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A reader needs to master her debts before getting her master’s degree. Here’s how she (and you) can do it.

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Question: I am a public school teacher in a title 1 district. How do I apply for student loan forgiveness? This is for my Master’s Degree.Valerie P. in Connecticut

Andrew Pentis, personal finance expert and certified student loan counselor at Student Loan Hero, responds…

Dear Valerie,

It’s safe to say you probably didn’t get into teaching for the money. But luckily, your profession does come with a healthy financial benefit in the form of student loan forgiveness.

In fact, teachers have three federal loan cancellation options available via the government. And not only that: You could also apply for repayment assistance on your federal — and, in some cases, private — student loan debt if you teach in one of about 15 states. So, let’s review all your options.

Three options for federal teacher loan forgiveness programs

Teacher loan forgiveness

Working for a Title 1 school helps you check off the top requirement to receive teacher loan forgiveness through the federal government. Confirm your school’s eligibility by searching for it in the Federal Student Aid office’s Teacher Cancellation Low Income Directory.

The other key factor for eligibility is teaching for five consecutive and full years at your low-income school (or education agency). After hitting the five-year mark, you submit a forgiveness application to your loan servicer.

An approved application could net you $5,000 worth of loan forgiveness for your Federal Direct or Stafford loans — unless you teach math, science or special education, in which case you could get a hefty $17,500 in repayment assistance.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

Count teachers among the governmental and nonprofit employees eligible for the (in)famous PSLF program. Unlike teacher loan forgiveness, PSLF calls for 10 years of prompt payments to qualify. You’re also encouraged to pre-apply annually by filing an Employment Certification Form.

The other difference with PSLF is more positive: After teaching full time at a qualifying school for a decade (and paying your dues on an eligible repayment plan), you could receive complete forgiveness on the remaining balance of your Federal Direct loans, rather than just a stipend to put toward it.

Double-check with your school’s human resources department to ensure it’s a PSLF-approved employer.

Perkins loan teacher cancellation

If you borrowed Perkins loans from Uncle Sam during your master’s degree education, you wouldn’t be able to wipe them away via teacher loan forgiveness or PSLF — instead, you’d use Perkins loans teacher cancellation.

For those who work in a public or nonprofit elementary or secondary school, like yourself, the program could cancel up to 100 percent of their Perkins loan balance.

Unlike other forgiveness programs, this one awards money incrementally over five years: 15 percent following each of your first and second years of teaching; 20 percent after the third and fourth years; and the final 30 percent at the end of your fifth year.

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Student loan repayment assistance through your state government

You could also whittle down your master’s degree debt by looking to your state government for support. Like Perkins loan teacher cancellation, most state forgiveness programs award funds annually, in lump sums or matching payments.

Each state’s offering has unique eligibility criteria. You might need to teach a particular subject, in a specific type of school or an underserved region of the state, for example.

The major difference between your state and federal forgiveness options is how your private student loan debt (if you have any) would be treated. Some states are open to helping with student loans of all types, while others might deem loans funded by private banks, credit unions, and other private lenders as ineligible for assistance.

Read up on your state’s program to double-check that you would benefit. Here is a list of states currently offering such assistance.

  1. Arizona
  2. Arkansas
  3. Delaware
  4. Illinois
  5. Iowa
  6. Maine
  7. Maryland
  8. Mississippi
  9. Montana
  10. New Mexico
  11. New York
  12. North Carolina
  13. North Dakota
  14. Oklahoma
  15. Texas

Even if your home state isn’t, contact your local education department or agency to see if has something that can help.

Apply for as much loan forgiveness as you can get

Repaying student loan debt on a teacher’s salary is no easy feat, particularly with a master’s degree under your belt. Having a few loan forgiveness options at your disposal, however, should make it at least a little less challenging.

If you plan on teaching your whole career, Valerie, keep in mind that you could double-dip on forgiveness, even if not concurrently. With a bunch of Direct loan debt, for example, you could receive teacher loan cancellation for the first five years of service and then get PSLF after another decade on campus.

If these forgiveness programs still aren’t enough to wipe away your education degree debt, don’t lose hope. It’s wise to keep the lines of communication open with your federal loan servicer or private lender. This way, you’ll make yourself aware of other options at your disposal, including federal loan consolidation and private student loan refinancing.

In order to keep all your options for forgiveness or repayment support, however, be very careful about consolidating, refinancing or taking any other action on your loans until you know how it might affect your eligibility for the programs you’re interested in. The wrong move could erase your progress toward that much-needed dose of forgiveness.

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About the Author

Andrew Pentis

Andrew Pentis

Andrew covers personal finance expert with a focus in student loans for Student Loan Hero. His work has appeared in 30-plus publications. He is interested in creating actionable content.

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