From correctional officers and state police officers to detectives and federal agents, law enforcement jobs are often competitive. Employment prospects in the field are projected to grow at a rate of 5% between 2018 and 2028, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Depending on the job, however, pay ranges between $36,550 up to $106,090.
Because pay varies so widely, as do educational requirements, law enforcement professionals might find themselves facing student loan payments they can’t afford. Fortunately, there are several options, like police officer student loan forgiveness, to help reduce how much you pay on your student debt.
This guide will help you determine if you qualify for student loan forgiveness for police officers and also help you learn about other repayment options.
1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness for police officers
Most law enforcement professionals work for a government agency, which means they can qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). This program, which started in 2007, offers student loan forgiveness options for law enforcement officers and others who provide important services to the public. Under PSLF, law enforcement officers who make 120 on-time payments to federal student loan debt while working full-time for a government or other qualifying organization can qualify to have their debt forgiven.
While it sounds great on paper, there are downsides to PSLF. First, it’s incredibly difficult to get your debt forgiven. As of June 2019, 98.9% of PSLF applicants were denied, which means that only 1.1% of people received student loan forgiveness for law enforcement. Second, your life situations and career may change, affecting your eligibility for student loan forgiveness for police officers. There’s also the chance you’ll have already paid off your student loans by the time you qualify for PSLF.
Below, we’ll outline the requirements that both you and your employer must meet in order to qualify for PSLF.
Law enforcement departments and agencies that qualify for PSLF
Whether your student loans can be forgiven through Public Service Loan Forgiveness depends primarily on where you work. Your employer has to meet eligibility requirements for offering a public service.
For law enforcement officers, working for a qualified employer is standard. Government organizations that enforce laws at all levels, including federal, state, local and tribal, should qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Here are some examples of government law enforcement departments and agencies that may qualify for student loan forgiveness for law enforcement jobs:
- Bureau of Indian Affairs Police
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
- City police departments
- College and university police
- County sheriff offices
- Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)
- National Park Service Rangers and Police
- National Security Agency (NSA)
- Naval Criminal Investigative Service
- State prison facilities or departments of corrections
- S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
- S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
- S. Marshals Service
- S. Secret Service
This list is not comprehensive, but it is a good place to start. Most likely, employment by just about any government organization will qualify you for PSLF. Additionally, Public Service Loan Forgiveness for law enforcement includes all department employees, not just officers. All government employees qualify for PSLF even if they don’t have duties directly related to law enforcement or criminal justice.
Some exceptions include for-profit organizations, labor unions and political organizations. However, law enforcement professionals who work for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit might qualify for PSLF. For instance, police officers who work for private universities that are 501(c)(3)s would qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Other organizations that offer public service might also meet requirements for PSLF, though guidelines are less clear for these employers. In some cases, law enforcement-related jobs for private sector employers might not qualify, like correctional officers at for-profit prison firms.
If you’re not sure whether your employer meets PSLF requirements, it’s best to submit a PSLF employment certification form to check.
Other PSLF requirements you must meet
While your employer is a big part of whether you’ll qualify, there are also some requirements that you will need to meet to be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Because it’s so difficult to qualify for student loan forgiveness for police officers, it’s crucial to follow the guidelines. To qualify you must:
- Have qualifying federal student loans. This includes Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS loans. If your loans don’t qualify, you might be able to consolidate your federal student loans to make them eligible for forgiveness. An estimated 15% of PSLF applicants were denied because their loans did not meet requirements.
- Work full-time (30+ hours a week) for a qualified employer. You can even qualify if you have multiple part-time jobs with qualified employers. However, you must be working a combined 30 hours or more for these employers.
- Make 120 monthly student loan payments. These must be on-time (no more than 15 days late) and can be on any repayment schedule. Due to late payments, 55% of people did not receive PSLF funding.
Additionally, while not a requirement, if you’re planning to take this path to student loan forgiveness for police officers, it will benefit you most if you switch to a different repayment plan. After graduating, student loans default to the Standard Repayment Plan, which amortizes payments over 10 years.
Yet PSLF only forgives any remaining balance after 120 payments — equal to 10 years of payments. So, if you stick to the Standard Repayment schedule, you’ll actually finish repaying your loans just as they become eligible for forgiveness.
That’s where changing your repayment plan comes in. If you have a lower income, switching to an income-driven repayment plan (which we discuss more below) will probably give you the most affordable monthly payments. If your income is too high to qualify for an income-driven repayment plan, you might still be eligible for other repayment plans with lower payments, such as an extended repayment plan.
2. Federal Perkins loans forgiveness for law enforcement
Unlike federal student loans, Perkins Loans are administered and disbursed by your college or university. While the Perkins Loan program expired in September 2017, old Perkins Loans are still eligible for forgiveness. With Perkins Loan forgiveness, you can get up to 100% student loan cancellation — including interest — for five years of eligible service.
To get Perkins Loan forgiveness, you’ll need to be employed full-time as a law enforcement or corrections officer. You will have to prove your employing law enforcement agency is eligible, and that your role is central to its mission.
If you think you qualify for Perkins Loan forgiveness, you can apply for it through your school. Contact your school’s billing or student loan office to get the correct paperwork to apply. Complete the necessary paperwork and include all documents and information requested, including proof of qualifying employment. Submit these by the deadline. Your college then will process the request and determine if you’re eligible for partial or full Perkins Loan cancelation.
If you’re approved, a portion of the original principal loan amount will be forgiven each year for full forgiveness over five years:
- First year: 15% cancellation
- Second year: 15% cancellation
- Third year: 20% cancellation
- Fourth year: 20% cancellation
- Fifth year: 30% cancellation
Perkins Loan repayment is automatically deferred during employment that qualifies you for forgiveness. The forgiveness will be applied until the loan is fully forgiven, or until your employment ends, at which time repayment will resume.
3. Income-driven repayment plan forgiveness
Most police officers can qualify for student loan forgiveness through PSLF or Perkins loan cancellation if your loans were taken out within the required timeframe. However, that’s not always the case. If you can’t take advantage of these options or are ineligible for some reason, an income-driven repayment plan can be a venue for student loan forgiveness.
Income-driven repayment plans adjust your monthly payments according to your income level. For some plans, your cost of living is also taken into account. These plans also offer forgiveness after 20 to 25 years, ensuring your student debt doesn’t follow you around for the rest of your life.
Another major benefit of income-driven repayment plans is that you can quickly adjust your payments downward if your income drops. For law enforcement, this can provide assistance when they need it most.
Officers might face periods of unemployment, leave without pay or local or federal furlough. If you’re already enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan and you lose income due to these reasons or others, you can request that payments immediately be lowered to match your lessened income.
If you can qualify for PSLF or other student loan forgiveness for law enforcement, these can be the most affordable ways to handle student debt. There are forgiveness options for death and disability, too.
However, not everyone will be eligible for student loan forgiveness for law enforcement. You might have private student loans that don’t have the same protections that federal student loans provide. Depending on your financial goals and student loan types, you might be able to pay less in total loan costs by exploring other options.
Consider refinancing student loans
One of these options is refinancing student loans. While federal student loans have many options to lower your monthly payments, there are few ways to directly lower the actual cost of your loan — the interest you’re charged on your debt.
But refinancing your student loans is one way to potentially get a lower student loan rate. When you refinance student loans, you take out a new private student loan to replace your current debt. If you can secure a lower interest rate, it will help you save money and get out of student debt faster.
However, refinancing student loans doesn’t always make sense. If you’re counting on PSLF, refinancing your student loans with a private lender will make them ineligible for forgiveness. You will also lose access to other important federal protections, such as income-driven repayment plans.
However, refinancing student loans might be worth looking into, especially if you have student loans with interest rates of 5% or higher. You can even choose to refinance only the student loans with the highest interest rates. Check out some of the best refinancing options here.
Look into federal student loan repayment plans
Besides income-driven repayment, there are other options to lower your federal student loan payments. These include the following:
- Direct Consolidation Loan: Replace your existing student loans with a new single federal student loan that has a weighted average of the interest rates. At the time of consolidation, you can choose a new repayment period of up to 30 years.
- Graduated Repayment Plan: Your payments are initially set low, then gradually increase every two years. Repayment periods last 10 years.
- Extended Repayment Plan: If you have more than $30,000 in student loans, you can choose an Extended Repayment Plan. This will amortize repayment over a longer period, up to 25 years, for lower monthly costs.
When might these be a good option? If your income is too high to effectively lower payments through an income-driven repayment plan, these options can help since these plans are not affected by income level.
For police officers with high income, getting on one of these plans will help them meet the requirements of PSLF while still lowering monthly costs.
Overall, the options for student loan forgiveness for law enforcement are fairly robust — and many law enforcement officers and workers will qualify for these programs. If you’re a law enforcement officer or agent, it’s likely you can get student loan forgiveness.
Take time to understand your options and how they work, and ensure that you do qualify. Then, take full advantage of such opportunities. With the high stress and long hours of law enforcement work, you deserve every form of compensation you can get — including police officer student loan forgiveness.
Sage Singleton Evans contributed to this report.