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Guide to Military Student Loan Forgiveness and Repayment

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Content was accurate at the time of publication.

Serving your country could help reduce or eliminate your student loan debt. Members of the armed forces can seek out loan relief through military student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs.

Here’s our guide to student loan forgiveness for the military and other ways to manage your student debt.

11 programs offering debt relief for military students

1. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps Loan Repayment Program

If you join the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, you could get up to $65,000 in student loan repayment assistance. You’ll receive payments over three years after your first year as a JAG officer.

2. Army Reserve College Loan Repayment Program

If you’re in a qualifying Military Occupational Speciality (MOS), you could get assistance through the Army Reserve College Loan Repayment Program. You must enlist for at least six years and have loans before you go on active duty.

This program will pay 15% of your loan balance for up to $20,000. It applies to federal student loans, not private ones.

3. Army Student Loan Repayment: Active Duty

The Army Student Loan Repayment: Active Duty program offers military student loan repayment assistance to those on active duty. Among other requirements, you must enlist for at least three years and score 50 or higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).

If eligible, the Army will pay up to 33.33% of your principal balance each year for three years, with a maximum of $65,000 in loan assistance. These funds can only go toward federal student loans, such as Direct loans, Federal Family Education Loans (FFELs), Perkins loans and any parent PLUS loans used for the soldier’s education. Private loans aren’t eligible. Although the Perkins Loan program expired in September 2017, they still qualify for loan assistance as well.

4. Coast Guard Loan Repayment Program

The Coast Guard can provide up to $10,000 a year in student loan repayment assistance for eligible employees. You can’t receive more than $60,000 total from this program. To qualify, you must commit to at least three years of service in the Coast Guard.

5. Health Professions Student Loan Repayment Program

The Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP) helps doctors, dentists, and other healthcare professionals on active duty or in the Army Reserve. Qualifying borrowers can receive up to $40,000 annually for up to three years. This $120,000 in military loan forgiveness could go a long way toward paying off medical or dental school loans.

6. National Defense Student Loan Discharge

The National Defense Student Loan Discharge helps those who’ve put their lives on the line for their country. To qualify, you must have served at least one year in a dangerous area and have a Perkins Loan.

This program may cancel up to 100% of your outstanding student loan balance.

7. National Guard Student Loan Repayment Program

Members of the National Guard could receive up to $50,000 in military loan forgiveness. You must enlist for a minimum six-year term of service to qualify.

If you’re in the Navy, you could receive up to $65,000 in student loan repayment assistance. The Navy program helps sailors in the first three years of service.

9. Prior Service Soldier Loan Repayment Program

Army Reserve soldiers with prior military service can receive up to $50,000 toward student loan payments. You can request more information about the Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) and student loan forgiveness for veterans through the U.S. Army website.

10. Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Service to our country qualifies borrowers for one of the most popular student loan forgiveness programs — Public Service Loan Forgiveness. This program forgives all federal student loan debt after the borrower makes 120 qualifying payments while working full-time with the military or another qualifying non-profit.

Note that deferred payments typically don’t count toward the 120 monthly payments, with a major exception being the Covid-related student loan repayment pause (where deferred payments do count.) As a result, this might extend your timeline to receive PSLF.

Also note that, unfortunately, private student loans don’t qualify for PSLF. Read our guide on how to apply for student loan forgiveness for more information.

11. Veterans Total and Permanent Disability Discharge

The Veterans Total and Permanent Disability Discharge could clear your student loan debt if you suffered a disability during your time of service. To qualify, the Department of Veterans Affairs must document a service-related medical issue and deem you permanently disabled. Most loans are eligible for military student loan forgiveness through this program.

Other options for managing your student loan debt

If you’re dealing with a lot of student debt, the following strategies could also help reduce your interest rate or lower your monthly payments.

Limit your interest through the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides debt relief for active duty members by capping student loan interest at 6.00%. This is especially beneficial for borrowers with private loans, which typically have higher rates than federal student loans. In addition, the interest cap applies to all loans taken out before joining the military, including auto loans, mortgages, personal loans and credit cards.

Although this rate deduction might seem insignificant, here’s how it adds up: If you have a $20,000 loan on a 10-year plan with 8.5% interest, you’ll pay $248 a month. However, if you reduce the rate to 6%, the monthly payment drops to $222. That’s a savings of $3,112 over the 10 years. Apply those savings as extra payments on your loan and cut a full year from your repayment plan.

Your loans must have been issued after Aug. 14, 2008, to qualify for this benefit. Contact your loan servicer for information about SCRA eligibility.

Interest waiver for those at dangerous posts

Anyone deployed to an area that qualifies for imminent danger or hostile fire pay will have all interest waived on their federal student loans, so long as those loans were first disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2008.

The Department of Education uses a data-matching system to identify service members who qualify for this benefit, so it should be applied automatically. But if you think the government overlooked you, contact your servicer to see if they can erase your interest charges retroactively.

Defer student loans while on active duty

Your monthly payment shouldn’t be a burden if you’re currently serving. The Department of Education allows you to defer your student loan payments during active duty service and for 13 months after your return (or until you return to school with at least half-time status).

The government will pay all interest on your subsidized student loans during deferment. Although delaying principal payments means it’ll take longer to repay your loans, at least you don’t need to worry about accruing interest.

Unfortunately, interest will continue to accrue for your deferred unsubsidized loans. If this applies to you, use a student loan deferment calculator to estimate the accumulated interest, or consider making interest-only payments.

Lower your monthly payments with an income-driven repayment plan

Another way to manage your monthly payments is to apply for an income-driven repayment plan (IDR). These plans consider your current discretionary income and family size to adjust your monthly payments accordingly. Depending on your circumstances, your new monthly payment could be as low as $0.

For example, Income-Based Repayment is one of the most popular plans. It limits your monthly payments to 10% or 15% of your discretionary income, with any remaining debt forgiven after 25 years.

Overwhelmed by the thought of all the paperwork required to maintain enrollment? That’s where the Heroes Act Waiver (HAW) comes in. With HAW, you don’t need to submit applications or proof of income during active duty. This means you can request to maintain old, lower payments even if your income increases.

Note that there are possible drawbacks to the IDR plan, such as possibly paying more interest over the life of the loan. It’s worth considering the pros and cons of income-driven repayment before enrolling.

Refinance your student loans for a lower interest rate

Whether you’re a civilian or an active duty member, one way to tackle high debt costs is to refinance your student loans. Refinancing pays one or more student loans and creates a new, single loan through a private lender.

Usually, the goal is to unlock lower interest rates and smaller monthly payments. Alternatively, you can extend your repayment period to lower monthly payments even further (though this could cancel out some or all interest savings).

Unlike the military loan repayment assistance program, refinancing applies to both federal and private student loans. But it’s important to note that refinancing isn’t usually the best solution for federal loans, and either way, you should consider the pros and cons to refinancing.

For example, refinancing federal loans with a private lender means permanently giving up access to government-backed benefits, including income-driven repayment options and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

However, if you have several high-interest loans or private loans — or don’t qualify for income-driven repayment — refinancing could be the answer to reducing your overwhelming debt.

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