You’re an educator looking for teacher loan forgiveness programs for your federal student loans. You think you’ve done everything right: taught at a school serving low-income students, made payments under a loan repayment program, and worked full-time for several years.
But then you see articles saying that 1% of borrowers have gotten their loans forgiven under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Now, you’re worried.
I’ve helped hundreds of teachers make sense of their forgiveness options.
In this post, I’ll share those lessons with you.
Let’s get to it.
- Download the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application
- Download the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program form
The 4 Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness Options
Teachers have 5 loan forgiveness programs to choose from:
- Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
- Public Service Loan Forgivness Program (PSLF)
- Perkins Loan Cancellation for Teachers
- Income-Driven Repayment plan forgiveness
- State-Sponsored Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
Most teachers find the greatest student loan forgiveness under the first 2 programs.
The other three — forgiveness under an income-driven repayment plan, Perkins Loan Cancellation for Teachers, and State-Sponsored programs — either takes too long (IDR) or doesn’t offer much loan forgiveness (Perkins & State-Sponsored).
So let’s skip those for now and focus on the 2 main teacher loan forgiveness programs:
- Teacher Loan Forgiveness
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Here’s what I want you to know right away about these programs:
First, if you’re eligible for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, then you’re also eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Second, the major difference between the two programs is that one requires you work at a certain elementary or secondary school (Teacher Loan Forgiveness) and the other simply requires you make a number of payments to your loan servicer while working at almost any school (PSLF).
Finally, for teachers with huge federal student loan debt, the PSLF program is way, way, way better than the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program.
Many Teachers Never Get Teacher Loan Forgiveness
Have you ever looked at your student loan statement from your loan servicer and wondered why 10 years later you’re still paying on them? I mean, you’ve been working at a title-1 school since you started. You’ve made regular student loan payments, hardly ever asking for deferments or forbearances.
And yet, your student loans haven’t gone anywhere.
In fact, you owe more in student loans now than when you first started.
How is that possible?
Many teachers I meet never get their federal student loans forgiven under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program.
The simple truth is that the program has far too many requirements and not enough loan forgiveness.
Let’s take a look.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Eligibility Requirements
There are 7 strict requirements you must meet to get student debt forgiven under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program.
- Be a teacher. This one may seem obvious, but not everyone who works in a classroom is a teacher.
- Be highly-qualified. You’re highly qualified if you have a bachelor’s degree, received full state certification as a teacher, and have not had your certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.
- Loans after Oct 1, 1998. You must have borrowed your federal student loan debt after Oct. 1, 1998.
- No outstanding loan balance. You must not have had any outstanding balance on either Direct Loans or Federal Family Education Loans as of Oct. 1, 1998.
- Teach full-time for 5 consecutive years. You must have been employed as a full-time, highly qualified teacher for 5 complete, consecutive school years. One year must have been after the 97-98 school year.
- Title-1 school. You must have taught at an elementary or secondary school, serving low-income students.
- Borrowed before 5 are up. The loans you’re seeking forgiveness for must have been made before your 5 consecutive years are up.
What do you get for meeting all 7 requirements?
$17,500 in forgiveness.
While any little bit of student debt forgiveness is awesome, $17,500 isn’t a great help to educators who owe significantly more in student loans.
And that’s even more apparent when we compare the program against the unlimited forgiveness offered by PSLF.
Before I talk about the PSLF program, let me answer a question I often get.
Are Teachers eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?
Yes. Teachers are eligible to get their federal Direct Loans forgiven under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Teachers with loans made under the Federal Family Education and Perkins Loan programs can make those loans eligible for the PSLF program by consolidating the loans into a Direct Consolidation.
Okay, now that we have that answer, let's move on to learning how to get it.
How Teachers Can Qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program
Of all the student loan forgiveness programs, the PSLF program is the best forgiveness program for borrowers with huge student loan debt.
There’s no cap on the amount of student loan debt that can be forgiven. Plus - and here’s the big thing - you won’t pay any taxes on the amount forgiven.
Here’s what you need to do as a teacher to qualify for the PSLF program:
- Have Direct Loans. Only Direct Loans are forgiven under the PSLF program. So if you have FFEL (Stafford) Loans or Perkins Loans, consider loan consolidation.
- Work full-time. You’re a teacher so you’re covered. But you’re also covered if you’re a teaching assistant, principal, or janitor so long as you work full-time.
- Work for the government or a 501(c)(3). That means you’re covered if you work at an elementary school, community college, university, or at a charter or private school.
- Make payments under an approved repayment plan. This is where a lot of teachers get screwed. Not all repayment plans are eligible. You have to pay your loans under one of the income-driven repayment plans (IBR, PAYE, REPAYE, etc.).
- Make 120 monthly payments. You have to make 120 monthly on-time payments. You can’t speed this process up. You have to make each payment within 15 days of the date it’s due.
A quick word about the repayment plan requirement.
I’ve spoken with quite a few teachers who met all the requirements except making their payments under the right repayment plan.
For whatever reason (bad advice from a servicer, mistaken choice by the teacher, etc.) instead of making their payments under one of the income-driven loan repayment programs, they made 120 monthly payments under the Extended or Graduated repayment plans.
Thankfully, Congress created the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to try and help those specific borrowers qualify.
I say try because borrowers are facing similar hurdles getting their loans approved under the TEPSLF program as they did under the PSLF program.
Still, despite those huge issues, forgiveness through the PSLF/TEPSLF program is possible if you doggedly pursue it like this teacher:
Can I Get Student Loan Forgiveness Under Both Programs
Yes. But there’s a catch.
You can’t get forgiveness for the same loans at the same time.
Here’s what I mean.
Let’s say you have 10 Direct Loans.
After 5 consecutive years teaching at the right type of school, you have two choices:
- Get up to $17,500 of student loan forgiveness right then and wait another 10 years to get the rest of your Direct Loans forgiven or
- Wait 5 more years and get all of your Direct Loans forgiven.
With the first option, it will take 15 years to be free of your federal education debt. But with the second option, it will only take 10 years.
Choosing option 2, could save you thousands under your student loan repayment program.
This difference answers the next question:
Which Student Loan Forgiveness Program is Right for You?
If you’re a teacher with a lot of federal student loan debt, then, hands down, the PSLF program is the right forgiveness program for you.
Yes, there are a lot of problems with the PSLF program:
And yes, President Trump and Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appear to be screwing over borrowers:
But, when you get past the headlines, and dig deeper into the numbers, which is what I did, you see that a lot of borrowers should eventually qualify for forgiveness; they just have to get their paperwork right.
Despite all these issues, the PSLF program is the right one for you when your likelihood of paying back your loans on a teacher salary is small.
Why Should You Hire a Student Loan Lawyer to Help You Apply For Teacher Loan Forgiveness
Admittedly, this is a self-serving question.
I am, after all, a student loan lawyer. Of course, I think I can help you apply for various student loan forgiveness programs.
But, here’s the thing.
Yes, you’re smart. Yes, you’re capable of doing all of this yourself.
Neither of those two things is at issue.
The real reason why you, or any borrower for that matter, want to hire someone is to have another set of eyes on ensuring you meet the various program requirements.
Sure, you could rely on your loan sevicer, FedLoan, to do that. The problem with doing that is that they don’t owe you a duty to operate in your best interest. You’re not their client; that’s the Department of Education.
The better move is to hire a skilled professional to review your loans and student loan repayment plan and payment history to:
- ensure you’re on track for meeting the various requirements for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program or the PSLF Program; and
- get you the lowest monthly payments possible (which is what you should be doing if you’re pursuing forgiveness under the PSLF program)
This is exactly what I do for clients who are clients.
Let’s talk if you’d like me to check out your loans.