Do health care workers qualify for student loan forgiveness?

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Frontline health care workers qualify for student loan forgiveness after 10 years if they work at a government or nonprofit medical facility or after making 20+ years’ worth of payments under an income-driven repayment plan.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, frontline health care workers have continuously put their lives on the line. As an acknowledgment of their bravery, lawmakers have tried to pass legislation that would wipe out the federal and private student loan debt tax-free of any healthcare professional or other essential worker battling the coronavirus. But those proposals have yet to become law.

Even if that doesn’t change, health care workers qualify for three main student loan forgiveness programs:

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
  • PSLF Limited Waiver Opportunity.
  • Income-Driven Repayment Plan Forgiveness.

Keep reading to learn how frontline healthcare workers can get their student debt eliminated.

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Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Works best for: Medical personnel and essential workers employed by a nonprofit or government institution with federal student loans.

Nurses, doctors, interns, and other frontline healthcare personnel who work full-time for a nonprofit or the government can qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The PSLF program grants tax-free forgiveness to borrowers regardless of whether they treat coronavirus patients. You’ll need to clear four hurdles to qualify:

  • Work full-time at a qualified employer.
  • Have Direct Loans, including Direct Consolidation Loans and Direct Parent PLUS Loans — private loans aren’t eligible.
  • Enroll in an income-driven repayment plan or the 10-Year Standard Repayment program.
  • Make 120 on-time qualifying payments.

How to apply: Use the PSLF Help Tool to check if your employer qualifies for the program. If it does, complete the PSLF Employment Certification & Application form. Submit the completed form to FedLoan Servicing for processing.

PSLF Limited Waiver Opportunity

Works best for: Medical personnel and essential workers with Federal Family Education Loans.

The PSLF Program was plagued with problems almost from its start in 2007. Thousands of healthcare workers and other public service workers dutifully made payments for 10 years, thinking this would qualify them for student loan forgiveness, only to find out they had the wrong kind of loan — Federal Family Education Loans.

Last October, the Department of Education announced it was temporarily softening the rules to count payments that were too small, too big, and too late, and payments made toward FFEL Loans.

Over 70 thousand borrowers have had their debt forgiven under the Limited PSLF Waiver, which expires Oct. 31, 2022. But people with Parent PLUS Loans and joint spousal consolidation loans have been shut out of this temporary expansion thus far. Read more about Parent PLUS Loan forgiveness options.

How to Apply: Visit studentaid.gov to consolidate your FFEL loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan. You’ll also need to submit a completed PSLF Employment Certification form for every qualified employer you’ve worked for since Oct. 2007.

Income-Driven Repayment Plan Forgiveness

Works best for: Essential workers and front-line health care workers in private practice.

Another forgiveness option for health care workers is IDR forgiveness, which wipes out a borrower’s remaining balance after making at least 20 years’ worth of payments under an income income-driven repayment plan.

To qualify, you have to switch from the Extended or Graduated Repayment plan to one of the income-driven repayment plans. The payments you made before switching don’t count for forgiveness. You’ll need to make payments for the next 20 or 25 years before your debt is erased, depending on the repayment plan you choose and whether you borrowed debt to pay for graduate school.

How to Apply: Contact your student loan servicer when you’re close to making your final monthly payment to qualify for cancellation. Your servicer will tally your payments to confirm you’re about to cross the finish line. Keep in mind the earliest you can apply is 2028, which is 25 years after the income-contingent repayment plan started.  

Learn More: 20 Year Student Loan Forgiveness

Will essential workers get student loan forgiveness?

Early in the pandemic, congressional Democrats and Republicans introduced two bills designed to eliminate federal and private student debt specifically for first responders, essential workers, and frontline health care workers.

  • The Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act. Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, proposed to offer tax-free federal and private student loan forgiveness for front-line healthcare workers — nurses, doctors, emergency medical service personnel, lab workers, etc. — who are treating patients with coronavirus. The bill died in a previous Congress despite having 20 cosponsors.
  • The Opportunities for Heroes Act of 2020. Introduced by Representatives Anne Kuster, a Democrat from New Hampshire, and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania, this bill sought to eliminate up to $25,000 in student loan debt for essential workers. Thirty-nine other lawmakers joined in support. But it died in the Senate before it could reach President Biden’s desk for his signature.

Student Loan Forgiveness for Essential Workers Application

There isn’t a separate application essentials workers use to apply for federal student loan forgiveness. Instead, they’ll use the same applications other borrowers use to apply for the existing forgiveness programs, like the PSLF Employment Certification Form.

Learn More: Do I Qualify for the Navient Lawsuit?

Looking for help beyond health care loan forgiveness? Let’s talk.

If you want to go over your options, schedule a free 10-minute phone call with me. I am a student loan lawyer with years of experience helping people find ways to deal with their loans so they can achieve their personal goals: start a family, buy a house, retire, etc.

UP NEXT: Who Do You Contact If You Have Questions About Repayment Plans?

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