an effective option to choose. It’s especially useful for teachers in math, science, or special education fields, as they can qualify for the highest amounts of forgiveness. 

The relatively low amount of forgiveness for other teachers, however, means that they will generally be better off following an alternative route, like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (below). 

It is possible to actually combine both the Teacher Loan Forgiveness and Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs, but if you’re not a math, science, or special ed teacher, the PSLF program on its own is the better option.

# 2 – Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness is another loan forgiveness for teachers option you may be able to benefit from. This system involves making 120 qualifying payments, so it’s not something you can access immediately, but once you get through 10 years of work and repayments, you can apply and enjoy a big amount of student loan forgiveness.

The Overview 

The history of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program goes back to 2007. It was approved under the George W. Bush administration, and the basic idea behind the program was to get more people involved in the public sector, working in jobs that contribute to the overall progress and development of society. 

Since the program requires 10 years of repayments as part of its eligibility requirements, it wasn’t until 2017 that the first set of eligible candidates actually started applying. More than a million people have been certified as eligible for the PSLF program. The latest statistics show that 864 applications have been approved, with many more set to be approved in the years ahead.

If you do get approved, the PSLF program is one of the best possible options you can choose. It can wipe out all of your remaining student loan debt in an instant, potentially freeing and forgiving you of very large sums of money.

Eligibility Requirements for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

There are several key qualifying criteria to be aware of in relation to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program for teacher loan forgiveness: 

  • Workplace – Teachers find a lot to love about the PSLF program, as it’s very open in terms of your place of work. You don’t need to work at a Title 1 school in order to qualify, for example. Any teacher at any school can qualify for this program. Even non-teaching school staff qualify for it, as they’re actively involved in a public school.
  • Work – You’ll need to be in full-time work for a school or educational agency. 
  • Loan Type – Your loans must be direct loans, so other loan types won’t qualify. But you can consolidate other forms of federal student loans in order to become eligible for the program. 
  • Payments – The key criteria for the PSLF program is payments. You’ll need to have made a total of 120 qualifying payments to be eligible for this form of teacher loan forgiveness. You’ll also need to be enrolled in a direct loan repayment plan, and any payments you made before enrollment don’t count as part of the 120.
  • Qualifying Payments – A ‘qualifying payment’ is one that has been made after October 1 of 2007, as part of a qualifying repayment plan for the full amount due, and no later than 15 days after the due date.

How Much Will Be Forgiven? 

The best part about the PSLF program is that it is able to forgive all of your remaining debt. The totality of your direct loan balance is forgiven once your 120 qualifying payments have been made and your application has been approved. This means that teachers graduating with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt can enjoy a life-changing amount of loan forgiveness through this program.

How to Apply 

The first step to applying for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is to read through the full requirements and make your 120 qualifying repayments. Once that’s done, you can fill out the official PSLF application form and then send it off to FedLoan Servicing, the US Department of Education’s federal loan servicer.

Since the system has only recently come into use, with the first applicants sending off their applications in the fall of 2017, it’s still in the early stages and there has been some confusion over how it all works. The PSLF Help Tool has therefore been created to help you see if your repayments qualify and if you’re on the right track towards becoming eligible for the program.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Worth it?

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program has the potential to change lives. But as we’ve seen in the statistics above, less than 1,000 people have actually benefited from it so far. There are no fees to apply for this kind of student loan forgiveness. If you’re one of the lucky ones to get approved, you can save huge amounts of money. 

If you’re a new teacher and hesitating between the PSLF or the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, the PSLF can offer much greater rewards to those who have the patience to wait out the 10 year period and make their 120 repayments.

At the same time, this program isn’t perfect. The review period for each applicant can take up to six months and some applicants have had to go through lengthy appeal and complaint procedures to move things along and get the forgiveness they’re entitled to. Clearly, it’s a program in need of some fine-tuning, but it has incredible potential.

# 3 – Perkins Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Perkins Teacher Loan Forgiveness, also known as Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge, is another option that can be considered for teacher loan forgiveness. As the title implies, this teacher student loan forgiveness program is only available for those with Perkins loans. Perkins loans aren’t available anymore. Having been discontinued since the fall of 2017, there are still plenty of borrowers of these loans out there searching for assistance with loan forgiveness.

The Overview 

Federal Perkins loans were provided by the US Department of Education and named in honor of former US House of Representatives member Carl D. Perkins. The Perkins loan program was specially designed for students who found themselves in extreme financial situations and came with a lot of perks. For instance, interest doesn’t actually start to build upon these loans until the borrower actually starts making their repayments. 

As stated above, the loan program ended in September of 2017 after failing to be renewed in Congress. But the Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge program exist to help teachers and other Perkins loan borrowers to get parts of these loans forgiven. Teachers who took out Perkins loans can benefit greatly from this program, effectively getting all of their loans forgiven, subject to certain requirements.

Eligibility Requirements for Perkins Teacher Loan Forgiveness 

The following eligibility requirements will need to be met in order to qualify for this kind of teacher loan forgiveness:

  • Workplace – Just like with the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, you’ll need to be working in a low-income school in order to qualify for Perkins Teacher Loan Forgiveness. If you don’t work at a low-income school or agency, you can still potentially qualify if you teach math, science, special education, foreign languages, bilingual education, or other fields and subjects that are deemed to have a shortage in qualified teachers by the state.
  • Loans – Only those who funded their studies through the Perkins loan program can apply for this kind of loan forgiveness.
  • Discharge Requirements – In certain extreme situations, your Perkins loan can also be completely discharged. Meaning you don’t have to pay any more of it back. The requirements for this can include school bankruptcy or disability.
  • Experience – You’ll need at least one full year of teaching experience to get your Perkins loan forgiven.

How Much Will Be Forgiven? 

Those who apply for Perkins Teacher Loan Forgiveness can get all of their remaining debt forgiven, but the actual amount forgiven will depend on how long you’ve been teaching:

  • Those with 1-2 years of teaching experience can get 15% of their loans forgiven for each year, including interest. (30% loan forgiveness after 2 years)
  • Those with 3-4 years of teaching experience can get 20% of their loans forgiven per year.  (70% loan forgiveness after 4 years)
  • Those with 5 years of experience can get 30% of their Perkins loans forgiven.  (100% loan forgiveness after 5 years).
  • So you’ll need to work for 5 years in total to get all of your loans forgiven.

How to Apply 

The tricky part of getting Perkins loans forgiven is actually in the application, as it needs to be done through the school that made the loan or via the school’s loan servicer. This means that the process can vary depending on the school you were at. Therefore, the best way to get started is to contact the school where you got the loan and then proceed from there.

Perkins Teacher Loan Forgiveness: Worth it?

This kind of student loan forgiveness for teachers is perfect for Perkins loans borrowers. If you took out a Perkins loan during your studies and you meet the eligibility requirements, there’s no reason not to apply. Plus, the longer you’ve been working, the more forgiveness you’ll receive.

# 4 – State-Based Loan Repayment Assistance Programs

Depending on where you happen to be based, there are many different loan repayment assistance programs that can benefit teachers. These programs vary from state to state. 45 different states, as well as the District of Columbia, all offer their own unique assistance programs for loan repayments and loan forgiveness.

The Overview 

State-Based Loan Repayment Assistance Programs for teacher loan forgiveness can vary a lot from one state to the next. In Illinois, for example, teachers in low-income schools can make use of the Illinois Teachers Loan Repayment Program, while those in Texas might be able to apply for the Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Assistance Program (TFTLRAP), which is designed for those working in subjects that have shortages of qualified teachers.

The specifics of these different programs will vary a lot. The Illinois program mentioned above, for example, can offer up to $5,000 of loan forgiveness, while the TFTLRAP can offer up to $2,500 of loan forgiveness. The eligibility requirements for each program will also vary greatly, and the application processes can be quite different from one state to another.

The best way to get started with State-Based Loan Repayment Assistance Programs is to find out exactly which programs are available in your state and learn about the different requirements. The American Federation of Teachers can offer a lot of assistance in this matter, and you can visit sites or speak to educational authorities in your state to learn more too.

State-Based Loan Repayment Assistance Programs: Worth it?

The states that don’t currently have any student loan forgiveness programs are Alabama, Connecticut, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia. For teachers in all other states, it’s worth taking a look at State-Based Loan Repayment Assistance Programs.

Some states have a lot of these programs to choose from, giving you even more chances of being approved and accepted, like Vermont (5 programs), Texas (9 programs), and New York (9 programs).

The actual value and interest of each program to you will depend on your own situation and the specific nature of the program in question. This is why it’s so important to look at all of your options, including the PSLF program in particular, and weigh up the pros and cons.

In general, the likes of the PSLF program and the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program will be able to offer higher amounts of loan forgiveness than individual state-based programs, and you often can’t combine these programs. You can’t use a state program and PSLF at the same time, for example. 

What if I Don’t Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness for Teachers?

If you don’t qualify for any of the teacher loan forgiveness programs or options listed above, don’t despair. There are other options available to help out with your student loan repayments.

  • Wait it Out – Even if you don’t qualify for teacher loan forgiveness right now, there’s a strong chance that you will eventually be able to get forgiveness. It will require patience and may take up to 25 years, depending on the repayment program you’re using (IBR, PAYE, RePAYE, ICR), but all of these plans include loan forgiveness as standard after a set repayment period. For an Income-Based Repayment Plan, for example, your loans are forgiven after 25 years. With a Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan, the loan will be forgiven after 20 years. 
  • Consider Your Options – The official government student loans site offers a lot of useful resources regarding student loan repayments, telling you all about the different repayment plans and options you have, as well as learning about any help you might be entitled to. Unfortunately, one of the golden rules with any kind of loan forgiveness or student loans repayments is that you have to do a lot of the work in order to find these resources and help yourself. If you’re willing to search, however, you might find help or benefits you didn’t even know existed. Looking into deferment and forbearance is also an excellent option.
  • Refinancing – The average monthly student loan payment is $393, but you can bring that number down through student loan refinancing. Refinancing works by finding a loan provider to pay off your existing loan and provide you with a new one with a lower interest rate. This results in a better value option for you, with lower long-term montly payments and faster overall repayment. Services like Futurefuel work with employers to reduce employees’ loan rates by up to 1.7%.

Final Thoughts

Student loan forgiveness for teachers isn’t as inaccessible as you might think. As you can see, there are actually quite a few different programs you can consider in order to get parts of your loans forgiven. Even those who don’t qualify still have options to save money and cut down the total cost of their debt and loan repayments. 

By ignoring or overlooking these solutions, you’re throwing cash away that could be saved or spent on things that actually make you happy. So, to all the teachers out there: act now. The sooner you seek out teacher loan forgiveness, the better.

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