Student loan debt can be overwhelming. Yet it’s become an unavoidable reality for many college graduates. According to a 2018 report from the Institute for College Access & Success, two-thirds of students borrow money for college. The average amount borrowed, according to 2019 statistics from Nitro College, is more than $37,000. And many professions require taking on graduate school debt that tops six figures.
That’s a huge burden on new graduates just starting out in their careers. Fortunately, there are a variety of programs to help with repayment, including forgiveness, cancellation, and loan repayment programs (LRPs) specific to your chosen career. Career-specific programs can help reduce or even eliminate student debt in exchange for your years of service and expertise.
There are over 100 federal and state-based programs that offer student loan forgiveness, cancellation, or repayment assistance related to your profession. But while millions of borrowers could qualify for these programs, only a small fraction take advantage of them. About 35 million Americans, for example, are employed in the public sector and could have their student loans forgiven through the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. Yet less than one million have applied as of a 2017 estimate from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
That could be because many graduates aren’t even aware these LRPs and forgiveness programs exist. So, to help you get started on paying off your student loans as quickly as possible, we’ve put together a list of programs available for certain career fields. If you decide to apply for any of them, make sure you understand all the eligibility factors and program requirements.
Careers That Offer Student Loan Repayment or Forgiveness
Both the federal government and private organizations offer job-specific forgiveness and repayment programs. Generally, federal programs are available to professionals working in public-sector or high-need areas. These jobs often aren’t the best-paying or most desirable, so these programs are an incentive to attract highly qualified workers to jobs that might otherwise go unfilled. Hopefully, what you sacrifice in income will be made up by debt repayment or forgiveness.
Here’s a list of career paths that offer student loan forgiveness or repayment.
1. Public Service Employee
Anyone who works in a qualifying organization, such as a government agency or nonprofit, can get loan forgiveness through the PSLF program. It was designed to encourage people to work in the public sector and covers the most careers of all job-specific forgiveness and repayment programs.
PSLF is available to any worker in a government organization — federal, state, or local — as well as nonprofit organizations. Just a few of the jobs types that could qualify include public teaching, military service, social work, public safety, law enforcement, public health services, public library services, and public interest law.
To qualify for PSLF, you must make a total of 120 payments while working for a qualifying nonprofit or government agency. These payments don’t need to be consecutive, but it does mean you need to work in a qualifying job for an overall total of 10 years. After making the required number of payments, any remaining loan balance will be forgiven. Unlike regular forgiveness with income-driven repayment, you won’t have to pay taxes on the remaining balance.
2. Federal Agency Employee
In addition to PSLF, federal employees also have access to a lesser-known LRP: the Federal Student Loan Repayment Program. To attract and retain highly qualified employees, federal agencies are allowed to offer job candidates this special job perk. In exchange for a commitment to work at the agency for a minimum of three years, federal agencies can pay up to $10,000 per year toward a new hire’s federal student loans. The total assistance given cannot exceed $60,000.
Depending on how much you owe, this program has a slight advantage over PSLF. If you owe $60,000 or less, you could have your entire balance wiped clean without making any payments toward your loans or needing to wait 10 years for forgiveness of the balance. You also won’t have to stay at the job for 10 years. Instead, you could have your balance paid off in as few as three years or as many as six.
However, the program isn’t without its caveats. For one, if you leave your job before your three years are up or are fired for misconduct or poor performance, you’ll have to pay back any money the agency paid toward your loans. And regardless of whether you complete the term or not, you’ll have to pay income tax on the amount paid toward your loans. Additionally, not all government jobs offer this perk or the same repayment amounts. Only federal loans are eligible for the program, but all types of federal loans are covered, including FFEL Loans, Direct Loans, and PLUS Loans.
If you’re a parent who borrowed a Parent PLUS loan to help cover college tuition for your child, you can qualify for this program. Very few options are available to help Parent PLUS borrowers manage payments. And, unlike with some forgiveness and repayment programs, you don’t need to have finished your degree to qualify.
However, many agencies require a degree and sometimes specific degrees. They all tailor their plans to recruit highly qualified candidates to hard-to-fill positions.
There’s no formal application for this program. Instead, you’ll need to ask your potential or current employer if student loan repayment is a benefit offered through that federal agency. If you ask, your employer will at least consider your request. But whether it’s given to you is decided on a case-by-case basis.
More than 35 federal agencies offer this perk, including all 15 cabinet-level departments and over 20 independent agencies. If you’re interviewing for or a federal agency that doesn’t, ask them if they’ll consider providing this benefit if you accept the position. All federal agencies are eligible to offer it.
Teaching generally requires an extensive amount of higher education. That could range from a bachelor’s degree to a Ph.D., depending on the position. Yet even those who teach at the college level often aren’t paid enough to account for the high cost of their education. As a college-level English teacher, I know this struggle firsthand. I borrowed well into the six figures to finance my Ph.D., a requirement for teaching college, yet my starting teaching salary was a meager $35,000.
Average teacher salaries are just under $30,000 for preschool teachers, $58,000 for elementary and middle school teachers, $60,000 for high school teachers, and $78,000 for postsecondary teachers. It’s easy to borrow more than the average annual teacher salary for only a bachelor’s degree, but many teachers go on to get masters and doctorate degrees. Fortunately, there are a few programs that can help them repay their loans.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
Most teachers — as long as they work full-time for a public or nonprofit school or college — qualify for PSLF. The program is a major boon for teachers who struggle with low pay while attempting to pay off high student loan debt.
Unfortunately, the program doesn’t always run as smoothly as it should. PSLF is under fire from the American Federation of Teachers Union (AFT), who filed suit against the Department of Education in July of 2019. As reported by NPR, the program is failing to forgive the loans of qualified teachers. Hopefully, future policy changes will result in a better-run program. Until teachers are paid salaries more in line with their levels of education, forgiveness of their student debt will remain highly needed.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
If you teach in a low-income school district or work in a teacher shortage area, you qualify for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. You could receive anywhere from $5,000 to $17,500 depending on the subject you teach and your years of service. Only math, science, and special education teachers are eligible to receive the higher amount of $17,500.
To qualify, you must work full-time for at least five consecutive academic years at a school that serves low-income students. To find out if your school qualifies, search the directory at Federal Student Aid.
You must also be a “highly qualified teacher.” That includes having a bachelor’s degree and state certification as a teacher and passing state tests that prove subject matter knowledge.
Only federal Direct and FFEL loans qualify. You cannot have Federal Perkins or Federal PLUS loans — either Parent PLUS or Graduate PLUS — forgiven under this program.
It’s possible to qualify for both Teacher Loan Forgiveness and PSLF, but any years of service that count toward Teacher Loan Forgiveness can’t be counted toward PSLF. So you need to crunch the numbers to see which is of greater benefit to your situation. Also, if you’re an AmeriCorp volunteer (see No. 14 below) any period of time you spend working toward their repayment benefit isn’t counted toward the years required for Teacher Loan Forgiveness.
Perkins Loan Cancellation
Although your Federal Perkins Loans aren’t eligible for Teacher Loan Forgiveness, they may be eligible for cancellation under the Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation Program. To qualify, you must teach at a low-income school, in a subject area deemed by your state to have a shortage, or as a special education teacher.
Perkins Loans cancellation is gradual. For your first and second years of teaching, you get a cancellation of 15% of your loan for each year of teaching, including any accrued interest. For the third and fourth years, it’s 20% for each year. And for the fifth year, it’s 30%. That adds up to a total of 100% cancellation if you continue teaching at a qualified school for five years.
Note that the Federal Perkins Loans program ended in 2017. It’s no longer possible to get this loan, but if you already have Perkins loans and you’re a teacher, this is one way to unload them.
State and City-Based Programs
Additionally, there are state and city-specific loan forgiveness programs available to teachers. To discover what’s available in your area, search theAFT directory.
Although most doctors can expect to make well into the six figures, paying for the education to get there can take a significant chunk out of even a large paycheck. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the median medical school debt for 2016 graduates was $190,000. On a standard 10-year repayment plan, that’s a monthly student loan bill of over $2,200. Fortunately, doctors in need of debt relief have options, including PSLF for those who work in public health.
National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Programs
For those interested in working in shortage areas, the NHSC offers a number of LRPs for health care professionals.
- NHSC Loan Repayment Program. The NHSC offers student loan repayment assistance of up to $50,000 to physicians and other health care professionals through their Loan Repayment Program. In exchange, doctors must work full-time in an NHSC-approved shortage area for two years. The payments are tax-free and disburse immediately on starting work. Even better, after the initial two-year service agreement, participants can renew their contracts annually to receive continued repayment assistance. The length and amount of assistance depend on the area of service. Higher-need areas qualify for larger loan repayments.
- NHSC Rural Community Loan Repayment Program. In exchange for providing substance use or opioid treatment, health care providers can receive up to $100,000 in student loan repayment assistance through the NHSC Rural Community LRP. Participants must work at a rural NHSC-approved substance use disorder treatment facility. Priority is given to sites that have received Rural Communities Opioid Response Program funding.
- NHSC Students to Service Program. For medical students completing their last year of school, the NHSC offers a Students to Service Program. In exchange for a commitment to provide primary health care at an NHSC-approved site for three years after graduation, the NHSC provides up to $120,000 toward both educational costs and student loans.
- NHSC Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program. In exchange for working three years in substance use disorder treatment at an NHSC-approved site, the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program pays up to $75,000 toward student loans. You get priority if you have a DATA 2000 waiver, serve in an opioid treatment program, or have a license or certification in substance use disorder interventions.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Program
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers repayment assistance of up to $100,000 to health care professionals in exchange for a two-year commitment to perform medical research funded by a U.S. nonprofit. Like other repayment assistance programs, the NIH LRP was created to attract top talent to an underserved field — in this case, biomedical or behavioral research.
Through eight different programs, health researchers receive repayment assistance while either employed with the NIH or eligible organizations outside the NIH. The programs are organized around broad research areas but aren’t intended to fund individual research projects. Rather, the intention is to support applicants in building a career in medical research.
Indian Health Services (IHS) Loan Repayment Program
The Indian Health Service (IHS) is a federal program for American Indians and Alaska Natives. In exchange for a two-year commitment to work in a health facility serving indigenous Americans, the IHS Loan Repayment Program repays up to $40,000 in student loans for health care professionals. After the initial two years, participants can renew their contracts annually to receive additional benefits until their full debt is repaid.
Military Student Loan Repayment Assistance
The military offers a number of scholarships and repayment assistance programs to health care professionals. Although there may be some differences in maximum payout amounts, whether you join the Army, Navy, or the Force, all three branches of the military offer similar scholarship and repayment programs for health care professionals.
- The Health Professions Scholarship Program. Qualified medical, dental, nursing, and veterinary students can have their full tuition and expenses paid by a branch of the military, plus receive a monthly stipend of $2,200 or more. Students are also eligible for a $20,000 sign-on bonus.
- Financial Assistance Program. This LRP grants up to $45,000 per year in repayment assistance, as well as a monthly stipend of $2,000 or moreq to military members enrolled in an accredited residency. Once you complete your residency, you must complete a year of service for each year you received assistance, plus one additional year.
- Health Professions Loan Repayment Program. Qualified participants receive up to $40,000 per year paid directly toward their student loans, minus federal income taxes.
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)
In addition to branches of the military, the VA, which provides medical care to veterans among other services, provides repayment assistance programs.
- Education Debt Reduction Program. Through the VA’s Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP), doctors and other health care professionals who work for the VA receive up to $200,000 in repayment assistance. Payments are made over a five-year period, up to a maximum of $40,000 per year. The VA uses the EDRP program as a recruitment incentive to fill positions in difficult-to-recruit specialties.
- Student Loan Repayment Program. The VA is one of the government agencies qualified to offer repayment assistance as a recruitment bonus. As federal agency employees, VA doctors are eligible for up to $10,000 per year in repayment assistance, up to a maximum of $60,000 through the VA’s Student Loan Repayment Program.
Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Faculty Loan Repayment Program
For health professionals who serve at least two years as a faculty member at a health professions school, HRSA’s Faculty Loan Repayment Program offers up to $40,000 in student loan repayment assistance. To qualify, you must come from a disadvantaged background.
A number of states offer LRPs for physicians. Many of these are through the NHSC’s State Loan Repayment Program. These programs provide incentives for doctors to practice in shortage areas.
Additionally, some states have their own loan repayment assistance plans (LRAPs) for doctors. Similar to the NHSC programs, these typically offer student loan repayment or other special pay incentives for doctors who commit to working in high-need areas. For a list of state programs, visit the database maintained by the AAMC.
A nurse’s income can approach or even exceed six figures, depending on the type of nursing. The highest-paying jobs require graduate degrees. And according to a 2017 report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, more than two-thirds of nursing students borrow anywhere from $40,000 to $150,000 to get these degrees. That’s a serious bite out of even a six-figure paycheck.
Many of the programs for doctors and physicians are also available to those in nursing. These include:
- PSLF (if you work in public health)
- The NHSC programs, except for Students to Service
- The NIH LRP
- The IHS LRP
- Military scholarships and LRPs
- VA LRPs
- The HRSA Faculty LRP
Additionally, there are a couple of other nurse-specific programs to help nurses pay off their debt as quickly as possible.
Nurse Corp Loan Repayment Program
The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program repays up to 85% of the student debt acquired to get a nursing degree. In exchange for a two-year commitment to work in a nursing shortage area or as nursing faculty at an eligible school, participants can have 60% of their debt repaid. At the end of the initial two years, they can apply for a third year and receive another 25% of debt repayment assistance. Note that this assistance is not tax-exempt, so any assistance you receive is reduced by the amount of income tax you’ll need to pay.
Perkins Loan Cancellation
If you’re a nurse and have any Federal Perkins Loans, you can get up to 100% of them canceled. To qualify, you must be a registered nurse and work full-time. You also have to apply to the program, either through the school you borrowed from or your student loan servicer; enrollment isn’t automatic. As long as you qualify, your Perkins Loans are gradually discharged over a period of five years.
Most states offer loan forgiveness and repayment programs for nurses in exchange for working in a shortage area. You must be licensed to practice in a state to qualify for its loan repayment programs. There’s no centralized database specifically for nursing, so search your state to see if any programs are offered in your area. The database maintained by the AAMC is a good place to start.
Believe it or not, dentists often find themselves in far worse student debt than physicians. According to the American Student Dental Association, the average debt load for 2018 dental graduates was a monumental $285,184. Like physicians, dentists can make well into the six figures, but it’s not nearly enough to make repaying loans of that size easy.
As with other professions, PSLF is an option if you work for a nonprofit or public service agency. Additionally, many of the same programs available to physicians are also available to dentists. These include:
- Military scholarships and LRPs
- VA LRPs
- The IHS LRP
- All of the NHSC programs, including Students to Service
- The HRSA Faculty LRP
Many states have their own programs designed to encourage dentists to work in high-need areas. For a full list of state-specific student loan repayment assistance for dentists, visit the database maintained by the American Dental Education Association.
As with many other health care professions, pharmacists have the potential to earn six-figure salaries. But getting there often requires taking on six-figure debt. According to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, 2018 pharmacy graduates borrowed an average of $166,528 to get their degrees. Fortunately, assistance is available for pharmacists.
Anyone who works full-time for a public agency or nonprofit qualifies for PSLF, including pharmacists. Pharmacists also have access to some of the same programs as other health professionals. These include
- Military scholarships and LRPs
- VA LRPs
- The IHS LRP
- The NHSC programs, except for Students to Service
Many states have programs to repay a portion or all of a pharmacist’s student loans if they work in a shortage area for a certain period of time. Although there’s no database maintained specifically for pharmacists, a search of the database at the AAMC is a good place to start.
8. Physical Therapist
A career as a physical therapist requires a doctoral degree (a DPT). Physical therapists can earn, on average, $88,000 per year, yet the amount of money required to finance a doctorate degree often far exceeds this amount. According to a 2017 survey conducted by The American Physical Therapy Association, the average DPT graduate borrows $96,000 to finance their education.
Some of the same programs available to other health care professionals are also available to physical therapists. These include:
- VA LRPs
- The IHS LRP
- The HRSA Faculty LRP
- The NIH LRP
Additionally, many hospitals and private health care facilities use loan forgiveness as a recruitment incentive for physical therapists. To find out where these are available, ask during your hiring interview or contact the American Physical Therapy Association.
9. Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Therapist, or Social Worker
The vast majority (91%) of psychologists with doctor of psychology degrees (Psy.D.) graduate with student loan debt in excess of $200,000, and 77% of those with doctor of philosophy degrees (Ph.D.) borrow more than $75,000, according to a 2014 study by the American Psychological Association.
Debt-relief programs available to psychologists and other mental health workers include:
- The NIH LRP
- The IHS LRP
- The HRSA Faculty LRP
The NHSC Programs, except Students to Service, are open to those with a variety of different psychology and social work degrees. And Health Professionals Loan Repayment is available for military clinical psychologists.
Many states offer repayment assistance to those who work in mental and behavioral health, as long as they’re willing to work in underserved areas. Although no database exists specifically for state-based mental health repayment programs, start with an online search to see if your state offers anything for graduates with your degree.
Getting a degree in veterinary medicine can cost nearly as much as one in human medicine. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 2016 veterinary medicine graduates borrowed an average of $143,758 to finance their education. But while the average vet salary comes close to six figures, they aren’t paid nearly as well as the average physician. Fortunately, there are a variety of LRPs and forgiveness programs for veterinarians.
Even though vets work on animals and not humans, they are still health professionals. Thus, a few of the same programs available to other health care workers are available to them. These include:
- Military scholarships and LRPs
- The HRSA Faculty LRP
Additionally, there are a few vet-specific assistance programs.
USDA Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers a repayment assistance program for veterinarians. The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program pays up to $75,000 toward your student loans, dispersed in amounts of $25,000 per year over the course of your service. In exchange, you must work as a vet for three years in a region designated by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) as a shortage area. One of the great benefits of this program is that, unlike many other LRPs, you can use this money toward private as well as federal student loan debt.
Not everyone with veterinary debt is accepted into this program. NIFA only grants awards to a limited number of applicants. Also, the primary focus of the program is on veterinary medicine for livestock raised for food.
Many states offer repayment assistance to veterinarians who are willing to work in underserved areas. Although no database exists specifically for state-based veterinary medicine repayment programs, it’s worth it to do an online search to see if your state offers anything for veterinary graduates.
As many law graduates are aware, no one ever expects law school to be cheap. In fact, according to 2019 statistics from Nitro College, law school debt, at an average of $140,616, rivals that of medical school. Worse, the average salary of an attorney is about half that of an M.D., which makes paying it off that much harder.
Fortunately, there’s a wide variety of student debt repayment assistance and forgiveness programs for lawyers, including PSLF for those who work in public law or for a nonprofit.
Dozens of law schools, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and NYU, offer loan repayment assistance programs. Programs generally require you to have full-time employment at a public service law firm and have an adjusted gross income of less than $60,000, although programs vary from school to school.
The amount of student debt law schools repay varies widely. For example, the University of Notre Dame Law School repays up to $15,000 annually for three years to lawyers working in public law who make less than $70,000. The University of Virginia covers up to 100% of student debt for lawyers who make less than $75,000 per year.
Although you need to speak with your school directly for the most up-to-date information, Equal Justice Works has a comprehensive booklet on repaying law school loans that includes a list of schools offering repayment assistance.
U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program
As a participant in the federal employee LRP, every spring, the DOJ opens its Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program to attract top talent. As with other federal agency employees, in exchange for a three-year commitment, lawyers at the DOJ can receive up to $60,000 in repayment assistance, paid in $10,000 annual increments.
John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program
The John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program provides repayment assistance to qualifying public defenders and prosecutors who agree to work in public law for a minimum of three years. Amounts vary depending on where you live. Assistance is payable in increments of up to $10,000 per year and cannot exceed a maximum of $60,000.
Applicants to this program must apply through their state and follow the procedures of their state-designated agency.
Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program
The Herbert S. Garten LRP repays law school loans up to $5,600 per year for three years. Attorneys must work at a qualifying organization for the full three years, and not everyone is selected. The agency uses a lottery system to choose 70 attorneys for the program each year.
Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps
For those interested in joining the JAG Corps, the Air Force pays up to $65,000 toward student loans. The payments are made directly to the lender over the course of a three-year period starting after the first year of enlistment. A JAG attorney must remain enlisted for four years to receive the full benefit.
If you remain with JAG after the initial four-year period, you also become eligible to receive up to $60,000 in cash bonuses, depending on the number of years of service. Although this money can be used any way you want, you could certainly apply it to any remaining student loan balance.
Many state and local repayment assistance programs are available for attorneys. To see if one exists in your area, do an Internet search. The American Bar Association maintains a list of state programs, but you must be a member to access this information.
12. Active-Duty Military
Not only does the military offer repayment assistance for lawyers and health care professionals, but it also offers assistance to many other types of enlisted soldiers.
The College Loan Repayment Program
The College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP) is offered as an enlistment incentive for new military recruits. The program is for enlisted personnel only and is not available to officers. Additionally, not every military occupational specialty (MOS) is eligible. The list of eligible MOS’s changes quarterly, but all recruiting officers have it. Although there are basic similarities, each branch is authorized by Congress to administer the program as it sees fit to meet its recruitment goals. So there are differences among each branch.
Generally, the military annually repays one-third of eligible student loan debt or $1,500 (whichever is greater) in return for a three-year service commitment. Payments begin at the end of the first year of service. Congress has set the total maximum allowable amount of repayment to $65,000, minus taxes. But each branch of the military applies their own maximums. Below is specific information on what each offers.
- Army. The Army College Loan Repayment Program repays the maximum. To qualify, you need a score of 50 or higher on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) and must serve in an eligible MOS.
- Army Reserves. The Army Reserve College Loan Repayment Program pays up to $50,000 of a soldier’s student loans, paid annually as 15% of your outstanding debt or $1,500 (whichever is greater). To qualify, you need a score of 50 or higher on the ASVAB, must serve in an eligible MOS, and must enlist for a minimum of six years.
- Army National Guard. The National Guard College Loan Repayment Program pays up to $50,000 of a servicemember’s student loans. To qualify, you need a score of 50 or higher on the ASVAB, must serve in an eligible MOS, and must enlist for a minimum of six years. In return, the National Guard will annually pay 15% of your outstanding student loan debt or $1,500 (whichever is greater) for each year of service.
- Navy. The Navy College Loan Repayment Program pays the highest amount — up to $65,000 toward your student loan debt. One-third of your student loan debt or $1,500 (whichever is greater) is paid annually for each year of service. If your balance ever drops below one-third of your initial debt, the Navy will pay it off completely. To qualify, you must have a minimum score of 50 on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) and enlist in an LRP-qualifying position.
- Air Force. Unfortunately, the Air Force no longer has a CLRP for new enlistees. The only repayment benefit it currently offers is for JAG. However, they do offer tuition assistance for any enlisted member interested in furthering their education.
0% Interest Rate
In addition to the above repayment options, enlisting in the military comes with some other student loan-related benefits. For one, if you’re on active duty serving in an area of hostility and receive special pay, you can get 0% interest on your federal student loans for up to a maximum of 60 months. This interest rate can be applied retroactively.
You also can defer making payments on your federal student loans while on active duty. Some private lenders also offer this benefit.
Additionally, for qualifying federal loans, no interest will accrue during the deferment. While it’s not exactly repayment assistance, it will help you keep your costs down temporarily, hopefully making it easier to pay off your loan more quickly down the road.
Veterans Total and Permanent Disability Discharge
If you were permanently disabled while serving in the military, all of your student loans can be canceled through the Department of Education’s total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge program. To qualify, you’ll need to provide a letter from the VA stating either that you have a service-connected disability that’s 100% disabling or that you’re totally disabled based on an individual unemployability rating.
13. Automotive Workers
The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) offers loan repayment assistance through its SEMA Loan Forgiveness Program. Any employee of a member company can apply annually for an award of up to $5,000. Awards can be used to repay loans already acquired or as scholarships for further schooling.
To qualify, you must have earned a degree or certificate from a U.S. college, university, or technical school, graduated with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, and you must complete an application demonstrating your passion for the automotive industry.
While not exactly a career, volunteering opportunities can help with your student loans. In exchange for your service, certain volunteer organizations grant repayment assistance. In most cases, as long as you work full-time, your efforts count toward PSLF.
Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA)
Sponsored by AmeriCorps, VISTA is a program created to fight poverty in the United States by placing volunteers in nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and faith-based groups. Examples of VISTA projects include organizing shelter and job opportunities for victims of disasters and creating an adult literacy awareness campaign.
Programs include a living allowance, but the biggest perk of fulfilling a one-year term of service is the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. You can use this to pay educational costs at eligible post-secondary institutions or to repay qualified student loans. The dollar amount of the award for full-time service in 2019 is $6,095.
The Peace Corps
If you prefer to travel abroad for your volunteer service, the Peace Corps is another great option. It sends Americans all over the world to help with people’s most pressing needs. Projects include everything from teaching digital literacy to boosting entrepreneurship. I have a friend who served her term in Jamaica teaching environmental sustainability.
In exchange for your service, volunteers can defer their federal student loans, have their service count toward PSLF, or receive partial cancellation of their Perkins Loans.
Additionally, at the end of the program, volunteers are given a $10,000 stipend to help them adjust to life back home. The money can be used however you want, including as payment toward your loans.
And while it’s not repayment assistance, through the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program, returning Peace Corps volunteers can receive tuition assistance toward graduate school studies.
Teach for America
The Teach for America program is designed to recruit and develop strong teachers who are passionate about educational equality and excellence. Teachers serve in inner-city or rural areas with economically disadvantaged populations. You don’t need to have a teaching degree; any undergraduate degree from an accredited college is sufficient. You also must have graduated with a minimum 2.5 GPA and be a U.S. citizen, legal permanent resident, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient.
Teach for America participants receive a salary, typically between $33,000 and $58,000, and benefits. In addition, their work counts toward PSLF.
15. Other Careers
Most states offer repayment assistance for a variety of careers. While the most common are for doctors, nurses, teachers, and lawyers, many states offer assistance for additional occupations. For example, the Alfond Leaders Program in Maine offers repayment assistance to those in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers.
It’s worth checking out your state’s programs to see if there’s one that could apply to your situation. To find them, search for your state’s name plus your profession plus “student loan repayment assistance.”
Should You Choose a Job for the Forgiveness Benefit?
Despite the possibilities, you may want to think twice about taking on a certain profession only for the forgiveness benefits. Many of these programs come with tradeoffs. While you could potentially have thousands — or even tens of thousands — of dollars in student debt repaid on your behalf, you’ll likely have to work in a rural or disadvantaged area where your salary is significantly less than it would be elsewhere. You have to decide if the repayment benefit or the higher salary would net you more in the long run.
If you’re still in school, you should know that programs change all the time before you take on a lot of debt in anticipation of getting a program to help you pay it. For example, the Air Force used to have a CLRP, but it was discontinued in 2019. Additionally, if state or federal budgets are tight, funding for a program could easily end.
Many of these programs have strict legal obligations, including contracts and a minimum employment term. They can also be difficult to qualify for due to strict eligibility requirements. Most apply only to federal loans and not private student loan debt. And some repayment assistance is tax-exempt, while other assistance is considered income and taxed accordingly.
Finally, some programs can be combined, while others are mutually exclusive. For example, if you participate in the military CLRP program, your years of service while your loans are being repaid don’t count toward the G.I. Bill, which pays for a certain amount of continuing education depending on your length of service.
However, if you’re already working in one of these professions and have graduated with a significant amount of student debt, it can definitely be worth your time to at least research if any of these programs can benefit your situation — especially if you’re already working in an underserved area.
Depending on your situation, student loan forgiveness or repayment assistance may or may not be for you. But, if it is, giving just two or three years of your professional life to a program you qualify for can make a life-changing difference in your student debt burden.
Do you work in one of these professions and have a large amount of student debt? Have you tried any of these programs to help you pay off your student loans?
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