We’ve all wished that our debt would just go away or, at the very least, we could make the payments more manageable. This is especially true for the 44 million Americans who collectively hold nearly $1.5 trillion in student debt.

A student loan forgiveness program or student loan consolidation might help take some of the heat off. And while none of these options will eliminate your debt instantly, they can certainly help diminish the financial pressure.

But which option is right for you? Should you go for student loan consolidation or focus on forgiveness? Ultimately, it comes down to your level of debt and ability to pay it off.

What is Student Loan Forgiveness?

Student loan forgiveness will not instantly wipe the slate clean.

Rather, student loan forgiveness makes the monthly payments more affordable during the loan term of (usually) 20-25 years. The light at the end of the tunnel, usually, is that the government will pick up whatever balance remains upon loan maturity. You still have to make payments during the life of the loan but now you don’t have to worry about elements like interest rates lengthening your loan term.

There are a variety of student loan forgiveness programs and plans and each has its own traits to consider. The Income Based plan will determine your loan payments based on the size of your family and income. From there, fifteen percent of your discretionary income will be required to pay the federal state loans.

Pay As You Earn is another route that comes with even lower monthly payments. This is based on your income, as well, but takes ten percent instead of 15.

Qualifying for a student loan forgiveness program can be a little tricky because each program has its own set of requirements.

Student Loan Forgiveness Pros

  • Relieves a significant portion of debt (but not necessarily all!)
  • You don’t have to work strictly in public service to qualify
  • There are a variety of payment plans so you aren’t pigeonholed

Student Loan Forgiveness Cons

  • Long-term job commitment to a qualifying employer is a must
  • Your job prospects will be limited to qualify for the federal student loan forgiveness program
  • There are no standardized qualifications for various programs and they all vary in strictness

What is Student Loan Consolidation?

Say you have multiple federal education loans. That likely means multiple monthly payments and varying interest rates. That’s where student loan consolidation can help.

With student loan consolidation, you’re combining several student loans into one bigger loan from a single lender. While this can simplify your loan payments and make them more manageable, it does run the risk of increasing your interest rate.

Getting a debt consolidation loan to manage your student loans can be a smart move. You won’t have to worry about juggling multiple loans and you might even be able to improve your repayment terms.

However, you should take stock of your financial position before looking into student loan consolidation. While it’s nice to only have to pay one monthly bill, if the interest rate is too high, you might lengthen your period of debt.

Student Loan Consolidation Pros

  • Simplicity – one monthly payment versus several
  • The potential to pay less per month
  • Potential eligibility for lower rates based on credit

Student Loan Consolidation Cons

  • Potentially higher rates
  • Longer repayment period
  • You could lose borrower’s benefits (especially if you have a loan enrolled in student loan forgiveness)

A Complete List of Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

Below, you’ll find a comprehensive list of available student loan forgiveness programs:

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

Just as the name suggests, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is geared toward people working in public service jobs. This can include public safety, education, or even government work. After 120 monthly payments, you could qualify for 100% percent loan forgiveness of the remaining balance.

Federal Perkins Loan cancellation

If you took out a Federal Perkins Loan for school, then the Perkins Loan cancellation and discharge program could forgive a certain portion of debt.

Loan repayment assistance for lawyers

For those considering a future career in law, there are a plethora of national and state programs to help offset the high-cost education. These include:

  • State and university-sponsored LRAPs (Loan Repayment Assistance Programs)
  • John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program
  • Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program
  • Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program

Military student loan forgiveness and assistance

Servicemembers and veterans of the armed forces (especially the Army and Navy) can also receive loan forgiveness. Take the Navy program, for example, which can offer financial aid of up to $65,000. There’s also the College Loan Repayment Program for the Army, which pays a third of your loans annually (for up to 3 years).

Loan repayment assistance for doctors and other health care professionals

Studying to become a physician? What about a pharmacist? As crucial as these professions are, the education does not come cheap. Luckily, there are a variety of state and national programs that offer forgiveness and financial aid, such as:

  • Students to Service Program
  • Loan forgiveness for doctors in the Armed Forces
  • State LRAP programs for doctors and other health care professionals
  • National Health Service Corps (NHSC) loan repayment assistance
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Programs
  • Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program

Loan forgiveness for teachers

Teacher Loan Forgiveness is a national loan forgiveness program that helps teachers pay back their student loans. As long as you’re a teacher employed a qualifying school for five years, you can receive loan forgiveness. In order to see if your school qualifies, consult the Teacher Cancellation Low Income Directory.

What loans qualify for student loan consolidation?

The following are all loans that you can consolidate:

  • Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans
  • Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans
  • PLUS loans from the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program
  • Supplemental Loans for Students
  • Federal Perkins Loans
  • Nursing Student Loans
  • Nurse Faculty Loans
  • Health Education Assistance Loans
  • Health Professions Student Loans
  • Loans for Disadvantaged Students
  • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct PLUS Loans

Consolidation or forgiveness?

At the end of the day, both student loan consolidation and forgiveness are helpful ways to manage your education costs. It really depends on your financial situation and how much debt you’re dealing with.

If you’re struggling to manage a bevy of debts, and feel like a variety of interest rates is eating away at your progress, consolidation is probably the way to go. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, a student loan forgiveness program might be a better choice.