A teacher also has more options for student loan forgiveness (compared to other careers). But that can also be frustrating. Student loan relief for teachers is complex, with many services and conditions.
If you’re a writer, there are four main ways to get student loan compensation. Depending on your repayment plan, you also have a secondary option for student loan forgiveness.
According to Payscale, the average teacher only earns about $38,727, and according to The College Board, the total student loan debt in 2017 was $37,000. The support teachers can get substantial.
Let’s start by reviewing the requirements of each program and see which is the best option for teachers.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Options
Teacher Loan Forgiveness, or TLF, forgives up to $5,000 or $17,500 after teaching full-time for five consecutive academic years of qualifying employment and repayment.
It would be best to teach at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency that serves low-income students.
Each year, the Department of Education publishes a directory of schools designated as low-income.
You must teach five consecutive years, full time, but there are some exceptions where the academic year could count even if you did not prepare for an entire school year.
You must also be a “highly qualified teacher” for each of the five academic years you were employed at an eligible low-income school. A highly qualified teacher is someone who:
- received a bachelor’s degree
- Fully certified in the state where they teach.
- I have not had any licensing or certification requirements waived for any reason.
If you are a new teacher to the profession, there are additional requirements.
My high-level conclusion is that you must pass a “rigorous” test that demonstrates your knowledge of the academic subjects you teach or that you have an undergraduate or graduate degree in the subject(s) you teach.
So who gets $17,500, and who earns $5,000? To receive up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness, you must be a special education teacher (elementary or secondary) or high school math or science teacher.
All others are eligible to receive up to $5,000. Eligible loans include Federal Direct Loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFELs).
Direct PLUS and Federal Plus loans are not eligible, nor is any portion of a consolidation loan paid off a PLUS loan.
The forgiveness application process involves completing the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application and submitting it to your loan servicer. The forgiven debt is not subject to tax.
Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness Options
Let’s look at the top four ways to get student loan forgiveness for teachers, the other options, and how to get professional help if you want it.
Option 1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is one of the best ways to get student loan forgiveness. This program allows you to get complete forgiveness of federal student loans after 120 qualifying payments.
The good thing about this program is that it offers the most options for teachers; you do not have to be in a qualified Title 1 school—any teacher in any school counts. Any worker in school accounts (librarian, teacher’s aid, principal, custodian, etc.).
There are three main requirements for PSLF:
- Certified Employment for 120 Payments – You can find the employment certification form here.
- Direct Loans – Other loans (such as FFEL) do not count.
- Qualified Payment Plan – Eligible payment plans for PSLF are the standard 10-year plan, IBR, PAYE, RePAYE, ICR, and certain payments made under the graduated plan.
We have a short online training on Public Service Loan Forgiveness if you want more details or make sure you stay compliant with the program.
Option 2. Teacher Loan Forgiveness
Teacher Loan Forgiveness is a program that began before PSLF and allowed teachers in qualified schools to have up to $17,500 of their Direct or FFEL loans forgiven after five years.
This program has many more provisions than PSLF and forgives a smaller amount. The main requirements for teacher loan forgiveness are:
- Five full, consecutive years at a qualified school – You can find the list of eligible schools here. The five years must be completed after 1998.
- Certain teachers get up to $17,500, others up to $5,000 – If you’re a highly qualified high school math or science teacher, or a special education teacher, you can receive up to $17,500 in forgiveness.
Option 3. Perkins Teacher Loan Forgiveness
If you have Perkins loans, you can get up to 100% forgiveness of your loan balance if you teach full-time at a low-income school or teach certain subjects.
You can see your entire loan balance forgiven over five years if you have Perkins loans. The great thing about this program is that it grants forgiveness in increments, so even if you don’t make it to 5 years, you can at least see some of your loan balance disappear.
This is how it breaks down:
- Year 1: 15% forgiveness
- Year 2: 15% forgiveness
- year 3: 20% forgiveness
- Year 4: 20% forgiveness
- Year 5: 30% forgiveness
This program also has many stipulations. These are the essential requirements:
- You must teach in a low-income school or certain subjects – You can find the list of qualified schools here.
- Qualifying subjects include – math, science, foreign language, bilingual studies, and others that have been determined to be in short supply in your state.
- Potentially Eligible Private Schools – If your school is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, it is eligible under this program.
The hard part about Perkins loans is that they are administered by the college where you received the loan. You must contact your loan servicer or the financial aid office where you received the Perkins Loan to apply for forgiveness.
Option 4. State Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
Forty-five states and the District of Columbia offer state student loan repayment programs. These programs help state staff teachers in areas or schedules with a shortage.
We have a complete list of state-based student loan forgiveness programs: Student Loan Forgiveness Programs by State.
It is important to note that while you may qualify for multiple programs, you cannot overlap them. For example, if you are eligible for a state program, you cannot qualify for PSLF simultaneously; You must do it sequentially.
That’s why it’s essential to consider the value of the state program and your situation before enrolling in any program.
Secondary Ways to Get Student Loan Forgiveness for Teachers
Beyond these student loan forgiveness programs, there are “secret” student loan forgiveness options that most teachers don’t know about.
These are secondary ways to get loan forgiveness if something isn’t working with the above programs (for example, you can stop teaching or work before you qualify).
This “secret” is that all income-based repayment programs (IBR, PAYE, RePAYE, ICR) include student loan forgiveness on any remaining balance after the repayment period (usually 20 or 25 years).
These programs are automatically part of your payment plan, and you don’t have to do anything to enroll (other than continuing to maintain eligibility on the payment plan).
So if you somehow don’t qualify for one of the forgiveness programs listed above, all hope is not lost. It will be a longer process, but you can still get loan forgiveness.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Options FAQs
How do I know if I am eligible for loan forgiveness?
An educator who teaches K-12 students full-time for five consecutive years at a designated school or educational service agency serving low-income families is eligible, provided they are current on federal student loan payments and meet other requirements (detailed below).
In what kind of schools should I teach?
The program is open to teachers from any elementary or secondary school that meets three criteria:
- The school is in a school district that qualifies for Title I funds.
- More than 30 percent of the school’s students qualify for Title I services.
- The school is listed on the Teacher Layoff Low-Income Directory list.
How many years must I teach to be eligible?
The minimum standard is five complete, consecutive academic years of full-time teaching.
What if I am unable to complete a full academic year?
That year can still count if three criteria are met. First, the teacher must have worked at least half of the academic year; second, the teacher must have fulfilled the minimum contractual obligations;
Ultimately, the reason the teacher did not teach for the entire year was due to one of the following: pursuing a graduate degree in their area of expertise, using the Family and Medical Leave Act, or being called to active duty in the military and armed.
Who is considered a “highly qualified” teacher?
All public school teachers must be certified and licensed in their state to be considered highly qualified. New elementary school teachers must pass an assessment of teaching skills in reading, writing, math, and other relevant elementary-level content.
Meanwhile, new middle and high school teachers must pass a state exam in the subject they teach and have at least a bachelor’s degree in that subject. Veteran teachers may be considered highly qualified either by meeting new teacher requirements or demonstrating proficiency on a state assessment.
How much of my total loan amount can be forgiven under this program?
Depending on specific qualifications, up to $5,000 or up to $17,500 can be forgiven.
How to get professional help with your student loans
It’s important to note that you can do everything with your student loans yourself for free. StudentLoans.gov has a lot of great online resources and applications where you can apply for these programs. However, some people may want to pay for professional help with student loan debt.
If you don’t qualify, refinancing your student debt presents an alternative to save thousands.
In conclusion, student loan forgiveness for teachers is a real thing. Teachers have more options for student loan forgiveness than virtually any other profession. If you’re a teacher, you should take advantage of these programs to get out of student loan debt.