They say that teaching is a calling. It’s just not typically a calling to money.
If you’re an educator facing a pile of student debt, the good news is that there are multiple loan forgiveness programs specifically for teachers.
You don’t need to be a math teacher to realize that the $30,000-plus average amount of student loans to get a bachelor’s degree would be tough to pay off on a teacher’s starting salary of $41,163.
Even with federally held student loan forbearance extended until Sept. 1, 2022, you shouldn’t ignore your student loan debt. In fact, this could be an opportune time to explore your possibilities before the freeze ends on interest and payments.
And while there are a number of programs specifically designed to help teachers pay off student loans, a word of warning to anyone looking for a quick and easy fix. All of the teacher loan forgiveness programs require you to stick to a strict repayment schedule during a qualifying period when you must remain in the teaching profession.
The takeaway: You’d better enjoy teaching, because you’re going to have to do it for a while if you want to get your student loans wiped out.
Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
Let’s take a look at the different options for student loan forgiveness. They vary based on the types of loans you have, the amount that’s eligible for forgiveness, the school where you work and even the subject you teach.
1. Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TLF)
This loan forgiveness program should be an obvious, easy choice, with the word “teacher” in the title. But there are some rigid requirements.
To qualify for Teacher Loan Forgiveness, you need to have one of the following loans:
- Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans (aka Direct Subsidized Loans)
- Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans (aka Direct Unsubsidized Loans)
- Federal Direct Consolidation Loans
Simply, unless you have a Direct Federal Student Loan — made through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan program — you aren’t eligible for this program. However, you can consolidate Federal Family Education Loans into a Direct Consolidated Loan to make them eligible.
If you’re in default on a loan, you are not eligible for forgiveness unless you have made satisfactory repayment arrangements with the holder of the defaulted loan.
If you are employed as a full-time teacher at a low-income school (you can find the list of eligible schools here) for five complete and consecutive academic years, you’re eligible for the program if at least one of those years was after the 1997-98 school year.
The maximum $17,500 award is only awarded to “highly qualified” teachers in special education or secondary mathematics or science. You can receive up to $5,000 for other subject areas.
The highly qualified requirements are as follows:
To receive up to $5,000 for teaching in other subject areas, you must meet the “highly qualified” standard as a full-time elementary or secondary education teacher.
Submit a completed Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program application. The head of the school(s) where you completed your service will have to complete the certification section, and you’ll need to submit separate applications for each loan servicer.
Although $5,000 to $17,500 can put a dent in a debt, if your loans reach into the upper five digits (or six digits) — or you don’t meet the requirements of the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program — you do have other options.
2. Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Similar to the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, Public Service Loan Forgiveness has quite a few hoops to jump through. But the good news is that the public service program does not restrict teachers to a specific school or subject matter.
If you’re employed by a government or non-profit, you’re eligible to qualify for loan forgiveness after 120 payments — that’s 10 years for you non-math teachers. You’ll need verification for each year of qualification.
The program was created in 2007 by former president George W. Bush to help public service workers, like teachers, get out of student loan debt. But the guidelines were so strict and confusing, few people actually qualified for forgiveness.
In 2021, the Department of Education announced an overhaul of the PSLF program, allowing previously non-qualifying payments to be counted toward forgiveness, and in some cases wiping out student loan balances.
- Payments on all Direct loans enrolled in Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE) and Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR).
- Payments made on all Direct loans that were not in PAYE and IBR are temporarily eligible to count toward forgiveness.
- Perkins and Federal Family Education Loans (also known as FFEL) can qualify if they are consolidated, but previous payments may count though a limited PSLF waiver.
You must have a full-time job in the public sector, and you’ll need 120 qualifying, non-consecutive loan payments (that’s 10 years worth).
As a teacher, your employer matters, but the options are much more plentiful than the restrictive Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. Qualifying employers include federal, state, local or tribal government organizations and not-for-profit organizations that are tax-exempt.
Login to the Federal Student Aid site and use the Public Service Loan Forgiveness tool to determine whether you, your loan and your employer qualify, as well as to fill out the form.
3. Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation
Although the Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation is specifically designed for teachers, it’s also specifically for Perkins loans.
The Perkins Loan Program ended on Sept. 30, 2017, so if you’re a recent graduate, this forgiveness may not be of much help. But if you have outstanding federal Perkins loans, you can still qualify for cancellation.
If you are eligible, up to 100% of your loan may be canceled in increments for years of teaching service.
To qualify, you must either teach at a low-income school or teach one of the following subjects:
- Foreign Languages
- Special Education
- Subject area that is facing a shortage of qualified teachers in your state
Private school teachers can also qualify for the Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation.
To apply, contact the school where you obtained the Perkins Loan to learn its specific rules.
AmeriCorps programs place teachers in high-need urban and rural areas across the U.S. The positions are limited-term contracts but come with a full salary and other benefits.
After completing your AmeriCorps term of service, you are eligible to receive the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, which can be used to repay qualified federal student loans that includes Direct, Perkins Loans, Federal Consolidated Loans and others listed here.
You can use your award to repay defaulted federal student loans, as long as it qualifies.
This award is subject to federal tax in the year each payment is made, making it taxable income.
Start your AmeriCorps application here.
5. State- and School- Forgiveness Programs
The availability of teacher loan forgiveness programs at the state and local level depends on where you live. If you’re struggling with student debt, you might be able to find a sympathetic ear at your alma mater or state agency.
Almost every state has at least one type of student loan forgiveness program that’s designed for those in public service fields.
Contact your college’s financial aid or alumni office to find out about its forgiveness program options. For state and local programs, check out this directory from the American Federation of Teachers.
6. Income Driven Repayment Plans
This one isn’t specific to teachers, but it’s certainly applicable here.
The standard repayment term for federal student loans is 10 years. If you have difficulty making payments, you have four main options within an income driven repayment plan (IDRP) for lowering them that take your income and expenses into account:
- Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR)
- Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR)
- Pay as You Earn (PAYE)
- Revised Pay as You Earn (RPAYE)
We cover each of these repayment plans in more detail in this article, but know that these plans aren’t actually forgiveness programs. They’re repayment programs with a forgiveness option at the end. You’ll need to resubmit your income and family size every year to determine eligibility — and the forgiven portion is subject to federal taxes.
Can You Stack Forgiveness Programs? Sort of.
If you’re thinking about stacking the Teacher Loan Forgiveness with other forgiveness programs, you’ll be waiting a while. That’s because the forgiveness programs count your service sequentially, not simultaneously.
That means you can use both the teacher loan forgiveness and Public Service Loan Forgiveness to wipe out federal loans, for instance, but not for the same period of teaching service. So after working five years to qualify for the teacher loan forgiveness, you’ll need to tack on another 120 monthly payments to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
That’s 15 years total — so if you graduate from college at 22, you’ll need to commit to teaching until you’re at least 37 years old. And there’s no guarantee you’ll receive forgiveness.
Considering a recent study found that 55% of teachers say they plan to leave the profession earlier than they originally planned — and teaching in low-income districts can be extra challenging — you might be better off applying for just the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program if you’re looking to have a large amount of debt forgiven.
But if you owe a smaller amount, help from the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program could help put a dent in your debt.