Student Loan Forgiveness: Programs for Relief As Repayment Restarts
Student loan forgiveness can wipe out part or all of your student loan debt. Each forgiveness program has its own requirements, some more stringent than others.
There are forgiveness options for specific occupations, with others tied to certain repayment plans. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s proposed plan for mass student loan forgiveness. (See more below.)
The various forgiveness programs offer a chance to relieve your debt burden. Here’s an overview of what’s out there and how to apply, as well as other ways to tackle your student loan debt.
- News: Recent developments on forgiveness and repayment
- Who is eligible for student loan forgiveness?
- How do I apply for student loan forgiveness?
- Pros and cons of student loan forgiveness
- Beware of student loan forgiveness scams
- Types of student loan forgiveness based on career
- Other student loan forgiveness programs to consider
- Frequently asked questions
News: Recent developments on forgiveness and repayment
Here are three recent developments in the ever-changing world of student loans…
Court rules against Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan
The Biden administration had proposed a plan for mass student loan forgiveness during the 2020 election. If approved, the program would have forgiven between $10,000 to $20,000 of student loan debt for up to 40 million U.S. borrowers.
After ongoing legal battles, the Supreme Court blocked Biden’s plan on June 30, 2023, in a 6-to-3 decision stating that the administration didn’t have proper authorization under the HEROES Act.
See Federal Student Aid’s statement for more details on this decision and any next steps.
Student loan repayments to restart
The student loan payment pause, also referred to as the administrative forbearance, was initiated by the Department of Education in March 2020.
During this time, borrowers weren’t required to make any payments on their federally-held student loans. In addition, interest rates were reduced to 0%, with collections for defaulted loans put on hold.
According to studentaid.gov, student loan interest will resume on Sept. 1, 2023, with payments starting in October.
Make sure that your contact info is up to date with your loan servicer and on your studentaid.gov profile to ensure you don’t miss notifications regarding future payments.
You can read our report for more information on the end of the repayment pause.
Retroactive credit for income-driven repayment plans
The Department of Education announced in July 2023 that it would conduct a previously-planned one-time adjustment for borrowers on income-driven repayment plans. Specifically, you will get credit for:
- Any month in which your payment was late
- Any month you spent in forbearance (but only if the total was more than 12 months in a row or 36 months in all)
- Any month you spent in deferment before 2013
- Any month you spent in economic hardship or military deferments during or after 2013
The adjustments should be applied automatically — and you can even get a refund if the credits are bigger than your remaining balance. Check with your student loan servicer for details.
Who is eligible for student loan forgiveness?
There are also special circumstances, such as attending a predatory for-profit school, that may qualify for student loan forgiveness.
Many federal and state-based forgiveness programs are meant for borrowers who work in public service, education, health care and other fields for a certain period.
How do I apply for student loan forgiveness?
Each student loan forgiveness program has its own application process, which will be outlined on the program’s website.
For federal forgiveness programs, you can contact your student loan servicer to apply, although in some cases — such as forgiveness at the end of an income-driven repayment (IDR) program — your balance should be wiped away automatically.
For state-based or employer-based programs to help repay your student loans, you’ll need to contact the program administrators. See the various sections below for details, or check out Studentaid.gov’s forgiveness page for more info on federal programs.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to qualify for multiple programs simultaneously, so pick the program that offers the most generous award.
Pros and cons of student loan forgiveness
Student loan forgiveness partially or fully cancels education debt owed by the primary borrower, as well as getting the cosigner (if any) off the hook. But despite its many benefits, student loan forgiveness has some disadvantages, too.
|Pros of student loan forgiveness||Cons of student loan forgiveness|
Partial or full relief on outstanding balances
Improves cash flow for borrowers and can potentially boost the overall economy
Motivates borrowers to work in public service jobs that are eligible for relief
Not available to all borrowers
Often requires working in specific careers
Relief typically takes years to arrive
Forgiven amount could be taxable in some cases
Legitimate programs are sometimes handcuffed by poor administration or overshadowed by scams
Beware of student loan forgiveness scams
If you’re looking for debt relief, you might be susceptible to student loan forgiveness scams. These are illegal ploys to convince you that forgiveness is on the way in exchange for upfront fees or personal information. Email subject lines such as “Biden student loan forgiveness” (or previously “Trump student loan forgiveness” and “Obama student loan forgiveness”) are used to draw in and scam borrowers.
While the general rule of thumb is to be skeptical of anything that sounds too good to be true, here are some other red flags of potential student loan forgiveness scams:
- Receiving phone calls or emails from people or companies you don’t recognize
- Feeling pressured to sign up for a program you didn’t know existed
- Being promised immediate or overnight relief in exchange for fees or personal data
If you’re unsure if a student loan forgiveness program is legitimate, contact your federal loan servicer as a first step.
Types of student loan forgiveness based on career
Below are some of the most popular student loan forgiveness programs based on profession, employer or field of study.
Student loan forgiveness for government and nonprofit workers
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program helps people working in public service jobs. For this option, it’s less about your job title and more about the organization you work for.
Currently, there’s no limit on the amount forgiven under PSLF. You can estimate your possible forgiveness through our PSLF calculator.
|What are the requirements?||Not all public service workers qualify for PSLF. You’ll need to work full time at a qualifying organization and make 120 on-time loan payments. Those payments must be under a qualifying repayment plan, such as an IDR plan or extended repayment plan (but not the standard or graduated plan).|
|Which loans qualify?||Under PSLF, all federal Direct loans qualify, including: |
|How to apply||Start by submitting the Employment Certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness form. The program requires this form for every year of service, or as you change jobs. You can also consider consolidating your student loans into a Direct consolidation loan, especially if you have Perkins or FFEL loans. Lastly, you’ll need to fill out the PSLF application form via the Federal Student Aid website. Read more about applying for PSLF.|
Federal Perkins loan cancellation
Although Perkins loans are no longer issued, the cancellation program exists for those who used this loan in the past and still have a balance. The Perkins loan cancellation and discharge program typically forgives a certain percentage of student loan debt after every year of service. Over time, you could get up to 100% of your Perkins loan canceled.
|What are the requirements?||You must work in a qualifying profession; most recipients work full time for at least one year. Additional eligibility requirements vary by profession but often involve working in a high-need or critical shortage area.|
|Which loans qualify?||Federal Perkins loans|
|How to apply||To learn more about Perkins loan cancellation and apply, speak with your loan servicer and school’s financial aid office.|
Federal employee student loan forgiveness
Whether or not you qualify for PSLF, federal employee student loan forgiveness could be another option for student loan relief. In exchange for three years of continuous service for the U.S. government, you could receive as much as $10,000 annually (up to $60,000 overall) for your outstanding education debt, depending on the federal agency that employs you.
|What are the requirements?||Available to employees in good standing at various federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Justice and State, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission. You must agree to three years of continuous service.|
|Which loans qualify?||All federal student loans, including Perkins and federal family education loans.|
|How to apply||Talk to your current or prospective agency’s human resources department.|
Student loan forgiveness for teachers
Aside from Public Service Loan Forgiveness and federal Perkins cancellation, there are several other loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs for teachers.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness
This national program helps teachers pay back their student loans. Loan forgiveness amounts vary depending on what subject you teach. Most elementary school teachers would receive up to $5,000. Secondary school teachers who teach math, science or special education could receive up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness.
|What are the requirements?|| |
|Which loans qualify?||Only certain loans are eligible for Teacher Loan Forgiveness, including subsidized and unsubsidized Direct loans (Stafford loans). |
You won’t be eligible for this forgiveness program if you only have PLUS loans.
|How to apply||After teaching for five consecutive years, you can apply for teacher loan forgiveness by completing the Teacher Loan Forgiveness application. Submit your student loan forgiveness application to your loan servicer.|
State-based repayment assistance programs for teachers
The Teacher Loan Forgiveness program isn’t your only option for student loan help — many states also offer loan repayment assistance for teachers. Most of these programs require state licensure, as well as a commitment to working for two years in a qualifying area.
To find programs in your state, contact your state education authorities to see what’s available.
Student loan forgiveness for nurses, doctors and health care professionals
Nurses and doctors have access to a variety of federal and state programs for loan forgiveness. Most of these programs also award money to other health care professionals, such as loan forgiveness for pharmacists. Here are some national and state forgiveness programs for those working in health care.
NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program
Working in an underserved community might make you eligible for the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program. You can get up to 60% of your student loans paid over two years of employment. If you work for a third year, you could qualify for forgiveness toward another 25%.
|What are the requirements?||You must be a registered nurse, nurse practitioner or nurse faculty member who works at least 32 hours per week at an eligible program or school. You will need to work in a critical shortage area and serve a high-need population, while nurse faculty members must be employed by an accredited school of nursing.|
|Which loans qualify?||Nursing educational loans|
|How to apply||Applications are accepted once a year, and guidelines are updated annually. Check the program requirements and guidelines ahead of time to ensure you turn in your application on time.|
Students to Service Program
If you’re in your last year of a medical program, you could qualify for significant loan assistance from the Students to Service Program. This student loan forgiveness program provides up to $120,000 for three years of full-time service or six years of half-time service.
|What are the requirements?||Available to full-time students enrolled in their final year of an accredited medical, nursing or dental school. You must commit to working as a primary health care provider at an approved site for three years.|
|Which loans qualify?||Loans used to complete your medical studies|
|How to apply||Apply through the National Health Service Corps website.|
Student loan repayment assistance for nurses
In addition to national programs, many states offer loan repayment assistance to nurses. For example, the Illinois Nurse Educator Program awards up to $5,000 per year for four years to qualifying nurses and nurse educators in Illinois.
As with other LRAPs, contact your state education authority for more information.
National Health Service Corps (NHSC) loan repayment assistance
The NHSC program awards up to $50,000 to licensed health care providers. You must be a primary care doctor, dentist or mental or behavioral clinician and commit to working for two years at an eligible site.
Indian Health Services (IHS) Loan Repayment Program
The IHS Loan Repayment Program encourages doctors to practice in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. You must commit to two years of service; in exchange, the program will repay up to $40,000 of your student loans.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Programs
The NIH program offers aid to health professionals in research careers. If you commit to two years of research at a qualifying nonprofit, the program will repay up to $50,000 of your student loans each year you receive the award.
Student loan forgiveness for doctors in the armed forces
The military offers several student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs to health care professionals. For instance:
- Army doctors could receive forgiveness through the Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program.
- The Navy Financial Assistance Program offers loan assistance for medical residents.
Check out the complete medical school debt repayment guide to find more options.
State LRAP programs for doctors and other health care professionals
While many programs are available nationally, you might also find loan assistance from your state. There are a variety of state LRAPs across the country.
For example, the Massachusetts Loan Repayment Program awards up to $50,000 ($25,000 for two years) to health professionals working in shortage areas. You might find other repayment assistance options in your state —see below for more details.
Student loan forgiveness for lawyers
Law school isn’t cheap, but there are a few debt relief programs for lawyers. National and state programs are available, and you might even find help from your former law school. Make sure to explore all your options for student loan forgiveness for lawyers.
Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program
Lawyers who work for three years at the Department of Justice could earn up to $6,000 in loan assistance through the Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program. To qualify, you must have at least $10,000 in federal loans.
John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program
The John R. Justice Program helps lawyers in the public sector. If you’re a public defender, you could earn up to $10,000 per year for a maximum of $60,000.
Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program
This student loan forgiveness program (via the Legal Services Corporation) helps those with at least $75,000 in eligible law school loans. You’ll need to work at a qualifying organization. The program uses a lottery system to pick a few lucky recipients every year. Starting in the fiscal year 2023, LSC will provide up to $10,000 in loan assistance to eligible attorneys.
State and university-sponsored LRAPs
Like teachers and doctors, lawyers might also qualify for state or local repayment assistance programs. The Florida Bar Foundation, for instance, awards forgivable loans of up to $5,000 to lawyers in Florida.
In addition, some universities help their alums pay back their loans. The University of Virginia School of Law, for example, will cover up to 100% of student debt for graduates who make less than $65,000 per year. This program encourages its students to work in public service.
See more below on how to find out if your state offers loan repayment assistance. Since there’s no central database of schools and employers that provide repayment help, talk to your alma mater or employer about how to get repayment help.
Military student loan forgiveness and assistance
The Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard offer several loan repayment assistance programs.
- The Army’s College Loan Repayment Program pays one-third of your loans every year for three years. In total, you could get up to $65,000 in aid.
- The Navy Student Loan Repayment Program also awards up to $65,000.
- The National Guard LRAP contributes up to $50,000.
There are plenty of other military student loan forgiveness programs, so make sure you know what you qualify for.
Student loan repayment assistance from your employer
If you don’t work in one of the jobs associated with student loan forgiveness, you might feel excluded — not everyone is a teacher, lawyer or health care provider.
If you have a different job, however, keep in mind that many companies do help you repay student loans. You could apply for positions with a company offering such benefits, or else mention the idea to your current employer as a way to improve loyalty and decrease financial stress for employees with loans.
Also working in your favor: The CARES Act of March 2020 gives 401(k)-like tax advantages to matching federal and private student loan payments in the workplace, at least through 2025.
Other student loan forgiveness programs to consider
Below are even more student loan forgiveness options depending on your specific circumstances.
- Federal repayment plan
- Student loan discharge for special circumstances
- State-based student loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs)
- Student loan forgiveness for private education debt
Student loan forgiveness for volunteers
There are certain cases where volunteering, as opposed to part- or full-time work, could net you relief for your education debt. Though not student loan forgiveness per se, you could receive cash benefits to put toward your balances.
- Joining the Peace Corps could make you eligible for relief for PSLF and Perkins loan cancellation (detailed above). You could also be awarded up to $10,000 before taxes for two years of service in the Peace Corps and apply some or all of that lump sum toward your debt.
- Signing up for AmeriCorps similarly comes with a service award equal to the amount of the Pell Grant — $7,395 for 2023-24 — that could be used to help pay off student loans. Your time in AmeriCorps could also qualify for a federal loan forbearance that would temporarily pause your loan payments, though interest would accrue during the postponement.
- Volunteering to pay off student loans is also possible with other organizations, including Shared Harvest, Teach for America and the National Health Service Corps.
Student loan forgiveness by federal repayment plan
The Department of Education offers several income-driven repayment plans. Each plan adjusts your monthly bill based on your income and family size. Once you’ve reached the end of the (long) term, any remaining balance will be forgiven.
While an IDR plan can make your monthly finances more manageable and lead to eventual student loan forgiveness, it’s important to beware of the interest costs associated with extending your repayment plan.
|Plan||Income requirements||Time to forgiveness|
|Income-based repayment (IBR)||10% of discretionary income for new borrowers (on or after July 1, 2014)*|
15% of discretionary income for older borrowers (before July 1, 2014)*
|20 years for new borrowers (on or after July 1, 2014) |
25 years for older borrowers (before July 1, 2014)
|Income-contingent repayment (ICR)||20% of discretionary income|
The amount you would pay with a fixed payment over 12 years, adjusted to your income
|Pay as you earn (PAYE)||10% of discretionary income*||20 years|
|Revised pay as you earn (REPAYE)||10% of discretionary income||20 years (undergraduate) or 25 years (graduate)|
*Monthly repayment amount can never be more than what you would pay with the 10-year standard repayment plan
Student loan discharge for special circumstances
While student loan discharge isn’t the same as forgiveness, it could leave you debt free. Discharge involves certain (relatively rare) circumstances in which borrowers can get their student loans completely canceled. Here are some examples:
|Closed school||If your college or university shutters within 120 days of your enrollment|
|Total and permanent disability||If a long-term disability stops you from working and earning an income|
|Death||If you, as the primary borrower, pass away while in repayment|
|Bankruptcy||If your loans pose an “undue hardship” (this could apply to private student loans, as well)|
|Defense to repayment||If your school broke the law, such as deceiving you into attendance|
|False certification||If you borrowed under false pretenses through no fault of your own|
|Unpaid refund||If your school didn’t issue a refund to the Education Department|
If you think you could qualify or want to learn more, speak with your loan servicer.
State-based student loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs)
Most state LRAPs award loan assistance to professionals in exchange for two years of service. The most common occupations are doctors, nurses, teachers and lawyers, but some other career paths also qualify.
Several LRAPs for doctors, for instance, help out pharmacists and veterinarians. Other programs, like the Alfond Leaders Program in Maine, award people in STEM careers.
Even if you’re not a doctor, nurse, teacher or lawyer, check out your state’s offerings to find out if it has a loan repayment assistance program for you.
Student loan forgiveness for private education debt
Most of the well-known student loan forgiveness programs apply only toward federally held education debt.
However, some state-based LRAPs don’t distinguish between offering repayment assistance for federal or private student loans, and employers are equally incentivized to match your federal or private loan payments.
Generally, the one kind of student loan forgiveness that some reputable private lenders do offer is for disability or death. For example, Sallie Mae will waive the current balance if a student borrower dies or becomes totally disabled.
Contact your private lender to learn about its policy. You might also find this policy detailed in your loan closure documents.