Alaska residents have access to the incredible beauty and grandeur of the country's coldest state.
But if you're a health care professional, you may also have access to Alaska's generous student loan forgiveness program.
Repayment assistance for healthcare professionals
In Alaska, recruiting a single primary care provider to the Alaska Tribal Health Care System takes approximately 14 months and $31,000.
The Alaska SHARP program began in 2010 to address the growing need for health care professionals to serve in health care service shortage areas. Since its creation, the program has provided funding to more than 170 clinicians.
How the program works
In partnership with a federal HRSA grant, the SHARP program provides two-year service contracts to awardees who meet the requirements and agree to work in a health professional shortage area (HPSA).
Tier 1 awardees can receive up to $35,000 each year — or if they work in a "very hard to fill" location, up to $47,000 per year. Tier 2 awardees can receive up to $20,000 each year, or up to $27,000 for very hard to fill locations.
What's the difference between a Tier 1 and Tier 2 awardee?
Tier 1 awardees are:
- Primary Care Physicians
Tier 2 awardees are:
- Nurse Practitioners
- Physician Assistants
- Registered Nurses
- Certified Nurse Midwifes
- Psychologists (Ph.D. or PsyD)
- Clinical Social Workers (LCSW)
- Psychiatric Nurse Specialists (PNS)
- Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC)
- Marriage & Family Therapists (MFT)
- Registered Clinical Dental Hygienists
And what about that very hard to fill designation?
The State of Alaska designates its positions as regular-fill or very hard-to-fill (VHTF). Employers who apply to participate in the SHARP program are the ones who make the case for a particular position being VHTF based on the length of prior vacancies, the fate of prior failed personnel searches, and the history of relying on temporary staffing to fill the position.
Clinicians seeking to participate in the SHARP program must:
- Be in an eligible medical, dental or behavioral health occupation
- Provide direct patient care
- Provide primary care
- Have eligible education loan debt
- Be employed either full-time or half-time at the time of the award
- Be finished with licensure-relevant school and/or training
- Hold a relevant occupational license
- Be able to start a contract between October and December
- Be a U.S. citizen (or naturalized)
- Work in an approved non-profit or government entity located within a federal HPSA designation
What loans are eligible
All loans taken in association with completing the relevant degree (i.e., medical, dental, etc) are eligible so long as they are solely in the awardee's name. Loans taken out to complete other degrees are not eligible.
How to apply
To apply for the Alaska SHARP program, visit the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services informational page on the forgiveness program and email them at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about the next application opportunity.
What to do if you don’t qualify for loan forgiveness
Not everyone will meet the eligibility requirements for Alaska's loan forgiveness program — or even be practicing in an eligible field. If the SHARP program doesn't work for you, you're not out of options. There are plenty of ways to make your debt load more manageable — regardless of your career path.
Let's check out a few of them.
1. Refinance your loans
When you refinance your student loans with a private lender, you have the option to do two fantastic things in one step: (1) reduce your monthly payment and (2) decrease the amount you'll pay over the life of the loan. That's a pretty big deal because with most options for reducing your monthly payment (like an income-driven repayment plan), you actually end up stretching out your payments and owing more over the life of the loan.
But when you refinance, you don't just change your repayment term or reallocate your payments — you lower your interest rate.
Dropping even a point from your interest rate could save you thousands of dollars. In fact, the average borrower who refinances can lower their payment by $258 per month or save more than $16,000 over the life of their loan.
2. Apply for federal grants or forgiveness programs
The federal government is in the loan forgiveness game too — across a broad range of industries. Check out our ultimate list of grants to pay off your student loans to find a program that could benefit you.
There are also programs that are open to borrowers without regard to their industry. The most well known federal forgiveness option is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Participants can get their student loans discharged after 10 years working for an eligible non-profit organization or government agency.
Because this program focuses on public service rather than specific industries, a high school teacher can get the same benefit that a legal aid attorney receives.
3. Sign up for an income-driven repayment plan
If you have federal loans, you're eligible to apply for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. When your monthly payments are calculated under an IDR plan, you pay only what the federal government has determined is reasonable based on what you earn. Payments are capped at an amount between 10% and 20% of your discretionary income.
A word of caution, though: getting on an IDR plan could actually increase your payments, depending on your income. Before you apply, use our calculator to determine what your payments would be under an income-based repayment plan.
If the Alaska forgiveness programs aren't in your future, take a proactive step, and find out how much you could save by refinancing your student loans.