Staring ahead at years upon years of student loan payments can be depressing, and programs that can cancel out that debt — like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and income-driven repayment — take a decade or more to forgive the loans. Plus, it’s notoriously difficult to discharge federal student loans in bankruptcy.
All this can be frustrating. The good news is there are ways to help borrowers pay down their loans at a faster pace — while making a difference at the same time. Here’s how to get rid of student loans legally.
1. Military service
Protect the country by serving in the armed forces and get help repaying your student loans. There are several programs aimed at helping those who serve in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Additionally, there are programs for reservists and members of the National Guard. Take a look at our in-depth overview of military student loan forgiveness programs.
In many cases, you are required to enlist for between three and six years. However, in exchange for your service, and depending on the program, you can receive anywhere between $10,000 and $120,000 toward your student loans.
Plus, military service is compatible with income-driven repayment and qualifies you for PSLF. So, even if the program you are eligible for doesn’t offer enough to pay off your loan balance, you can still benefit from other types of loan repayment assistance as you figure out how to get rid of student loans.
The main downside to military service is the fact that you put yourself in harm’s way and might be required to serve months at a time away from your family.
2. National Health Service Corps
If you have the proper qualifications in a health field, you can enroll in the National Health Service Corps. Those that follow specialties in medicine, dentistry, and mental health can receive up to $50,000 to repay federal loans from medical school.
However, you have to provide at least two years of service in an area that is underserved regarding healthcare professionals.
One of the biggest advantages of this award is that the money is tax-free. Many of the other awards for service are taxable.
As long as you have gone through the appropriate medical training and are willing to commit to one of these areas (where you might not earn as much as you would in private practice), this can be an attractive way to super-charge your student loan repayment.
Looking to serve your community and earn an education award to help you pay down student loans a bit faster? AmeriCorps jobs can help. You can receive up to $5,815 for a minimum of 1,700 hours of service.
Depending on the program you choose, it’s possible to stay in your community, working with local nonprofits, public agencies, and projects that benefit low-income Americans. Many of the jobs, in addition to providing you with a way to earn the education award for student loan repayment, also help you qualify for PSLF. You can also be on income-driven repayment while working for AmeriCorps.
One of the benefits of this program is that you can sometimes serve in AmeriCorps, while at the same time holding down a separate part-time job. However, if you don’t live in an area of qualifying need, you might have to travel to an area where there are AmeriCorps opportunities.
4. Teach for America
If you believe children are the future, and you want to influence that future, teaching might be your calling. But it’s hard to repay student loans on a teacher salary. This is where Teach for America comes in.
First of all, Teach for America is compatible with AmeriCorps, so you might be able to use your time in the program to qualify for the AmeriCorps education award as well.
And when you teach beyond the initial two-year term required, you get access to extra programs. For example, if you teach full-time for five consecutive years in a low-income school, you might be able to receive forgiveness for up to $17,500 on your FFEL and Direct Loan program student loans. A portion of your Perkins loans can also be canceled through Teach for America.
It’s important to find out if the school you work at qualifies, since forgiveness programs are for teachers who concentrate on underserved schools in low-income areas.
Participating in Teach for America at qualified schools can also allow you access to PSLF and income-driven repayment programs.
While participating in Teach for America, you need to work full-time, and while you will be paid a salary during the term, it is usually relatively low. Additionally, it’s important to understand that some of the classroom situations in eligible areas can be challenging. Being able to handle these challenges is vital if you plan to enroll for service.
5. Peace Corps
If you have federal Perkins loans, you could be eligible for partial loan cancellation through work in the Peace Corps. Depending on your terms of service, 15 to 70 percent of your Perkins loans could be canceled.
However, it’s important to be careful if you go this route. If you include your Perkins loans in your Direct Consolidation, they will no longer be eligible for cancellation.
During your Peace Corps experience, you can participate in income-driven repayment or choose to have your federal loans deferred. Peace Corps service also qualifies under PSLF.
The real opportunity to accelerate your loan repayment comes with the stipend you receive upon completing your Peace Corps term (usually 27 months). You receive up to $8,000 that can used for anything, including student loan repayment.
This is a truly volunteer position. You’ll get a stipend commensurate with living expenses in the local area where you serve, but you aren’t getting much more. Plus, once you commit, you’re there for the duration. You get two days off for each month of accrued service.
For many borrowers without Perkins loans, the Peace Corps doesn’t offer the best route for paying down student debt quickly. However, if you want to serve the needy and hope to put your loans on hold during the process, Peace Corps can be one way to go about it. Check out our strategies for managing student loans while in the Peace Corps.
How to get rid of student loans legally another way
All of these strategies of how to get rid of student loans focus on experiences that take up a lot of time and effort. While you are completing your service, you won’t make very much money. Weigh whether or not the awards for your service are worth the trade-offs in salary and time involved.
If you’re concerned about the low pay, you could add a side hustle or get a higher-paying job while volunteering on the side.
Finally, some employers have started offering student loan repayment assistance as a benefit. Contact your human resources representative about the possibilities — you could be the one to convince your company to start offering repayment assistance.
Joining the Army, Peace Corps, or other public service programs is a huge decision. As you consider the impact on your student loans, review your options and figure out what route is best for your situation.
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