Student loan forgiveness for teachers: What you need to know

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Teaching can be a rewarding profession, but that doesn’t erase the fact that teachers are often overworked and underpaid. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual salary for public school teachers is $61,730. But that nationwide number can be deceptive. The average teacher in New York earns close to $86,000 per year, while the average annual salary for a teacher in Mississippi is less than $46,000.

Now, consider the fact that the average borrower owes $35,359 in student loan debt. When you compare the average teacher’s salary with average student loan debt, it’s easy to see how educators may struggle with repaying student loans.  Thankfully, teachers have a lot of options when it comes to student loan forgiveness.

What is student loan forgiveness for teachers?

Student loan forgiveness is a program where the federal, state or local government (or some other organization) wipes out either all or part of your student loan balances.

One of the perks of teaching is that you could potentially have access to multiple student loan forgiveness programs. Eligibility requirements vary, but some programs will forgive your debt after just a few years.

What are eligibility requirements for student loan forgiveness for teachers?

Each student loan forgiveness program for teachers has different eligibility requirements. For example, some forgiveness programs are only available if you work at an eligible public school or teach a specific subject. Other forgiveness options may be more lenient in this area. Just like you expect of your students, you may need to buckle down and do a little homework to figure out if your loan is eligible for forgiveness.

One common requirement, especially for federal forgiveness programs, is that your student loans cannot be in default. The potential to lose out on student loan forgiveness benefits is just one more reason why keeping up with your student loan repayment schedule is so important.

Types of loan forgiveness programs

Below are three student loan forgiveness options for teachers that could potentially save you a bundle.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Eligible teachers may be able to eliminate up to $17,500 of their federal student debt through the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. The program works for Direct or FFEL Loans (subsidized or unsubsidized) and may be available once you serve as a full-time teacher for five or more years.

  • Requirements: You must work full time at an eligible low-income school or educational service agency. Your full-time employment must include at least five completed and consecutive academic years. At least one of those years needs to be after the 1997-98 school year.
  • Perks: Qualifying for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program does not prevent you from receiving additional benefits through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
  • What to watch out for: You need to be a “highly qualified teacher” in either mathematics, science or special education to qualify for the full $17,500 in forgiveness. (A highly qualified teacher will have at least a bachelor’s degree, a state teaching certificate and no certification or licensing requirement waivers.) Other teachers may qualify for loan forgiveness of up to $5,000.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

You may also be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, or PSLF, if you work as a full-time teacher. This program can potentially wipe out up to 100 percent of your remaining federal student loan debt (Direct Loans or Direct Consolidation Loans) after you work in a qualified public service position for at least 10 years.

  • Requirements: You need to work full time for the government (federal, state, local or tribal) or a nonprofit organization for at least 10 years. During that time, you’ll also need to sign up for an income-driven repayment plan and make at least 120 qualifying, on-time student loan payments.
  • Perks: Public and private school teachers (at nonprofit schools) may be eligible for the program. Also, any student loan debt forgiven under the PSLF program is not taxed as additional income by the IRS.
  • What to watch out for: PSLF doesn’t work for private student loans, nor for all federal student loans. If your federal student loans aren’t eligible, you’ll need to consolidate your accounts into a Direct Loan to qualify.

Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation

Through 2017, Perkins Loans were available to certain undergraduate and graduate students with a financial need. You can no longer receive these student loans, but if you’re a teacher with existing Perkins Loans, they might be eligible for up to 100 percent cancellation over a five-year period.

  • Requirements: You must have a Perkins Loan and be a full-time teacher at a qualifying low-income school. Alternatively, you may still be eligible for the cancellation if you teach science, mathematics, a foreign language, bilingual education or special education. In certain states with teacher shortages, you may qualify if you teach a different subject as well.
  • Perks: Teachers at nonprofit private schools may qualify for forgiveness, depending on whether the school provides a qualifying education as defined by state law.
  • What to watch out for: If you’re eligible, your loans won’t be canceled all at once. Instead, up to 15 percent of your student loan balances may be canceled per year during the first and second years you hold an eligible teaching position. Another 20 percent of your balances may be canceled per year during years three and four. Finally, 30 percent may be canceled after your fifth year of eligible employment.

Next steps

Aside from the federal student loan forgiveness programs above, you should take time to search for available teacher benefits in your state and local area. In some cases, you may even be able to combine multiple teacher student loan forgiveness programs and amplify the savings potential.

If you can’t afford to keep up with your regular repayment schedule at this time, you can also talk to your student loan servicer about forbearance or deferment options. (Special payment suspension options are available on federal student loans due to the coronavirus pandemic.) Income-based repayment plans may also be worth considering, depending on your financial situation and the size of your household.

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