Student Loan Forgiveness: Programs for Relief, Mass Forgiveness

Student loan forgiveness is a hot topic, with 70% of borrowers saying in a 2021 survey that they expected the government to offer meaningful relief for their education debt. And in fact, since the start of the Biden Administration, the Department of Education has doled out more than $12 billion in student loan forgiveness to nearly 600,000 borrowers, while also extending the pause on monthly payments for most federal loans through May 1, 2022.

And while mass student loan forgiveness remains an idea more than a reality, there are dozens of existing repayment assistance programs. Here’s a rundown on the latest with student loan forgiveness, plus where to find help for your repayment.

Student loan forgiveness during the Biden Administration

Calls for student loan forgiveness reached a fever pitch in 2020, when for the first time, presidential candidates openly campaigned on such a jubilee for borrowers. President Biden voiced support for $10,000 worth of federal loan forgiveness, which would zero balances for 1 in 3 federal loan borrowers, according to Student Loan Hero research.

To date, however, Biden hasn’t issued an executive order to forgive education debt, nor has Congress sent him a bill with the same aim. Instead, the Department of Education has aggressively offered targeted student loan forgiveness, including to:

Disabled borrowers
  • March 2021: About 41,000 borrowers who had their loans reinstated previously were given $1.3 billion in forgiveness via the Total Permanent and Disability (TPD) program.
  • August 2021: More than 323,000 borrowers were awarded automatic forgiveness via TPD in the amount of $5.8 billion.
Borrowers defrauded by schools
  • June 2021: Approximately 18,000 borrowers who attended ITT Technical Institute were awarded $500 million in forgiveness.
  • July 2021: 1,800-plus students who attended ​​Westwood College, Marinello Schools of Beauty and the Court Reporting Institute were awarded nearly $56 million in forgiveness, upping the Biden Administration’s total forgiveness via Defense to Repayment to $1.5 billion.
Borrowers whose school closed
  • August 2021: Another 115,000 former borrowers who attended ​​ITT Technical Institute before it closed were handed $1.1 billion in Closed School Discharge forgiveness.
Government, nonprofit workers
  • October 2021: A yearlong temporary waiver eases restrictions for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, making it possible for an estimated 550,000-plus borrowers to receive credit for an average of 23 payments toward the program’s 120-payment criteria. About 22,000 borrowers received $1.7 billion in relief without having to take action. (Student Loan Hero research estimates that about 23% of federal borrowers could now be eligible for PSLF.)

Though not forgiveness by name, the Biden Administration also extended the student loan interest freeze and payment moratorium on most types of federal loans to May 1, 2022. Student Loan Hero research indicates that the average federal loan borrower will have saved $6,949 in the 25 months since the repayment pause was first initiated in March 2020.

What is student loan forgiveness, and how does it work?

Student loan forgiveness partially or fully cancels education debt owed by the primary borrower and, in some cases with private loans, the cosigner. Forgiveness programs are available based on the borrower’s loan type (federal or private), repayment plan, career, employer and financial or personal situation. There are also special circumstances, such as attending a predatory for-profit school, that may qualify for student loan forgiveness.

Student loan forgiveness programs aren’t going to cancel your debt overnight, but they could ease it — or even erase it — after a certain number of years of repayment. Many federal and state-based forgiveness programs are meant for borrowers who work in public service, education, health care and other fields for a certain period.

Pros of student loan forgiveness Cons of student loan forgiveness
  • Partial or full relief on outstanding balances
  • Improves cash-flow for borrowers, potentially boosting the economy at large
  • Motivates borrowers to work in public service careers that are eligible for relief
  • Not available to all borrowers
  • Often requires working in specific careers
  • Relief typically arrives in years
  • Forgiven amount could be taxable (at least after 2025)
  • Legitimate programs are sometimes handcuffed by poor administration or overshadowed by scams

Student loan forgiveness for government, nonprofit workers

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.

The PSLF waiver, announced in October 2021 and lasting through October 2022, allowed borrowers to receive credit for previously ineligible payments if they had been working toward relief while on the wrong 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 likely lower your monthly payments while extending your term to 20 or 25 years.

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.

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 (at least until its contract with the Department of Education ends in December 2022). 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’ve made, and how many payments you’ll need to make until you qualify for forgiveness.

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

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, and 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.

Federal employee student loan forgiveness

Whether or not you qualify for PSLF, federal employee student loan forgiveness could be another option for aid. In exchange for three years of continuous service, you could receive as much as $10,000 annually (and up to $60,000 overall) for your outstanding education debt, depending on the government agency that employs you.

Who’s eligible?

Employees in good standing at various federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Justice and State as well as the SEC.

Which loans qualify?

All federal student loans, including Perkins and federal family education loans, are eligible.

How do you apply?

Talk to your current or prospective agency’s human resources department.

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 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 would receive up to $5,000. Secondary school teachers who teach math or science, as well as 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 won’t be eligible for this forgiveness program.

What are the requirements?

If you have 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 as 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 consecutive 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 Loan 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.

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 will need to work in a critical shortage area and serve a high-need population, while nurse faculty members must be employed by 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 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.

Student loan forgiveness for doctors, 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 a medical program, 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.

Student 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 medical school debt repayment guide 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 ($25,000 for two years) to health professionals working in shortage areas. You might find other repayment assistance options in your state.

Student loan forgiveness for lawyers

Law school isn’t cheap, but there are a few debt relief programs for lawyers. You have national and state programs 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 $6,000 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) helps repay student loans for 100-plus 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.

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 forgiveness for volunteers

There are certain cases where volunteering, as opposed to part- or full-time work, could net you relief for your education debt. Though not student loan forgiveness per se, you could receive cash benefits to put toward your balances.

  • Joining the Peace Corps could make you eligible for relief for PSLF and Perkins loan cancellation (detailed above). You could also be awarded up to $10,000, before taxes, for two years of service in the Peace Corps, and apply some or all of that lump-sum toward your debt.
  • Signing up for Americorps similarly comes with a service award equal to the amount of the Pell Grant — $6,495 for 2021-22 — that could be used to help pay off student loans. Your time in Americorps could also qualify for a federal loan forbearance that would temporarily pause your loan payments, though interest would accrue during the postponement.
  • Volunteering to pay off student loans is also possible with other organizations, including Shared Harvest, Teach for America and the National Health Service Corps (detailed above).

Don’t forget about student loan repayment assistance from your employer

If you don’t work in one of the jobs associated with student loan forgiveness, you might feel excluded — not everyone is a teacher, lawyer or health care provider.

If you have a more typical office job, however, keep in mind that there are many companies that pay student loans. You could apply for positions with these and similar companies, or mention the benefit to your current employer.

Also working in your favor: The CARES Act of March 2020 gives 401(k)-like tax advantages to matching federal and private student loan payments in the workplace, at least through 2025.

5 steps to convince your boss to help with your student loans
  1. Explain the tax advantages of monthly payment matching
  2. Talk about competing companies that offer this benefit
  3. Estimate the cost of your replacement if you were to quit your job
  4. Share your student debt stress, explaining how it lessens your productivity
  5. Connect your company with a third party that administers student loan resources
From our study: Student Loan Payment Assistance in the Workplace

Student loan forgiveness by federal repayment plan

There are four income-driven repayment plans offered by the Department of Education, and each has a (long) pathway toward student loan 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 will 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 with 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:

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

(To find out more, check out our reports on Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, Direct grad PLUS loans, Federal Perkins loans and Direct consolidation loans.)

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, or 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 to be considered for loan forgiveness. Your payments will be based on your income and family size. 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. 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 rel=”follow”, 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: It’s 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 rel=”follow” to your servicer if you have specific questions about your loan.

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 federal student loan discharge, including:

Closed school If your college or university shutters within 120 days of your enrollment
Total and permanent disability If a long-term disability stops you from working and earning an income
Death If you, as the primary borrower, pass away while in repayment
Bankruptcy If your loans pose an “undue hardship” (this could apply to private student loans as well)
Defense to repayment If your school broke the law, such as deceiving you into attendance
False certification If you borrowed under false pretenses through no fault of your own
Unpaid refund If your school didn’t issue a refund to the Education Department

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

State-based student loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs)

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 or lawyer, check your state’s offerings to find out if it has a loan repayment assistance program for you. A good place to start is our database of loan repayment assistance programs.

Student loan forgiveness for private education debt

The vast majority of student loan forgiveness programs apply toward federally-held education debt. With that said, some state-based LRAPs don’t make a distinction between offering repayment assistance for federal or private loans, and employers are equally incentivized to match your federal or private loan payments.

The only kind of student loan forgiveness that some reputable private lenders offer is in the case of disability or death. Contact your private lender — whether it be a bank, credit union or other financial institution — to learn about its policy. You might also find this policy detailed in your loan closure documents.

Here are examples of lenders that do offer student loan forgiveness for disability:

Lender Fine print
Ascent
Citizens Bank
  • Primary borrower only
  • Parent loan borrowers’ death or disability would transfer the balance to the family’s estate
College Ave
CommonBond
Earnest
Laurel Road
  • Primary borrower only
  • Lender may forgive some or all of the debt if the borrower’s permanently disability affects their income
  • Only for loans originated after the spring of 2015
Sallie Mae
SoFi
  • Primary borrower only
  • Disability: Federal loan-like verification standards
  • Death: A certified copy of the borrower’s death certificate could be required
SunTrust
Wells Fargo
  • Primary borrower only
  • Parent loans are forgiven if the student beneficiary is dead or becomes disabled

What about taxes on student loan forgiveness?

Taxes on forgiven student loans are often a surprising bombshell: Borrowers receive relief on their debt, only to find they owe a huge tax bill for the “income” that their forgiveness generated.

With the American Rescue Plan Act of March 2021, however, student loan forgiveness was made tax-free through 2025. This tax relief applies to forgiveness for federal and private education debt.

If you’re in line to receive student loan forgiveness in 2026 or beyond, contact your state’s tax agency via taxadmin.org to determine how your relief could be handled at the state level.

Beware of student loan forgiveness scams

If you’re on the lookout for debt relief, you might be susceptible to student loan forgiveness scams. These are illegal ploys to convince you that forgiveness is on the way, in exchange for upfront fees or your personal information. The words, “Obama student loan forgiveness” were often used in years past, for example, to scam borrowers.

While the general rule of thumb is to be skeptical of anything that sounds too good to be true (it probably is), here are some other red flags of potential student loan forgiveness scams:

  • Receiving phone calls or emails from people or companies you don’t recognize
  • Feeling pressured to sign up for a program you didn’t know existed
  • Being promised immediate or overnight relief in exchange for fees or personal data

And if you’re unsure if a student loan forgiveness program is legitimate or not, contact your federal loan servicer as a first step.

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

Not everyone qualifies for student loan forgiveness or repayment assistance. 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 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.

But 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.

Student loan forgiveness FAQs

Like other student loan topics, forgiveness — and how to access it — is complicated. Here are some frequently asked questions with answers:

Is there a legitimate student loan forgiveness program?

Yes, in fact, there are many existing student loan forgiveness programs and repayment assistance programs offered by the federal government, states, employers and other organizations. These programs won’t help every borrower receive relief, however, as each program has specific eligibility requirements.

What qualifies you for student loan forgiveness?

A variety of factors could qualify you for student loan forgiveness, including your loan type, repayment plan, field of work and personal situation or background. A majority of programs cater to federal student loan borrowers who work in public service careers.

How do I apply for student loan forgiveness?

Each student loan forgiveness program has its own application process, and unfortunately there is no one super highway toward qualifying for multiple programs simultaneously. Some programs, such as the popular but historically ineffective PSLF, have an onerous application process. Other programs, including many state- and employer-based repayment assistance programs, have far simpler ones.

Where do I find student loan forgiveness programs?

It’s wise to cast a wide net for student loan forgiveness. Contact your federal loan servicer to learn about federal loan forgiveness programs; search far and wide for state-based programs, including by using our LRAPs database; and talk to your employer about its assistance options or to hiring managers or job recruiters about companies that offer this benefit. You should also consider hiring a student loan or credit counselor to help you research these programs.

Can you get loan forgiveness for private student loans?

Forgiveness for private student loans is more rare than for federal loans, but it’s possible to qualify for sometimes significant repayment assistance via state- and employer-based programs. Many banks, credit unions and other private lenders also discharge outstanding private loan balances in the case of the primary borrower’s total and permanent disability or death.

How long does it take to get your student loans forgiven?

It varies significantly by program. Most federal loan forgiveness programs take years to dispense relief, and it could be as long as a decade, at least in the case of PSLF. Other non-federal forgiveness programs might award borrowers relief after two to three years of working in an underserved area or field. In addition, employers may offer to match or help make your monthly loan payments, in which case relief would be felt immediately and frequently.

Who pays for student loan forgiveness?

For federal or state-offered loan forgiveness, it can be logically argued that the taxpayer is ultimately footing the bill — their taxes funded the loans for students, and those ex-students wouldn’t be repaying the debt in full. For other forgiveness programs, it could be employers or charitable donations that are paying for student loan forgiveness.

Can student loan interest be forgiven?

Yes, it’s possible to forgive student loan interest instead of the loan itself, and this has been proposed in Congress. This format of forgiveness could call for borrowers to repay only what they originally borrowed, or only what remains on their balance and not a cent more, since their loans would no longer accrue and capitalize interest. To date, however, no major forgiveness program in existence has been focused specifically on interest as opposed to the entire balance of the loan. (The administrative forbearance awarded to most federal student loans in March 2020, and lasting until May 1, 2022, temporarily set interest rates to zero, but borrowers were slated to resume repaying their loans at their original rates.)

Can you get forgiveness on a defaulted loan?

Generally, being delinquent or in default on a student loan harms, if not negates, your chances of receiving forgiveness. With that said, check the qualifying criteria of your preferred forgiveness program. For federal loan forgiveness programs, for example, you would have to rehabilitate or consolidate a defaulted loan to become eligible for relief.



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