A Teacher also has the most options to obtain student loan forgiveness (compared to other careers). But that can be frustrating too. The student loan waiver for teachers is difficult with so many services, and so many conditions.
If you’re a writer, there are four main ways you can get compensation for student loans. You also have a secondary choice, depending on your repayment plan, for student loan forgiveness.
Since the average teacher only earns around $38,727 based on Payscale, and according to The College Board, the total student loan debt in 2017 was $37,000, the support teachers can get is important.
Let’s start by going over the requirements of each program and seeing which option is best for teachers.
Overview of Teacher Loan Forgiveness
Teacher Loan Forgiveness, or TLF, forgives up to $5,000 or $17,500 after teaching full-time for five consecutive academic years of qualifying employment and repayment.
You must teach at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency that serves low-income students.
Each year, the Department of Education publishes a directory of which schools are designated as low-income.
You need to teach for five consecutive years, full-time, but there are some exceptions where the academic year could count even if you didn’t teach for an entire school year.
You also must be a “highly qualified teacher” for each of the five academic years you were employed at an eligible low-income school. A highly qualified teacher is someone who:
- Received a bachelor’s degree
- Fully certified in the State where they teach
- Has not had any licensing or certification requirements waived for any reason
If you are a teacher who is new to the profession, there are additional requirements.
My high-level takeaway is that you need to pass a “rigorous” test that demonstrates your knowledge of academic subjects that you teach or have an undergrad or graduate degree in the subject(s) that you teach.
So who receives $17,500, and who receives $5,000? To receive up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness, you need to be a special education teacher (elementary or secondary) or a secondary mathematics or science teacher.
Everyone else is eligible for up to $5,000. Eligible loans include both Federal Direct Loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL).
Direct PLUS and Federal Plus loans are not eligible, and neither is any portion of a consolidation loan that repaid a PLUS loan.
The application process for forgiveness is to fill out the Teacher Loan Forgiveness application and submit it to your loan servicer. The forgiven debt is not taxable.
Student Loan Forgiveness Options for Teachers
Let’s break down the four main ways to get student loan forgiveness for teachers, what the other options are, and how to get professional help if you want it. They are:
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is one of the top ways to get student loan forgiveness. This program allows you to get complete Federal student loan forgiveness after 120 qualifying payments.
What’s great about this program is that it offers the most options for teachers – you don’t have to be at a qualifying Title 1 school. Any teacher at any school counts. In fact, any worker at a school counts (librarian, teacher’s aid, principal, janitor, etc.).
There are three major requirements for PSLF:
- Certified Employment For 120 Payments – You can find the employment certification form here.
- Direct Loans – Other loan types (such as FFEL) don’t count.
- Qualifying Repayment Plan – The qualifying repayment plans for PSLF are the Standard 10-year plan, IBR, PAYE, RePAYE, ICR, and certain payments made under the graduated plan.
We have a short online training on Public Service Loan Forgiveness if you want more details or want to ensure you remain compliant with the program.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness
Teacher Loan Forgiveness is a program that was started before PSLF and allowed teachers at qualifying schools to have up to $17,500 of their Direct or FFEL loans forgiven after 5 years.
- 5 Complete & Consecutive Years At A Qualifying School – You can find the list of qualifying schools here. The five years must be completed after 1998.
- Certain Teachers Get Up To $17,500, Others Up To $5,000 – If you’re a highly qualified secondary math or science teacher, or special education teacher, you can receive up to $17,500 in forgiveness.
Once you’ve completed your five consecutive years, you can apply for forgiveness under the program.
As a side note, you can combine both PSLF and Teacher Loan Forgiveness, just not at the same time. For example, you’d need to work for 5 years and do Teacher Loan Forgiveness, then work for 10 years and apply for PSLF.
This doesn’t really make any sense because PSLF forgives the entire amount after 10 years. So, if you’re considering this route, just go with PSLF.
A circumstance where it might not make sense is if you don’t plan on working for 10 years. If you meet the 5-year criteria and don’t plan on teaching any longer, Teacher Loan Forgiveness could make sense.
Another circumstance where it could make sense is if you haven’t consolidated your loans and have FFEL loans. Since FFEL loans don’t qualify for PSLF, you could do Teacher Loan Forgiveness first, then consolidate your loans and go for PSLF.
Perkins Teacher Loan Forgiveness
If you have Perkins Loans, you can get forgiveness of up to 100% of your loan balance if you teach full-time at a low-income school or teach certain subjects.
If you have Perkins Loans, you can see your entire loan balance forgiven over 5 years.
The great thing about this program is that it gives forgiveness in increments, so even if you don’t make it 5 years, you can at least see some of your loan balance disappear.
Here’s how it breaks down:
- Year 1: 15% Forgiveness
- Year 2: 15% Forgiveness
- Yr. 3: 20% Forgiveness
- Year 4: 20% Forgiveness
- Year 5: 30% Forgiveness
This program also has a lot of stipulations. Here are the key requirements:
- Must Teach At A Low-Income School or Certain Subjects – You can find the list of qualifying schools here.
- The Qualifying Subjects Include – math, science, foreign language, bilingual studies, and others that have been determined to be in shortage in your state.
- Private Schools Potentially Eligible – If your school is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, it is eligible under this program.
The difficult part of Perkins loans is that they are administered by the college where you received the loan. In order to apply for forgiveness, you need to reach out to your loan servicer or the financial aid office where you received the Perkins Loan.
State-Based Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
45 states and the District of Columbia all offer state-based student loan repayment assistance programs. These programs are designed to help states staff teachers in areas or programs where they have shortages.
We have a complete list of state-based student loan forgiveness programs here: Student Loan Forgiveness Programs By State.
It’s important to note that, while you may qualify for multiple programs, you cannot overlap programs. For example, if you qualify for a state-based program, you cannot qualify for PSLF at the same time – you would need to do it sequentially.
That’s why it’s important to look at the value of the state-based program and your own situation prior to signing up for any program.
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Other Ways to Get Teacher Loan Forgiveness
Beyond these student loan forgiveness programs, there are “secret” student loan forgiveness options that most teachers don’t realize.
These are secondary ways to get loan forgiveness if something doesn’t work out with the above programs (for example, you might stop teaching or working before you qualify).
This “secret” is that all income-based repayment programs (IBR, PAYE, RePAYE, ICR) all include student loan forgiveness on any remaining balance after the repayment period (typically 20 or 25 years).
These programs are automatically part of your repayment plan, and you don’t have to do anything to sign up (other than continue to maintain eligibility on the repayment plan).
So, if you somehow don’t qualify for one of the forgiveness programs listed above, hope is not lost. It will just be a longer process, but you can still potentially get loan forgiveness.
If you don’t qualify, refinancing your student debt presents an alternate opportunity to save thousands.
Student loan forgiveness for teachers is a real thing. Teachers have more options for student loan forgiveness than pretty much any other profession. If you’re a teacher, you need to be taking advantage of these programs to get out of student loan debt.
It’s essentially free money you’re ignoring by not taking action. If you need help, reach out! There are lots of ways to get help to ensure you get the student loan forgiveness you deserve.