The Ultimate Guide to Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness

Jon O'Donnell Updated on January 12, 2018

Teachers enter their field for many noble reasons: the opportunity to help children, their desire to serve their local communities, or simply for the love of their particular subject. To join this valuable profession, many of them invest heavily in their own education, emerging from college with substantial loans.

Thanks to many state and federal programs, however, educators are entitled to forgiveness of their student debt in exchange for their teaching service. In fact, teachers can often be relieved of all or most of their loan burdens simply by meeting some personal and professional criteria. But because these initiatives often feature complex eligibility requirements, too many teachers don’t actually apply for the debt relief they deserve.

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This article aims to help solve that problem. We’ll explore various debt forgiveness programs designed to help teachers reduce or eliminate their loans. We’ll also explain the eligibility and application process related to each program, so you can decide if these options will work for you. If you’ve dedicated your career to teaching, this is one lesson you won’t want to miss.

Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Programs for Teachers

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program

What is it?

Designed specifically to aid teachers serving low-income communities, this program offers significant debt forgiveness possibilities, particularly for those specializing in math and science.

Which loans qualify?

  • Federal Direct Loans (subsidized or unsubsidized)
  • Federal Stafford Loans (subsidized or unsubsidized)
  • Federal Direct Consolidation Loans
  • Parent PLUS loans and Federal Perkins are not eligible for forgiveness under this program.

Who’s eligible?

For this program, educators who provide direct classroom teaching to students (or teaching of this type in another setting) qualify as teachers. Special education teachers are included in this group.

Teachers must meet the following criteria to qualify for this program:

  • They must have at least five complete and consecutive years of teaching experience.
  • They must possess a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate in their state.
  • Additionally, the teacher’s workplace must be a designated “low-income” school or educational service agency by the Department of Education. Use this resource to learn if your school qualifies.
  • Finally, applicants to this program must not have any current federal student loans in default.

How much debt can be forgiven?

Teachers who specialize in math or science can have up to $17,500 of their debt forgiven through this program. Special education teachers are also eligible for this maximum in loan forgiveness.

Teachers who specialize in any other subject, however, can only receive up to $5,000 in debt forgiveness through this program.

How do I apply?

To apply for student loan forgiveness using this program, complete the application available here. Next, submit this application to your loan servicer. If you aren’t sure which company is servicing your loans currently (or simply need their contact information), you can locate that information through the National Student Loan Database website.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program

What is it?

Intended to aid those working in a range of public service professions, this program offers forgiveness after borrowers make 120 payments using an income-driven repayment plan.

Which loans qualify?

  • Federal Direct Loans
  • Federal Consolidation Loans
  • Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) and Federal Perkins Loans do not qualify for this program.

Who’s eligible?

Full-time employees of any government or not-for-profit institution are eligible for this program. This includes teachers working in both public and private schools and other nonprofit educational settings.

Borrowers are eligible for forgiveness only after making 120 qualifying monthly payments using an income-driven repayment plan. While these payments must be made while borrowers are employed in public service, they do not need to be made consecutively. (In other words, you can take a break between working for qualifying employers and pick up where you left off.)

Additionally, your loans must be in good standing (not in default) for your balance to be forgiven.

How much debt can be forgiven?

After 120 qualifying payments, the entire remaining balance of your eligible loans can be forgiven. Depending on the size of your debt, this could represent significant savings.

How do I apply?

Of course, 120 qualifying monthly payments will take at least 10 years to complete, so you can’t apply for forgiveness until that time. However, the Department of Education recommends that you submit the Employment Certification Form related to this program every year so that they can keep up with your progress. If you don’t, you’ll need to retroactively certify your employment once you make your 120 payments.

On that form, you’ll notice directions to submit it to the FedLoan Servicing division of the Department of Education. This is a particular loan servicer tasked with handling loans for borrowers pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If you currently work with another servicer, FedLoan will take over management of your debt once your qualifying employment is approved. If you have any questions about this process or completing and submitting the form, we recommend contacting their customer service department at 855-265-4038.

Perkins Loan Cancellation for Teachers

What is it?

The only program for teachers to target Perkins Loans specifically, this option aids those who specialize in specific subjects or serve schools in low-income communities.

Which loans qualify?

Only Perkins Loans qualify for this specific cancellation program. While this loan does have federal backing, your school is actually your lender.

Who’s eligible?

Teachers in the following capacities are eligible for Perkins Loan cancellation:

  • Full-time pre-K or child care program professionals
  • Full-time special education teachers in schools or other educational agencies
  • Full-time teachers of designated “shortage area” subjects, including math, science, foreign languages, and bilingual education
  • Full-time teachers in tribal colleges or universities
  • Full-time teachers working in designated low-income schools

How much debt can be forgiven?

Up to 100% of your Perkins Loan debt can be canceled through this program.

How do I apply?

To apply for Perkins Loan forgiveness under this program, you must contact the school that issued the loan or the loan servicer they have designated to manage your debt.

State Student Loan Forgiveness Programs for Teachers

In addition to these federal programs, many states offer specific student loan forgiveness programs to reward those who dedicate themselves to teaching. The American Federation of Teachers maintains an extensive database of state- and city-level aid initiatives, which you can explore here. Below, we’ll describe some of the major programs available across the country.

Arkansas: State Teacher Education Program (STEP)

This program helps Arkansas teachers who work in areas where teaching professionals are scarce or in “teacher shortage” academic subjects. The state will pay up to $3,000 of qualifying teachers’ federal loans per year for up to three years ($9,000 in total). Minority teachers who meet this standard are eligible for an additional $1,000 a year (up to $12,000 in total). To learn more about this program and to apply, visit this website.

Delaware: Delaware Teacher Corps

Unlike most other programs on this list, this initiative offers a specific loan for those who study at a Delaware state university with the intention of acquiring a teaching certification. Upon graduation, that loan is forgiven at a fixed rate of exchange: For every year spent teaching in a Delaware public school, one year of college debt is eliminated.

Preference for this program is given to teachers in math, science, and special education, as well those working in designated “shortage areas.” To learn more about this program and to apply, visit this website.

Illinois: Illinois Teachers Loan Repayment Program

If an Illinois teacher qualifies for the federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness program (described above), the state will contribute an additional $5,000 to help them eliminate their debt.

You must submit your application to the Illinois Department of Education within six months of qualifying for the federal program. Also, when funding is too low to help all eligible applicants, forgiveness is dispersed in the order of when the applications are received – all the more reason not to delay. To learn more about this program and to apply, visit this website.

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Maryland: Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program (LARP)

Intended for Maryland educators working in under performing schools, this program offers a significant repayment of federal loans in exchange for teaching service in the state.

Applicants must have attended college in Maryland, make less than $60,000 a year, and teach in an eligible state school.

Award totals vary depending on the size of the debt. Those with more than $75,000 in debt, for instance, can receive up to $10,000 in aid each year for three years ($30,000 in total). To learn more about this program and to apply, visit this website.

Mississippi: Mississippi Teacher Loan Repayment Program (MTLR)

This program helps teachers in critical shortage regions of Mississippi or those who teach subjects for which few educators are qualified. Teachers must also hold an “Alternate Route” teaching license and cannot have already utilized other state and federal loan forgiveness programs.

Teachers can receive up to $3,000 in repayment per year for a maximum of four years ($12,000 total), although they’ll need to recertify their eligibility each year. To learn more about this program and to apply, visit this website.

Montana: Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program

This initiative is designed to help Montana educators working in much-needed subject areas or economically depressed areas of the state. Applicants can receive up to $3,000 per year in loan repayments for no more than four years ($12,000 total). To learn more about this program and to apply, visit this website.

North Dakota: Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program (TSLF)

This program intends to help teachers working in subjects and geographical areas of need, as designated by the North Dakota superintendent of public instruction. The program’s award and application details are subject to yearly change contingent on state policy, so visit this website to learn more.

New Mexico: Teacher Loan Repayment Program

This funding is intended to attract and retain educators in what New Mexico deems “high-risk” teaching positions within the state. To receive this funding, teachers must commit to serve for a two-year period in an eligible position. Once that period is complete, teachers can reapply to continue the forgiveness agreement.

Award amounts are determined according to the size of the borrower’s debt and the severity of the need for each teaching position. The award can total the entirety of a teacher’s principal and interest, however, so some recipients are rewarded quite generously for their service. To learn more about this program and to apply, visit this website.

New York: Teachers of Tomorrow Program

Limited to newly hired teachers working in certain large cities in New York, this program offers a tuition repayment incentive to those who score highly on state-level teaching effectiveness assessments. Applicants must be provisionally or permanently certified to teach in New York state and agree to serve for at least one year in a geographical area or academic subject impacted by teacher shortages.

Applicants can receive up to $3,400 a year for each year of eligible service, for four years total ($13,600 maximum). To learn more about this program and to apply, visit this website.

Oklahoma: Teacher Shortage Employment Incentive Program (TSEIP)

This program emphasizes math and science teaching and offers varying amounts of repayment assistance to recruit and retain educators who specialize in these subjects. Individual awards vary significantly and may change annually, and applicants must submit an associated “Participation Agreement” form to their college before they graduate. To learn more about this program and to apply, visit this website.

South Carolina: South Carolina Teachers Loan Program

Like the Delaware program mentioned earlier, this initiative offers prospective education students loans to cover their tuition expenses and forgiveness opportunities once they graduate and enter the field.

For teachers who work in a geographic area with critical shortages or needed academic subjects, these loans are forgiven at a rate of 20% or $3,000 a year, whichever is greater. Teachers who work in both a critical area and subject are eligible for a 33.3% forgiveness or $5,000 for each year of teaching, whichever is larger. To learn more about this program and to apply, visit this website.

Tennessee: Tennessee Math and Science Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program

Similarly, Tennessee offers small student loans to those who plan to teach math and science. For every year spent teaching in Tennessee after graduation, one year of loan debt is forgiven.

Applicants must complete their degrees within five years, with no break in studies lasting longer than a year. Loan forgiveness values are capped at $2,000 for each year of study and $10,000 total. To learn more about this program and to apply, visit this website.

West Virginia: Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship Loan Assistance Program

Priority for this program is given to new teachers working in needy geographic areas or teaching certain valuable subjects. For each year of teaching, recipients can get up to $3,000 in loan repayment assistance. The total assistance disbursed through this program cannot exceed $15,000 for any individual. To learn more about this program and to apply, visit this website.

A Different Way to Work Through Debt

While these programs represent varied and valuable methods for teachers to reduce their student debt, many in the field may find their terms limited. Thankfully, there are several other repayment options available to teachers and other professionals, including refinancing your debt for a better deal.

Each year, Comet helps thousands of borrowers obtain better rates and lower monthly payments on their student loans. Our process allows borrowers to assess how much refinancing could save them in the long run and evaluate top-rated private lenders. The average borrower saves $259 a month on their payments by refinancing – you don’t need to teach math to appreciate those savings.

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Published in: Forgiveness

About the Author
Jon O'Donnell

Jon is a staff writer and marketer for Comet, who recently refinanced his student loans which will allow him to pay them off 5 years faster and save an additional $152/month. While he continues to pay them off himself, he strives to help others do the same. In his work for Comet, Jon is continuing his career trajectory of connecting people with educational opportunities to help them improve their careers and personal finances. In his free time you can find him reading travel blogs and researching destinations around the world in search of his next adventure. Read more by Jon O'Donnell

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