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Nursing degrees can cost over $100,000. Since almost 70 percent of nurses use student loans to cover educational costs, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), many leave school feeling overwhelmed by this debt.
The amount of student loan debt you have can impact the length of repayment, but student loans can take anywhere from 10 to 30 years to pay off. Thankfully, student loan forgiveness programs offer nurses a way to shorten this repayment period by having all or a portion of their student loan debt wiped.
1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a federal student loan forgiveness program. Through PSLF, you may qualify to have your remaining student loan balances forgiven after you make 120 qualifying payments on an income-driven repayment plan toward your loans.
You don’t have to be a nurse to apply for PSLF, but you do have to work full-time for an eligible employer for at least 10 years while you’re repaying your federal student loan debt. Since many nurses work for nonprofit or government organizations, this particular student loan forgiveness program is often a good fit.
- Best for: Nurses with federal student loans who work for (or plan to work for) nonprofit hospitals, other nonprofit medical organizations or government agencies.
- Availability: Available to nurses who worked a minimum of 10 years at an eligible employer.
- How to apply: Fill out a PSLF form and send it to FedLoan Servicing.
2. Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program
The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program is available through the Health Resources and Services Administration. The program applies to both federal and private student loans and will pay off up to 85 percent of your nursing school debt. However, you may have to pay federal income tax (deducted from the award), based on the amount you receive.
To be eligible for the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program, you’ll need to meet a number of requirements. First, your job title must fit into one of the following categories:
- Licensed registered nurse.
- Advanced practice registered nurse.
- Nurse faculty member.
You must also work for a minimum of two years in a Critical Shortage Facility or serve as nurse faculty in an eligible school of nursing. Critical Shortage Facilities are located in areas of the country that have shortages in primary care, mental health or dental health providers. You can find a list of shortage areas on the Health Resources and Services Administration website.
- Best for: Licensed registered nurses (RNs), advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) or nurse faculty members with federal or private student loans who work (or plan to work) in an eligible facility for at least two years.
- Availability: Available to nurses who worked a minimum of two years in a Critical Shortage Facility or an eligible school of nursing.
- How to apply: Visit the Bureau of Health Workforce Customer Service Portal.
3. National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program
The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program (NHSC LRP) is another student loan forgiveness option offered through the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Full-time nurse practitioners, psychiatric nurse specialists and nurse-midwives may be able to wipe out up to $50,000 of both federal and private student loan debt through the program. Part-time nurse practitioners and nurse midwives may receive up to $25,000 in loan forgiveness.
In exchange for loan forgiveness, you must commit to at least two years of service at an NHSC-approved facility. The facility must be located in an area with a critical need for more health care professionals (i.e., a Health Professional Shortage Area).
Note: You can apply for this program along with the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program. However, you’ll be able to use only one repayment option, even if you qualify for both.
- Best for: Federal and private student loan borrowers who are nurse practitioners (NPs), psychiatric nurse specialists or nurse-midwives (CNMs) and who will serve for at least two years in an area with approved critical need for health care professionals.
- Availability: Available to nurse practitioners, psychiatric nurse specialists and nurse-midwives who commit to at least two years of service at NHSC-approved facilities.
- How to apply: Visit the Bureau of Health Workforce Customer Service Portal.
4. Perkins Loan cancellation
Perkins Loans were previously available to undergraduate and graduate students with financial need. However, the program ended in 2017, and final loan disbursements were issued in 2018.
If you received Perkins Loans in the past to help pay for nursing school, you may qualify for cancellation of up to 100 percent of your debt over a five-year period. Nurses, teachers and other qualifying professionals may be able to take advantage of this program.
- Best for: Full-time nurses or medical technicians with federal Perkins Loans who have worked full-time in a qualifying position for at least five years.
- Availability: Available to Perkins Loans recipients enrolled in nursing school at the time of loan disbursement.
- How to apply: Apply for a loan cancellation or discharge through your school or your Perkins Loan servicer.
5. Indian Health Services Loan Repayment
The Indian Health Service (IHS) Loan Repayment Program (LRP) offers to repay up to $50,000 of qualified student loans when you agree to an initial two-year service obligation. Qualifying nurses agree to work full-time at a health program site that serves American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
This program’s availability is based on staffing needs at Indian Health Service facilities, as well as the availability of funds. Further, funds are disbursed based on a ranking system, with preference given to American Indian and Alaska Native applicants.
- Availability: Varies based on program funds and staffing needs at IHS facilities.
- Best for: Nurses who work (or plan to work) for at least two years at an eligible Indian Health Service facility that serves American Indian or Alaska Native communities.
- How to apply: Apply on the Indian Health Service website.
6. Military loan forgiveness for nurses
Nurses who agree to military service may see tens of thousands of dollars of their student loans forgiven. For instance, the United States Navy website says that nursing students who serve full-time in the Navy can qualify for up to $34,000 in loan repayment to help pay for nursing school through the Nurse Candidate Program (NCP). This aid is given out as an initial grant of $10,000, plus a stipend of $1,000 per month for up to 24 months.
Meanwhile, nurses can participate in the Air Force Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (ADHPLRP), which is available for eligible specialties within the Medical Corps, Nurse Corps and Biomedical Sciences Corps. This program offers up to $40,000 in loan repayment assistance, although taxes are assessed on forgiven amounts. Loan forgiveness can be used for principal and interest payments, as well as “reasonable educational and living expenses.”
- Best for: New enlistees in a branch of the United States Armed Forces who plan to serve their country as a qualified health care professional for at least two (sometimes three) years.
- Availability: Varies based on branch of the United States Armed Forces.
- How to apply: Talk to your military recruiter for more information.
7. State-specific student loan forgiveness
Many states have their own loan forgiveness programs that apply to nurses and other health care professionals. With Alaska’s SHARP program, for example, nurse practitioners and registered nurses can receive up to $27,000 per year in loan repayment assistance if they agree to work in a nursing shortage area. In the state of Florida, on the other hand, nurses who work full-time in service-shortage areas can qualify for up to $4,000 in loan repayment assistance per year for up to four years.
Plenty of other states offer loan forgiveness plans for nurses, including California, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan and Minnesota. If you’re considering nursing and you want to know which loan repayment programs may be available based on where you live, check with your state’s Department of Education to learn about state-based loan forgiveness programs.
- Best for: Nurses who are willing to work in a critical shortage area within a state that offers student loan forgiveness programs in exchange for their service.
- Availability: Varies based on state.
- How to apply: Contact your state’s Department of Education for more information.
8. Hospital-specific repayment and reimbursement
Some hospital systems also offer loan repayment or forgiveness plans to nurses who agree to work in an eligible position, although the qualification requirements vary. Some examples include the following:
- CHI Health in Nebraska offers a tuition assistance program for nurses, which is worth up to $5,250 per year for full-time nurses and $2,625 per year for nurses who work part-time.
- Cleveland Clinic in Ohio offers tuition assistance of $2,500 to $7,500 per year for full-time nurses based on their level of education. Part-time nurses can also qualify for $1,250 to $3,750 in tuition assistance per year.
- Craig Hospital in Colorado offers tuition assistance of up to $5,000 per year for eligible employees.
- Indiana University Health in Indiana offers $5,250 per year in tuition assistance for eligible nursing bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs.
- Norwell Health in New York offers up to $5,000 per year in tuition assistance for nurses and other eligible employees pursuing associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
These hospitals with tuition assistance programs for nurses are just the tip of the iceberg.
- Best for: Nurses interested in working for a health care system that offers tuition assistance as a perk of employment.
- Availability: Varies based on the hospital.
- How to apply: Check hospital systems and clinics in your area, as well as state-based resources, to see which hospitals might forgive some of your nursing school debt in exchange for your commitment. Discuss student loan forgiveness programs or tuition reimbursement options with the human resources department of any health care facility you’re considering.
Pros and cons of loan forgiveness for nurses
When it comes to loan forgiveness programs for nurses, participants are definitely making a trade-off. Sure, you can get some of your remaining student loan debt forgiven each year you participate, but you’re often left with less flexibility when it comes to your career.
Before you apply for a loan forgiveness program, consider these major advantages and disadvantages.
- Participants can have $10,000 or more in loans forgiven for each year of service, depending on the program.
- You can benefit from loan forgiveness and earn a living at the same time.
- Some tuition assistance programs let you attend school and work toward an advanced nursing degree simultaneously.
- You may need to work in an underserved area, which means you’ll have less job flexibility.
- Loan forgiveness is often based on a multiyear commitment.
- You will likely need to continue making payments on your loans while you work and participate in one of these programs.
Student loan forgiveness programs can fully eliminate your educational debt, or, at the very least, lower it. If you think you’re eligible for a specific program based on your employment as a nurse, it doesn’t hurt to apply. And if your application isn’t accepted, consider refinancing, consolidating, or enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan to better manage your loan repayment until you qualify for forgiveness.