From correctional officers to state police and federal agents, law enforcement isn’t an easy job. Members of law enforcement often face high stress and high risk — often without high pay to match.
A border patrol officer working for Homeland Security, for instance, earns just under $37,000 annually. But on the other end of the pay scale, FBI agents are among the top earners, with an average salary just over $136,000.
However, law enforcement jobs are often competitive, and the BLS projects slower job growth in law enforcement than in other sectors. Additionally, 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 to reduce how much you pay on your student debt. Use this guide to see if you could qualify for student loan forgiveness for law enforcement officers or other repayment options.
1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness for law enforcement
Most law enforcement professionals work for a government agency, which means they can qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). This program started in 2007 and offers student loan forgiveness for law enforcement officers and others who work with the public providing important services.
Under PSLF, law enforcement officers who make 120 on-time payments on federal student debt while working full-time for a government or other qualifying organization can have their debt forgiven.
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 can qualify you for PSLF. Employers from tribal and city police, county sheriff departments, state police, and all the way up to federal agencies should qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
These government law enforcement departments and agencies include the following (as well as others):
- 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
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
- U.S. Marshals Service
- U.S. Secret Service
This list is not comprehensive but is a good place to start. However, you can rest assured that 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.
Make sure your law enforcement employer qualifies
Law enforcement professionals who work for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit might also qualify for PSLF. For instance, police 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. And 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.
Make sure you meet PSLF requirements, too
Your employer is a big part of whether you’ll qualify for PSLF. But there are also some requirements that you will need to meet to be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness:
- Have qualifying federal student loans. This includes Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans and Direct Grad PLUS loans. If your loans don’t qualify, you might be able to consolidate your federal student loans to make them eligible for forgiveness.
- 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. 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.
Switch to a cheaper repayment plan
If you’re planning to take this path to student loan forgiveness for law enforcement, 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. 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 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. Schools must offer 100 percent student loan forgiveness to law enforcement officers and corrections working full-time — including interest.
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 will process the request and determine if you’re eligible for partial or full Perkins Loan cancellation.
If you’re approved, a portion of these loans will be forgiven each year for full forgiveness over five years:
- First year: 15 percent cancellation
- Second year: 15 percent cancellation
- Third year: 20 percent cancellation
- Fourth year: 20 percent cancellation
- Fifth year: 30 percent 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 law enforcement officers can qualify for student loan forgiveness through PSLF or Perkins loan cancellation. 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 or other reasons, you can request that payments immediately be lowered to match your lessened income.
4. Student loan forgiveness for death or permanent disability
Law enforcement officers face greater on-the-job risk of serious injury than most workers. Their duties “can be physically demanding, stressful, and dangerous,” according to the BLS.
Law enforcement members should know what happens to their student debt should the worst happen to them. While facing these work hazards, student loan rules that protect against death and disability become even more important.
Student loan forgiveness for law enforcement also includes loan cancellation following death or total and permanent disability. In fact, any borrower who becomes permanently disabled, including on-duty law enforcement members, can get federal student loans canceled.
To get a student loan discharge due to disability, you will need to submit an application for discharge and submit documentation of your disability. You can start the process at the official site DisabilityDischarge.com.
Hopefully, you will never need to request loan forgiveness following a disability. But knowing that this protection exists can give peace of mind that should anything happen to you, student debt repayment won’t pass to family members or a spouse.
Other options to manage student loans
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.
However, not every law enforcement worker will be eligible for student loan forgiveness. You might have private student loans that don’t have the same protections 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 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 important protections, such as IDR plans.
However, refinancing student loans might be worth looking into, especially if you have student loans with interest rates of 5 percent or higher. You can even choose to only refinance the student loans with the highest interest rates.
Look into federal student loan repayment plans
Besides IDR, 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 interest rate. 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. These plans are not affected by income level.
For law enforcement officers with high income, getting on one of these plans will help them meet the requirements of PSLF while still lowering monthly costs.
Don’t miss out on student loan forgiveness for law enforcement officers
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, 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, you deserve every form of compensation you can get — including student loan forgiveness.
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