The Complete List of Student Loan Forgiveness Programs and Options

 April 30, 2021
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Student loan forgiveness programs aren’t overnight solutions to your debt woes, but they can help you erase some or all of your outstanding balance over time.

Many student loan forgiveness programs are meant for borrowers who work in public service, education, health care and other fields for a certain period. Some states even help debt-saddled graduates pay off their loans.

If you’re struggling with debt, we’ve done the research to provide you with a list of all the major public student loan forgiveness programs available to help. Check out which option works best for you, or scroll down for the full list of ways to get your federal and, in rarer cases, private student loans forgiven. You can look by program…

… or by occupation and other categories.

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Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program helps people working in public service jobs, and a variety of fields qualify for PSLF. For this program, it’s less about your job title and more about the organization you work for. There are plenty of jobs that qualify for PSLF that you might not think of.

After 120 payments, you can qualify for 100% loan forgiveness. The payments don’t need to be consecutive, but they do need to be made on a qualifying repayment plan.

Who’s eligible?

To qualify, you must be a full-time employee at a federal, state or local government agency or at a 501(c)(3)-designated organization. Religious-based nonprofits are excluded, as well as labor unions and partisan political organizations.

Which loans qualify?

Under PSLF, all federal direct loans qualify, including:

  • Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans
  • Direct PLUS loans
  • Direct consolidation loans

Federal Perkins loans and Family Education loans (FFEL) are only eligible for PSLF if you consolidate them via a direct consolidation loan first.

What are the requirements?

Not everyone that works in public service qualifies for PSLF. You’ll need to work full time at a qualifying organization and make 120 on-time loan payments. Those payments must be under a qualifying repayment plan, including:

For most borrowers, an income-driven repayment plan lowers your monthly payments and maximizes the amount you’ll have forgiven.

How can you become eligible?

To make sure you’re eligible for PSLF, submit the Employment Certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness form. The program requires this form for every year of service, so submitting it on an annual basis will help ensure you’re on track for PSLF.

Another important step is switching to an income-driven repayment plan. You’ll lower your monthly payments while extending your term to 20 or 25 years. If you stay on the standard plan, you won’t have any balance left to forgive after 10 years of payments.

Finally, consider consolidating your student loans into a direct consolidation loan. This step is helpful if you have Perkins or FFEL loans. Plus, it simplifies your monthly payments, so you’ll only have one loan to pay each month. You can estimate your possible forgiveness through our PSLF calculator.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Calculator

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How do you apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Fill out and submit the Employment Certification Form each year, or as you change jobs.

FedLoan Servicing will review your information and let you know if you qualify. They might ask for more information, like pay stubs, W-2s or other documentation.

FedLoan Servicing will let you know how many qualified payments you have made, and how many payments you will need to make until you qualify for forgiveness.

Currently, there is no limit on the amount forgiven under PSLF. The full amount of your federal student loans is eligible for forgiveness.

Forgiveness with Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

While this isn’t a forgiveness program in the typical sense, you can get your loans forgiven through the Income-Based Repayment program.

Through IBR, your student loan payments are capped at 10% or 15% of your discretionary income. After making consistent payments under IBR for 20 or 25 years (terms depend on when you borrowed), any remaining loan balance will be forgiven.

Thanks to a student loan stimulus included in Congress’ relief package in March 2021, loans that are forgiven under this program won’t be taxed as income through 2025.

Who’s eligible?

Your IBR payments must be less than what your payment would be under the standard repayment plan. Estimate your payments through our IBR calculator to see if you qualify.

Which loans qualify?

Some loans might not qualify for IBR, so check to see if yours does. Qualifying loans include:

What are the requirements?

Borrowers must make consistent payments for 20 or 25 years and update their loan servicers when their income changes. IBR is best for borrowers who expect to stay in low-paying fields but have high-figure debt.

How do you apply?

To apply for IBR, submit an application through StudentAid.gov. You can also obtain a paper application from your loan servicer. You’ll need to provide documentation as requested, such as proof of income and a tax return.

Forgiveness with Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

Pay As You Earn (PAYE) is similar to Income-Based Repayment, in that it isn’t a typical forgiveness program. However, you could be eligible for forgiveness after a certain period of time.

The PAYE plan caps your monthly payment at 10% of your discretionary income. After borrowers make payments for 20 years, any remaining balance becomes eligible for forgiveness.

As with IBR, your forgiven balance might be treated as taxable income.

Who is eligible?

Your PAYE payments must be less than what they would be under the 10-year standard repayment plan.

Which loans qualify?

If you’re interested in the PAYE plan, qualifying loans include:

  • Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans
  • Direct grad PLUS loans
  • Subsidized and unsubsidized FFEL Stafford loans, if consolidated
  • FFEL loans made to grad students, if consolidated
  • Federal Perkins loans, if consolidated
  • Direct consolidation loans, unless they repaid parent PLUS loans or FFEL loans made to parents

What are the requirements?

You must make consistent payments under the plan for 20 years in order to be considered for loan forgiveness. Your payments will be based on your income and family size. In order to qualify for the program, you need to have been a new borrower as of Oct. 1, 2007, with a direct loan disbursement after Oct. 1, 2011.

How do you apply?

You can apply for PAYE through StudentAid.gov. Be prepared to send in income documentation. See if this plan can lower your monthly payments through our PAYE calculator.

Forgiveness with Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)

Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) works much the same way as Pay As You Earn. Under this plan, your payments will be capped at 10% of your discretionary income. Undergraduate loans are forgiven after 20 years, while graduate school loans are forgiven after 25 years.

Unlike IBR and PAYE — which require you to end up with a lower payment than on the standard plan, there’s no such requirement for REPAYE; anyone with eligible loans can apply, even if they end up paying more with an income-based payment. (See details above, under “Forgiveness with income-based repayment.”) As a result, you could end up with high monthly payments on REPAYE if you suddenly start making a lot more money.

Who’s eligible?

Anyone with qualifying federal student loans is eligible for REPAYE.

Which loans qualify?

While REPAYE is broadly open to everyone, your loans might not qualify. Eligible loans include:

  • Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans
  • Direct grad PLUS loans
  • FFEL Stafford loans, if consolidated
  • FFEL PLUS loans made to grad students, if consolidated
  • Federal Perkins loans, if consolidated
  • Direct consolidation loans, unless they repaid parent PLUS loans or FFEL loans made to parents

What are the requirements?

Borrowers with undergraduate loans must make consistent payments for 20 years. Those with loans for graduate school or professional study must make payments for 25 years.

How do you apply?

As with other income-driven plans, you’ll apply through StudentAid.gov. Plus, you’ll need to upload any necessary income documentation. Estimate your savings through the REPAYE calculator.

Forgiveness with Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

Income-Contingent Repayment also adjusts your monthly payments according to your income. You’ll either pay 20% of your discretionary income or what you’d pay on a fixed 12-year plan, whichever is less.

While ICR might not lower your payments as much as other plans, it does have one advantage. ICR is the only income-driven plan available to borrowers with parent PLUS loans. If you have parent PLUS loans, you can apply for ICR as long as you consolidate them first.

After 25 years of on-time payments, you’ll get the rest of your loan balance forgiven. Check the ICR calculator to see how your payments will change.

Who’s eligible?

Anyone with eligible federal student loans is eligible for ICR.

Which loans are eligible?

ICR offers forgiveness on the following loans:

  • Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans
  • Direct PLUS loans made to grad students
  • Direct consolidation loans
  • FFEL Stafford loans, if consolidated
  • FFEL loans made to parents, if consolidated
  • parent PLUS loans, if consolidated
  • Federal Perkins loans, if consolidated

What are the requirements?

Anyone with eligible student loans can apply for ICR.

How do you apply?

Apply for ICR through StudentAid.gov. Talk to your servicer if you have specific questions about your loan.

Federal Perkins Loan cancellation

If you took out a federal Perkins loan to pay for school, you could qualify for loan cancellation in a variety of ways. The Perkins loan cancellation and discharge program typically forgives a certain percentage of student loan debt after every year of service. Over time, you could get up to 100% of your Perkins loan canceled.

Who’s eligible?

Perkins loan cancellation is a popular program among teachers, as many people who work in education might qualify. You might be a teacher, librarian, speech-language pathologist or another type of education professional.

Other eligible occupations include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Firefighters
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Nurses
  • Public defenders
  • Service volunteers

You might also qualify if you’re in the military.

What are the requirements?

You must have a federal Perkins loan and work in a qualifying profession. Most recipients work full time for at least one year. Additional eligibility requirements vary by profession, but they often involve working in a high-need or critical shortage area.

How do you apply?

To learn more about Perkins loan cancellation and apply, speak with your loan servicer and school’s financial aid office.

Student loan forgiveness for teachers

There are several loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs for teachers. Aside from Public Service Loan Forgiveness and federal Perkins cancellation, there are a few other programs specifically for teachers.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

This national loan forgiveness program helps teachers pay back their student loans. You must work in a qualifying school for at least five consecutive years. Check out the Teacher Cancellation Low Income directory to see if your school qualifies.

Loan forgiveness amounts vary depending on what subject you teach. Most elementary school teachers receive up to $5,000. Secondary school teachers who teach math, science, or special education teachers at either level, could receive up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness.

Which loans are eligible?

There are only a couple of loans that are eligible for Teacher Loan Forgiveness, including:

  • Subsidized and unsubsidized direct loans
  • Subsidized and unsubsidized federal Stafford loans

If you only have PLUS loans, you’re not eligible for this forgiveness program.

What are the requirements?

If you have the qualifying loans, you’ll need to meet some other requirements, including:

  • You must teach in a qualifying organization. These include elementary and secondary schools — as well education service agencies — that serve low-income communities.
  • You cannot have loans that originated before Oct. 1, 1998.
  • Your loans must not be in default.
  • You have to work full time as a teacher for five consecutive years.
  • You’re a highly qualified teacher, meaning you have state certification or a teaching license.

How do you apply?

After teaching for five years, you can apply for teacher loan forgiveness by completing the Teacher Loan Forgiveness application. Return your application to your loan servicer.

Student loan repayment assistance programs for teachers

The Teacher Forgiveness Program isn’t your only option for student loan help. Many states also offer loan repayment assistance for teachers. Most of these programs require state licensure, as well as a commitment to working for two years in a qualifying area.

The Teach for Texas Program, for example, gives yearly assistance to teachers in designated shortage areas.

To find programs in your state, check out the full list of loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) and filter the results by occupation.

Student loan forgiveness for nurses

Like teachers, nurses also have access to a variety of federal and state programs for loan forgiveness. This first program is available to nurses all across the country.

NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program

If you work in an underserved community, you might be eligible for the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program. You can get up to 60% of your student loans paid over two years of employment. If you work for a third year, you could qualify for forgiveness toward another 25%.

What are the requirements?

To qualify for the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program, you must be a registered nurse, nurse practitioner or nurse faculty member. Nurses must work in a critical shortage area and serve a high-need population. Nurse faculty members must be at an accredited school of nursing.

How do you apply?

Applications are accepted once a year, and guidelines are updated annually. Check the program requirements and guidelines ahead of time and make sure to turn in your application on time.

Student loan repayment assistance programs for nurses

In addition to national programs, many states offer loan repayment assistance to nurses. The Illinois Nurse Educator Program, for example, awards up to $5,000 per year for four years to qualifying nurses and nurse educators in Illinois.

Browse through the available LRAPs for nurses. You can search by state, occupation or award amount. There are plenty more loan forgiveness options for nurses.

Loan repayment assistance for doctors and other health care professionals

Physicians have a number of options when it comes to student loan forgiveness. Most of these programs also award money to other health care professionals, such as loan forgiveness for pharmacists. Here are some national and state forgiveness programs for doctors and other people in health care.

National Health Service Corps (NHSC) loan repayment assistance

The NHSC program awards up to $50,000 to licensed health care providers. You must be a primary care doctor, dentist or a mental or behavioral clinician. In exchange for loan assistance, you must commit to working for two years at an eligible site.

Students to Service Program

If you’re in your last year of medical service, you could qualify for significant loan assistance from the Students to Service Program. This student loan forgiveness program provides up to $120,000. To qualify, you’ll commit to working as a primary health care provider at an approved site for three years.

Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program

The IHS Loan Repayment Program encourages doctors to practice in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. You must commit to two years of service; in exchange, the program will repay up to $40,000 of your student loans.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Programs

The NIH program offers aid to health professionals in research careers. If you commit to two years of research at a qualifying nonprofit, the program will repay up to $50,000 of your student loans for each year you receive the award.

Loan forgiveness for doctors in the Armed Forces

The military offers a number of student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs to health care professionals.

Check out the complete repayment guide for doctors to find more options.

State LRAP programs for doctors and other health care professionals

While many programs are available nationally, you might also find loan assistance from your state. There are a variety of state LRAPs across the country.

The Massachusetts Loan Repayment Program, for instance, awards up to $50,000 to health professionals working in shortage areas. You might find other repayment assistance options in your state.

Loan repayment assistance for lawyers

Law school isn’t cheap, but there are a few debt relief programs for lawyers. You have national and state program available, and you might even find help from your former law school. Make sure to explore all your options for student loan forgiveness for lawyers.

Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program

Lawyers who work for three years at the Department of Justice could earn up to $60,000 in loan assistance through the Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program. To qualify, you must have at least $10,000 in federal loans.

John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program

The John R. Justice Program helps lawyers in the public sector. If you’re a public defender, you could earn up to $10,000 per year for a maximum of $60,000.

Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program

This student loan forgiveness program (via the Legal Services Corporation) repays up to $5,600 in student loans to about 125 attorneys each year. You’ll need to work at a qualifying organization. The program uses a lottery system to pick a few lucky recipients every year.

State and university-sponsored LRAPs

Like teachers and doctors, lawyers might also qualify for state or local repayment assistance programs. The Florida Bar Foundation, for instance, awards forgivable loans of up to $5,000 to lawyers in Florida.

In addition, some universities help their alumni pay back their loans. The University of Virginia School of Law, for instance, will cover up to 100% of student debt for graduates who make less than $65,000 per year. This program encourages its students to work in public service.

See if your state offers loan repayment assistance. Since there’s no central database of schools and employers that offer repayment help, talk to your alma mater or employer about how to get repayment help.

Student loan repayment assistance programs for other careers

Most state LRAPs award loan assistance to professionals in exchange for two years of service. The most common occupations are doctors, nurses, teachers and lawyers, but some other career paths qualify, too.

Several LRAPs for doctors, for instance, help out pharmacists and veterinarians. Other programs, like the Alfond Leaders Program in Maine, award people in STEM careers.

Even if you’re not a doctor, nurse, teacher and lawyer, check your state’s offerings to find out if it has a loan repayment assistance program for you.

Military student loan forgiveness and assistance

Not only does the military offer loan forgiveness for Army and Navy doctors, but it also helps armed forces members and veterans. The Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard all offer loan repayment assistance programs.

There are plenty of other programs for military student loan forgiveness, so make sure you know what you qualify for.

Student loan discharge for special circumstances

While student loan discharge isn’t the same as forgiveness, it could leave you debt-free. In rare circumstances, borrowers can get their student loans completely canceled.

There are several situations when you could qualify for student loan discharge, including:

  • Closed school
  • Total and permanent disability
  • Death
  • Bankruptcy
  • Defense to repayment
  • False certification
  • Unpaid refund

If you think you could qualify or want to learn more, speak with your loan servicer.

Don’t qualify for student loan forgiveness? Alternatives for conquering your debt

Not everyone qualifies for student loan forgiveness. If you’re ineligible and struggling to pay your loans, consider other strategies for managing your debt.

One approach is accessing the income-driven repayment programs mentioned above, since you can reduce your monthly payments significantly. But if you don’t have qualifying federal loans, or if you need a complete pause from making payments, consider putting your loans in deferment or forbearance.

You could qualify if you return to school, encounter financial hardship or have another eligible reason. Some private lenders will also put your loans into forbearance temporarily, so speak with your lender about your options.

Consider student loan refinancing

Refinancing gives you the chance to adjust your monthly payments and choose new repayment terms, often between five and 20 years.

You could qualify for a lower interest rate than you have now, thereby saving money on your loans. And if you refinance multiple loans, you can combine them into one single loan to simplify repayment.

Before you shop for student loan refinancing options, note that refinancing federal loans turns them private. As a result, you’ll lose access to federal forgiveness programs and repayment plans, which proved especially helpful while the coronavirus pandemic squeezed the economy in 2020 and 2021. If you’re comfortable with this sacrifice, however, consider refinancing as a way to restructure your debt and potentially save money on interest.

Explore all your options for paying off student loans

Depending on where you live and work, you could qualify for partial or total forgiveness of your student loans. If you aren’t eligible, look into other options for dealing with your student loans, and check for any new developments or programs.

Even if you started out on a certain plan, you don’t have to stick with it forever. Instead, feel free to adjust your plan as your circumstances and goals change over the years.

By exploring all your options, you can find the best student loan solution for you, and move towards a debt-free life.

Rebecca Safier, Andrew Pentis and Melanie Lockert contributed to this article.