Being a nurse can be an incredibly rewarding profession. Not only does nursing give you the opportunity to serve others in your community, but the average salary for registered nurses is an attractive $77,460. Nurse practitioners average even higher earnings of $111,840 annually.
Of course, you can’t look at the benefits of nursing without considering some of the drawbacks — namely, the cost of education. The cost of a nursing degree commonly ranges between $10,000 to $80,000 or more, depending on factors like your school and area of study. As a result, many nursing students need to rely on student loans to help pay for their 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 comes in several different forms. In certain situations, the federal government may agree to cancel some or all of your student loan debt. In other cases, your state or another program may pay off a portion or all of your student loan balances for you.
Of course, 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. Below are three programs you should check out if you have nursing school debt or you’re considering a career in nursing.
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 loan payments. (That’s a 10-year repayment period, if you’re counting.) 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 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
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 healthcare professionals (i.e., a Health Professional Shortage Area).
If you’re willing to continue your contract beyond the initial two-year commitment, you may be eligible to receive additional funding:
- Full-time: Up to $20,000 per year.
- Part-time: Up to $10,000 per year.
- Full-time plus a Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 (DATA 2000) Waiver: Up to $25,000 per year.
- Half-time plus a DATA 2000 Waiver: Up to $15,000 per year.
Note: You can apply for this program along with the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program. But 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.
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 helps 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.
Remember to check with your state to see if there are additional student loan programs in your area. In exchange for a commitment to work in an underserved area, some states may offer to pay off a portion or even all of your student loan debt.
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, 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, like 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.