Student Loan Forgiveness for TeachersHow to Qualify for College Debt Relief Programs
For many, the most daunting aspect of attending college is going into debt to pay for it. Student debt is often substantial, negatively affecting graduates’ ability to get ahead for years or even decades into their working life. For those interested in a career in teaching or education, eliminating part or all of that student debt may be possible through federal and state loan forgiveness programs. Read on to get details about available programs and how you can take advantage of them.
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Your Path: Earning Teacher Loan Forgiveness
There are several paths a person can take to qualify for teacher loan forgiveness. However, there are several steps that almost any prospective teacher planning to earn loan forgiveness or loan cancellation should take:
Research loan forgiveness and loan cancellation programs in your subject and geographical area.
Apply for student loans that are eligible for forgiveness or cancellation, usually federal loans.
Earn your degree and teaching certificate (if teaching in a public school).
Work the required number of years as a teacher in a public school or qualifying private non-profit school.
Make all qualifying loan payments on time to maintain eligibility.
Apply for loan forgiveness programs.
Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Programs for Teachers
The federal government sponsors two student loan forgiveness programs specifically for teachers: the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program and teacher loan cancellation. The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program concerns individuals with subsidized and unsubsidized direct loans and federal Stafford loans, whereas loan cancellation applies specifically to teachers with federal Perkins loans.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness
The basic purpose of the Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is to promote the teaching profession by making it easier for individuals to become and remain teachers. Under the program, people who teach full time for five consecutive years in specified schools or educational service agencies can get up to $17,500 of debt forgiven on the types of loans listed above. That $17,500 amount is reserved for teachers in certain subjects. All other qualified teachers are eligible for $5,000 in loan forgiveness.
An educator who teaches K-12 students full time for five consecutive years at a designated school or educational service agency that serves low-income families is eligible, provided that they are up to date on federal student loan payments and meet other requirements (detailed below).
The program targets teachers at any elementary or secondary school that meet three criteria: first, the school is in a school district that qualifies for Title I funds; second, over 30 percent of the school’s students qualify for Title I services; third, the school is listed in the Teacher Cancellation Low Income Directory.
The minimum standard is five complete and consecutive academic years of full-time teaching.
That year can still count if three criteria are met. First, the teacher must have worked at least half of the academic year; second, the teacher must have met the minimum contractual obligations; finally, the reason the teacher did not teach the entire year was due to one of the following: going for a graduate degree in their area of expertise, utilizing the Family and Medical Leave Act, or being called up to active duty in the armed forces.
To be considered highly qualified, all public school teachers must be certified and licensed in their state. New elementary school teachers must pass a teaching skills assessment in reading, writing, math and other relevant elementary-level content. New middle and high school teachers, meanwhile, must pass a state test in the subject they teach and hold at least an undergraduate degree in that subject. Veteran teachers may be considered highly qualified by either meeting the requirements of a new teacher or demonstrating competence in a state evaluation.
Up to $5,000 or up to $17,500 can be forgiven, depending on certain qualifications, as described below.
Highly qualified full-time elementary or secondary school teachers are eligible for $5,000 of loan forgiveness if they began their five consecutive years after October 29, 2004. Teachers who finished their five years by that date have slightly different eligibility standards.
Highly qualified full-time secondary school math or science teachers are eligible for $17,500 in loan forgiveness, as are special education teachers.
The U.S. Department of Education maintains provides comprehensive information on loans and loan forgiveness, including the following pages under the Federal Student Aid website:
Teacher Loan Cancellation
Educators with debt from a federal Perkins Loan may be eligible for the entire loan to be cancelled if they teach full time at a low-income school or teach certain subjects. Loan cancellation means just that — release from paying back the loan permanently. Here are the details:
There are three options for eligibility. First, the applicant can work full time as a teacher in a public or private nonprofit elementary or secondary school serving low-income families. Second, the applicant can be a special education teacher working with minors with disabilities. Last, the applicant can be a math, science, foreign language or bilingual education teacher (or a teacher in another subject with a state shortage). Applicants must be employed directly by the school system.
It depends on which method of eligibility is used. Special education teachers and those teaching in-demand subjects can work at any public or private, non-profit elementary or secondary school. Other teachers may become eligible by teaching in schools that serve students from low-income families.
Applicants must work full time for one school year (at least two consecutive semesters) to start accruing a percentage of loan cancellation. Alternatively, applicants may teach part time at multiple schools, as long as the combined time is equal to full-time employment. The percentage of the loan cancelled under the program is tied to the number of years taught, as described below.
To be eligible, applicants must teach one of the following: math, science, a foreign language or bilingual education; special education to students with disabilities; or any subject at schools serving low-income families.
Applicants must teach full time to be eligible for loan cancellation, although their hours may be split among two or more schools.
Up to 100 percent of debt from a federal Perkins loan may be cancelled in the following increments:
- 15 percent per year for the first and second years
- 20 percent per year for the third and fourth years
- 30 percent for the fifth year
Cancelled amounts include interest accrued on the loan during the year.
Side-by-Side: Loan Forgiveness vs. Loan Cancellation
Sorting through the details of the federal loan forgiveness and loan cancellation programs can be difficult. The comparison chart below helps readers see the similarities and differences between teacher loan forgiveness and teacher loan cancellation at a glance.
|Teacher Loan Forgiveness||Teacher Loan Cancellation|
|Eligible Loans||Direct subsidized loans; direct unsubsidized loans; subsidized federal Stafford loans; unsubsidized federal Stafford loans||Federal Perkins Loans|
|Years in the classroom||Five complete and consecutive academic years||One full academic year of teaching for minimum benefit (15 percent forgiveness) and five years for full benefit|
|Full-time or part-time work||Full-time||Full-time (or part-time teaching at two or more schools that adds up to full time)|
|Eligible schools||Designated elementary and secondary schools or educational service agencies serving low-income families||Public or private, non-profit elementary and secondary schools|
|Eligible teaching subjects||Up to $5,000 for teachers in any subject; up to $17,500 for special education teachers and secondary school math and science teachers||Any subject at a school serving low-income families; special education; math, science, foreign languages, bilingual education (or a subject with a shortage of qualified teachers in the state)|
|Maximum amount||Up to $17,500||100 percent of federal Perkins Loans|
|How to apply||Complete and return the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application.||Request an application form from the office that administers the federal Perkins loan program at the school holding the loan.|
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
Another federal loan forgiveness option for teachers along with other professions is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. The purpose of the PSLF Program is to encourage individuals to enter into—and continue—full-time employment in the field of public service, which includes public education. The program has some rather steep requirements but may be worth pursuing for teachers who qualify.
Yes. The program is open to full-time employees of eligible public service organizations regardless of specific job position. In the case of public school systems, teachers, administrators, support staff and others may qualify for PSLF.
The PSLF program is open to employees of all federal, state, local or tribal government agencies or organizations. For teachers, the list normally includes public elementary and secondary schools, public colleges and universities, public child and family service agencies, and the U.S. military.
The program is not based on the number of years of teaching. However, the applicant must be employed full time by a qualifying employer when each of the 120 qualifying monthly loan payments is made, as well as when the applicant applies for and receives loan forgiveness.
Qualifying payments are those made as part of a repayment plan after October 1, 2007, while the applicant is employed full time by a qualifying employer. They must be for the full amount due on the monthly bill and can be no more than 15 days late.
Qualifying repayment plans include those based on income. Applicants on a 10-year standard repayment plan must switch to an income-driven plan to take advantage of the PSLF before they fully pay off their loan.
Teachers can track their progress toward PSLF qualification by submitting the Employment Certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness form to FedLoan Servicing. Although the form is not a requirement for receiving loan forgiveness, it is recommended that teachers submit it annually and whenever they change jobs.
PSLF loan forgiveness is not automatic. After the 120th qualifying payment is made, the applicant may submit the PSLF application form.
Teacher Shortage Areas & Low-Income Schools
A major requirement for loan forgiveness under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is that the applicant teach at a school serving low-income families. To qualify for loan cancellation of a federal Perkins Loan, a teacher must teach in one of several subject areas, including subjects for which there is a shortage of teachers. The purpose of these requirements is simple: to encourage individuals to enter into schools and subjects where they are needed most. The following table outlines teacher shortage areas and low-income school requirements for federal loan forgiveness and cancellation, and how to see if your school or subject area qualifies.
|Definition||Required for:||Find schools & subjects|
|Teacher Shortage Areas (TSA)||A subject or geographic area that has an inadequate supply of elementary and secondary school teachers. This can include teachers of certain subjects in specific grades, student subgroups (such as speech pathology or visually impaired), or in specific geographic areas.||Cancellation of federal Perkins Loan through teacher loan cancellation program.||For more information on TSAs and a list of current eligible schools, refer to the U.S. Department of Education’s comprehensive list.|
|Low-Income Schools||According to the U.S. Government Publishing Office, schools qualifying as low-income include: “public or private non-profit elementary and secondary schools eligible each year for assistance under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and at which more than 30% of the students meet a measure of poverty under Section 1113(a)(f) of the ESEA.”||Forgiveness of debt via Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program||Search for low-income schools by state and academic year at the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Cancellation Low Income Directory.|
Getting the Most Out of Loan Forgiveness: Loan Deferment & Forbearance
Deferment and forbearance are two tools that can help borrowers struggling to make their student loan payments and avoid default. For those working toward loan forgiveness or cancellation, it’s particularly important to understand how obtaining a loan deferment or forbearance may affect their chances to qualify for those programs. At the same time, loan deferment and forbearance can help teachers avoid paying off a majority of their loans before applying for loan forgiveness or cancellation benefits. Here’s what you need to know:
|Loan Deferment||Loan Forbearance|
|What is it? A deferment allows the borrower a temporary delay from making regular payments on the loan’s principal (and possibly interest).||Loan forbearance allows the borrower a period of time (typically up to 12 months) during which monthly payments on the loan are stopped or reduced.|
|How do I qualify?There are several situations in which loan deferment may be granted, including enrollment in college, a graduate fellowship program or a rehabilitation program for the disabled. Economic hardship also counts, as does military or Peace Corps service. Click here for more details.||Discretionary forbearance may be granted by the loan servicer for financial hardship or illness. Mandatory forbearance is typically given if the borrower is performing teaching services. Check the specific language of your loan agreement for additional reasons for granting mandatory forbearance.|
|What happens to the loan? Regular loan payments need not be made during the deferment period.||Essentially nothing happens to the loan during the forbearance period, except that regular payments are either stopped or reduced.|
|What happens to the interest?Varies. In some cases (federal Perkins loan, direct subsidized loan, subsidized federal Stafford loan), the federal government may pay the interest during the deferment period. Otherwise, interest continues to accrue.||Interest continues to be charged during the forbearance period. Debtholders can pay the interest on the loan or allow it to accrue. Interest not paid during forbearance may be added to the principal balance.|
|How do I apply? For direct loans and federal family education loans, contact the loan servicer directly. For federal Perkins loans, contact the school attended while receiving the loan.||Request for loan forbearance is made directly to the loan’s servicer.|
|How can this help teachers?Borrowers may avoid defaulting on their loans. Default can lead to loss of eligibility for loan forgiveness or cancellation, as well as damage to one’s credit.||Borrowers may avoid defaulting on their loans. Default can lead to loss of eligibility for loan forgiveness or cancellation, as well as damage to one’s credit.|
State & Local Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs
In addition to the federal programs discussed above, most state governments and some local school districts have their own teacher loan forgiveness programs designed to address teacher shortages. For a complete listing of state and local teacher loan forgiveness programs, check out this funding database from the American Federation of Teachers. A few examples of what can be found there are listed below.
Position: Public school teacher
Grade Levels: Pre-K through 12
Subject Areas: Mathematics, Science
This program assists Tennessee public school teachers pursuing an advanced degree in math or science or certification to teach math or science. Loan forgiveness requires two years of employment in a Tennessee public school system for each year of loan funding received.
Position: Pre-service/student teachers
Grade Levels: Pre-K through 12
Subject Areas: Administration, Art, Bilingual Education, Business Education, English, Foreign Language, Gifted/Talent, Librarians/Media Tech, Mathematics, Music, School Nurses and Psychologists, Secondary-level Science, Special Education, Speech Pathologists, Technology Education
Under this program, Delaware residents enrolled full time in a Delaware public college undergraduate program leading to teacher certification earn one year of loan forgiveness for each year of teaching in a Delaware public middle or high school.
Position: Classroom teacher
Grade Levels: Pre-K through 12
Subject Areas: Bilingual Education, Career and Technical Education, Computer Science, Mathematics, Science
The program’s purpose is to recruit and retain certified classroom teachers in fields and communities that have a shortage of teachers, as determined by the Texas Education Agency. The maximum award amount for 2016 is $2,500.
While this provides a few examples of state and local loan forgiveness programs, refer to the American Federation of Teachers link above to search their comprehensive database.
Financial Aid & Scholarships for Teaching & Education Degrees
There are hundreds of scholarship programs and other financial aid opportunities out there for those getting a postsecondary degree in the fields of teaching and education. In addition to loans and loan forgiveness programs, prospective teachers are eligible to apply for specific grants, scholarships, and even special veterans’ benefits. Click on the link below to browse our listing of education and teaching scholarships and learn more about the other types of financial aid available.EXPLORE FINANCIAL AID & SCHOLARSHIPS FOR TEACHING & EDUCATION STUDENTS
Difficulties to Earning Loan Forgiveness
Teacher loan forgiveness and cancellation plans can be complicated, and successfully obtaining debt relief through one of them requires planning and avoiding mistakes regarding repayment. This table describes a few of the potential challenges to earning loan forgiveness and what can be done to avoid them:
|Not understanding the specific type of loan one has and/or its fine print||Read over your written loan agreement carefully to make sure you understand what happens if you can’t make your payments on time or if you default.|
|Unable to make an upcoming regular monthly payment||Contact your loan servicer before missing the payment to see if a satisfactory arrangement can be made. Look into your options for loan deferment or forbearance.|
|Missing a regular monthly payment||Contact your loan servicer immediately to discuss the problem and any possible solutions. Avoid missing any subsequent payments.|
|Cannot afford to make regular payments for an upcoming period due to financial difficulties||Contact your loan servicer immediately to discuss the problem and explore loan deferment or forbearance programs. Modification of your repayment plan may also be possible.|
|Cannot make regular payments due to becoming temporarily or permanently disabled||In this case, you may be eligible for discharge of any further obligations on your loan or loan deferment programs.|
|In default||Contact your loan servicer to arrange a repayment solution. You likely cannot receive loan forgiveness while your loan is in default.|
Expert Advice on Teacher Loan Forgiveness
Do prospective students often come to you with concerns about how to afford a teaching degree or with questions about financial aid in general?
We do have that. We also see parents who have heard about teacher shortages and potential financial aid opportunities out there tied to that. They know those opportunities are out there — they’re just not sure exactly what is available. Here at [Indiana University] we have a number of options, including scholarships, so we tend to talk about the whole [financial aid] picture with them.
Do prospective students come to you and ask specifically about teacher loan forgiveness programs?
I would say the within the last year or so we’ve been receiving more questions about loan forgiveness. We stay pretty general on the subject on our end of things because the process is pretty complex. We certainly encourage students to talk to someone in our financial aid office about it.
Do you have anything in particular you would say to someone interested in teaching who is seeking advice on financial aid and loan forgiveness?
I think to just really be aware of the different opportunities available, and specifically with loan forgiveness, it’s important to know the particular requirements for each of the different programs on the other end — what is needed in terms of the number of years of teaching, the specific type of school they need to be at, what subject to teach — and then what the ramifications are if they are not able to meet those requirements.
Does Indiana offer any form of loan forgiveness or cancellation programs of its own?
There’s a new program starting that is not exactly a loan forgiveness program, but scholarship program specifically for students becoming teachers where, after earning a degree, the student would have to teach within the state for a certain number of years. And if they do not, they have to pay the scholarship money back. That’s on the horizon for our next batch of high school seniors.