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Your Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness for Teachers
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Teaching is one of the most important professions in the world, but it’s at risk of losing top talent due to low pay and long hours. However, student loan forgiveness for teachers could help reverse that trend.
The average entry-level salary in the U.S. for elementary school teachers is $39,296, according to PayScale. Couple that salary with potentially high student loan debt and it’s clear that the figures don’t favor an easy period of paying back student loans.
Because it can be time consuming to sift through all the details of federal and state loan forgiveness programs for teachers, we’ve broken it down for you. Below are some options available that may help you dig yourself out of debt.
How much it’s worth: Up to $17,500 toward Direct or Stafford Loans.
- Teach at a low-income school
- Have no student loans originating before Oct. 1, 1998
- Not be in default
How long it takes: Five complete and consecutive academic years.
The details: This one’s a little more complicated. The amount you can receive is based on your role. There are two tiers for Teacher Loan Forgiveness. You can receive up to $5,000 if you’re a full-time elementary teacher or full-time secondary school teacher. But you must be teaching in an area related to your academic major.
You can receive up to $17,500 if you’re a highly qualified full-time math or science teacher in an eligible secondary school. You can also receive this award if you’re a highly qualified special education teacher and if you meet certain requirements. To be considered “highly qualified,” you must obtain a full state certification as a teacher or pass the state teacher licensing exam. You must also hold a state license (with a few exceptions).
Certain exceptions are made if you’re a new elementary teacher who holds a bachelor’s degree and can meet other requirements. Visit the Federal Student Aid website for more information.
How much it’s worth: 100% of your Direct Loan balance after 10 years. This amount varies depending on many factors.
- Must be in certain public sector jobs and employed full time
- Must have made 120 payments starting from Oct. 1, 2007
- Payments must be made as part of certain repayment plans
- Not be in default
How long it takes: 120 qualified payments, which takes 10 years.
The details: This program isn’t just for teachers, although teachers can qualify. With this option, relief is more long term than the other programs we discuss above.
This plan typically works best with other types of qualifying repayment plans. For example, you may be able to take advantage of payment plans like Income-Based Repayment (IBR). IBR will lower your monthly payments and increase the amount of debt forgiven at the end of 10 years (if any).
However, if you miss any of the requirements, you may end up paying more in interest on your loans. To learn more about requirements, visit the Federal Student Aid website.
The Federal Perkins Loan program expired in September 2017. However, if you borrowed money through the program before its expiration date, you might still qualify for Federal Teacher Cancellation for Perkins Loans.
How much it’s worth (assuming you have one pre-2017): Up to $27,500.
Requirements: You must teach for at least one year and meet one of the below requirements:
- Teach at a low-income school (search the directory)
- Teach special education
- Teach in mathematics, science, foreign languages or bilingual education
- Teach in a field that has a shortage of qualified teachers in your state
How long it takes: Minimum one full year of teaching, and 100% Perkins Loan debt cancellation after five years.
The details: After just one year of teaching, you can have 15% of your outstanding Perkins Loans canceled. This continues in varying amounts until you have all Perkins Loan debt canceled after five years. To apply, contact the school that holds your Perkins Loans. To learn more about requirements, check out the Federal Student Aid website.
It’s worth investigating whether your state offers teacher student loan forgiveness programs. These plans vary based on where you live and teach, and all of them have specific requirements. Below is a list to get you started on your search.
Arkansas’ State Teacher Education Program provides up to $3,000 per year (or $4,000 per year for licensed minority teachers) to assist educators with repaying their federal student loans. Eligible individuals must teach in areas with a critical shortage or teach an in-demand subject.
Click here for more information about the Arkansas State Teacher Education Program.
Under Delaware’s Teacher Corps initiative, teachers who live and work in Delaware might be eligible for loan forgiveness if they teach a critical need subject. With this program, for one year of teaching in a Delaware public school you can get forgiveness equal to one year of your loans.
Click here for more information about Delaware’s Teacher Corps Program.
For teachers willing to work in low-income areas, the state of Illinois will award up to $5,000 to help individuals pay back their loan debt. To be eligible, teachers must have served five years in a low-income school.
Click here for more information about the Illinois Teachers Loan Repayment program.
Eligible borrowers can have one year of their loan forgiven for each year of eligible service. But the service must be as an educator, a speech pathologist or a child care provider. Certain borrowers, like teachers and speech pathologists, can have as many as two years of loans forgiven if they work in an underserved area.
Click here to learn more about Educators For Maine (EFM) Loan Program.
If you’re a teacher (among other professions) in an underserved or low-income community in Maryland, you could receive up to $10,000 a year to repay your student loans through the Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program.
To qualify for aid, your annual gross salary cannot exceed $60,000 a year if you’re single, or $130,000 if you’re married.
Click here for more information about the Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program.
Teachers in Mississippi may receive up to $3,000 a year for a maximum of four years to pay their loans. Individuals must work in specific geographic areas or teach certain subjects to be eligible. There will be no awards made for the 2019-20 year, but applications are open for 2020-21 until March 31, 2020.
Click here for more information about the Mississippi Teacher Loan Repayment Program.
Through Quality Educator Loan Assistance, you could receive up to $3,000 at the end of your first year of teaching, then $4,000 at the end of the second year and $5,000 up until the third year to help you repay your loans. After the third year, state funding ends, but your school district could opt to offer you $5,000 at the end of your fourth year of teaching.
To qualify, you must be a full-time teacher working at an “impacted school” and in a subject that has been deemed a “critical quality educator shortage area.”
This program lost its funding in 2017 but returned in 2019. It is now operated out of the Office of Public Instruction. You can find more information about the Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program here.
If you teach in a designated high-risk position (bilingual education, special education and mathematics, among others) in a public school, you could receive aid through the Teacher Loan Repayment Program. Awards are dependent on the school’s needs for your position and your total amount of debt.
Click here for more information about the Teacher Loan Repayment Program.
The New York State Education Department designed the Teachers of Tomorrow program to recruit and retain teachers in the schools with the largest need. Eligible teachers can receive up to $3,400 per year for four years.
Click here for more information about Teachers of Tomorrow.
If you teach math or science in Oklahoma, you could be eligible for reimbursement for certain education-related expenses or a cash benefit. The value of the repayment assistance program varies year to year. Click here for more information about the Teacher Shortage Incentive Program.
Residents of Tennessee who teach math or science may be eligible for the Tennessee Math and Science Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. This program offers $2,000 per academic year to math and science public school teachers and those seeking advanced teaching degrees in either subject. The amount cannot exceed $10,000. Click here for more information about the Tennessee Math and Science Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program.
The Texas Loan Repayment Assistance Program was designed to recruit and retain teachers in areas that have a shortage of educators. Eligible individuals can receive up to $2,500 towards their federal loans.
Click here for more information about the Texas Loan Repayment Assistance Program.
Similar to a teachers loan forgiveness program, the Virginia Teaching Scholarship Loan Program (VTSLP) offers up to $10,000 per academic year to education students studying in the state of Virginia who commit to a teaching career in critical shortage teaching areas like special education and English as a Second Language (ESL).
These awards are contingent on teaching in Virginia schools for at least one year after graduation. Click here to learn more about the VTSLP scholarship.
Keep in mind, state programs come and go more often than federal programs, so don’t delay if you’re eligible to apply. Even though managing student loans on a teacher’s salary can be overwhelming, there is help out there for educators.
For more information, see our longer list of student loan forgiveness programs and options that are designed to make repaying your debt a little easier.