Being a nurse can be an incredibly rewarding profession, and not just because you get to care for others and make a difference in their lives. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nurses earned median annual wages of $73,300 last year. Meanwhile, nurse practitioners earned a median annual salary of $115,800.
Of course, you can’t look at the benefits of nursing without considering some of the drawbacks — namely, the cost of education. Thankfully, there are numerous student loan forgiveness programs available that could reduce or eliminate a portion of your nursing school debt. If you’re struggling to keep up with student loan payments, one of these programs may be worth looking into.
- What is student loan forgiveness?
- Student loan forgiveness programs for nurses
- How nurses can qualify for student loan forgiveness
- Pros and cons of loan forgiveness for nurses
- Other student loan forgiveness programs
- Other ways to repay student loans
What is student loan forgiveness?
Student loan forgiveness is a term used to describe programs that will “erase” some component of your student loan debt. In certain situations, the federal government may agree to cancel some or all of your student loans. In other cases, your state or another program may pay off a portion or all of your student loan balances for you.
However, there is a catch. To qualify for student loan forgiveness programs, you’ll first need to meet a series of requirements. Often, you’ll still need to make payments for a number of years before the debt is canceled, and you’ll likely have to work in a qualifying career field.
Student loan forgiveness programs for nurses
Nurses have multiple options when it comes to student loan forgiveness, although some programs have more hoops to jump through than others. If you’re a nurse with student debt or you’re considering a nursing career, here are the main programs you should know about.
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 consecutive payments, or 10 years of payments, toward your loans. As an added benefit, the IRS won’t make you pay taxes on your forgiven student loan debt under the PSLF program.
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.
Be careful not to default on your student loans, as doing so could disqualify you for PSLF. Additionally, if you owe private student loans, those won’t be eligible for forgiveness through the program.
To apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, visit StudentAid.gov.
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 plan, 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.
To apply for the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program, visit the Bureau of Health Workforce Customer Service Portal.
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 either case, the loan repayment award is tax-free.
In exchange for loan forgiveness, you must commit to at least two years of service at a 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 only be able to use one repayment option, even if you qualify for both.
To apply for the NHSC Loan Repayment Program, visit the Bureau of Health Workforce Customer Service Portal.
Indian Health Services Loan Repayment
The Indian Health Service (IHS) Loan Repayment Program (LRP) offers up to $20,000 per year in repayment 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 availability as funds. Further, funds are disbursed based on a ranking system, with preference given to American Indian and Alaska native applicants.
If you believe you’re eligible, you can apply online on the Indian Health Service website.
Military loan forgiveness for nurses
Nurses who agree to military service may see tens of thousands of dollars of their student loans forgiven. With U.S. Army nurse benefits, for example, you may be eligible for a sign-up bonus of up to $30,000, and you can qualify for up to $120,000 in nursing school loan repayment, doled out in increments of up to $40,000 for three years in a row.
If you agree to serve as a nurse in the U.S. Army Reserve, you can also qualify for up to $50,000 in student loan forgiveness over a three-year commitment.
The United States Navy also promises a loan repayment incentive for nurses. 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 also 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.”
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.
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 can vary. Some examples include the following:
- CHI Health in Nebraska offers a tuition assistance program for nurses, which is worth up to $3,000 per year for full-time nurses and $1,500 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. Make sure to 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.
How nurses can qualify for student loan forgiveness
As a nurse, your best bet is to research available forgiveness programs, like the ones above, and see which options you may be eligible to receive. If you can review available forgiveness programs while you’re still in nursing school, even better. Understanding your options in advance may help you choose a job after graduation that lets you receive student loan forgiveness.
Many forgiveness programs require you to work for a certain amount of time in an eligible position or in an underserved area, and some may require you to keep making payments on your loans in order to qualify.
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 with your career.
Before you consider 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 at the same time.
- Some forgiveness programs require you to pay income taxes on forgiven amounts.
- 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.
Other student loan forgiveness programs
While the programs listed above are geared more toward nurses, specifically, there are other ways you may be able to get some or all of your student loan balance forgiven.
Income-driven repayment plan forgiveness
If your student loan payments are high compared to your income, the Department of Education offers four income-driven repayment plans that might help you. In addition to potentially helping you lower your monthly student loan payment, these plans feature loan forgiveness for qualifying borrowers after 20 to 25 years.
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.
You can find more information about Perkins Loan cancellation at StudentAid.gov. However, you’ll need to apply for a loan cancellation or discharge through your school or your Perkins Loan servicer.
Other ways to repay student loans
Student loan forgiveness programs can be a huge help to many nurses who are trying to juggle their educational debt after graduation. But in reality, not everyone will qualify for this type of financial assistance.
If you can’t qualify for student loan forgiveness or you don’t want to be tied down to a specific nursing job for several years, some other strategies that could potentially save you money on your educational debt include:
- Refinancing or consolidating your student loans: If you have good credit and steady income, you might be able to qualify for a lower interest rate on your student loans through a private lender. Just be aware that if you refinance or consolidate federal student loans with a private lender, you’ll give up a number of benefits, including federal forbearance and income-driven repayment options.
- Repaying your student loans faster: While you won’t have any of your loan balance forgiven, you could reduce the total amount you pay by making extra payments on your loans. This will help you get out of debt sooner and will cut down on the amount of interest tacked on to your loans.