A reader wants to know if you need a real job to get real debt relief.

Question: I am a volunteer EMT at my local fire department. Am I eligible for loan forgiveness?

— Jong in Maryland

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Sometimes the shortest questions produce the longest answers. In this case, the answer is short, but the explanation is quite long.

The answer: Sadly, no. You don’t qualify for student loan forgiveness. Here’s some background…

So, a program was rolled out in 2007 that made people that worked for public entities, such as police officers, firefighters, and in hospitals, their student loans are forgiven. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

You have to first sign up and enroll in the program, work 10 years for the public entity, and make your student loan payments along the way. And at the end of the 10-year-period, what is remaining in your balance on your student loans is forgiven.

It is a great program; however, it may be deemed a little too generous. And thus, the government may scale it back. But the best thing to do is enroll in the program now because obviously there may be some grandfather provisions before they do change the law.

The explanation: The federal government offers loan forgiveness for firefighters, police officers, nursesteachers, and those serving in the military. However, you need to be employed.

In fact, you need to fill out a government document called the Employment Certification Form before you qualify for loan forgiveness.

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Why aren’t volunteer firefighters included? I have no first-hand knowledge of how the government came to that decision, but it’s easy to speculate three reasons why…

1. Loopholes

It would be difficult if not impossible to figure out how much “volunteering” would qualify for this very significant benefit. Government regulations are confusing enough, and even student loan forgiveness requires jumping through many hoops.

(For instance, once you fill out that form I mentioned, you must enroll in one of three “hardship-based federal repayment plans” with names like Income Based RepaymentIncome Contingent Repayment, and Pay as You Earn. Then you need to wait 10 years for the “forgiveness” part to kick in.)

I can only imagine how many loopholes clever people would seek, and then how many more rules the government would have to devise to combat that.

2. Mission creep

If volunteer firefighters are allowed to seek student loan forgiveness, what about volunteer teachers? Candy Stripers in hospitals? Police Explorers?

Once the government bestows a benefit, those on the outside but directly adjacent want in. That’s understandable, but it can also be expensive and complicated.

3. Concept

The original idea behind student loan forgiveness was simple: Public servants often don’t earn as much as those in the private sector, so they’ll have even more trouble than their private peers paying off steep student loan balances.

At the same time, we need our public servants if we’re to maintain our status as the best country on the face of the planet.

There’s still good news, Jong: Those other federal programs I mentioned can still help you manage your student loan debt. I’ve seen these programs literally turn lives around — making home-buying possible where it wasn’t before, and even solving marital problems due to financial stress.

So I urge you, Jong, to look into these programs, call Debt.com at  or reach out elsewhere.

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About the Author

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

I’m a certified public accountant who has authored two books on getting out of debt, Credit Hell and Power Up, and I am one of the personal finance experts for Debt.com. I have focused my professional endeavors in the consumer finance, technology, media and real estate industries creating not only Debt.com, but also Financial Apps and Start Fresh Today, among others. My personal finance advice has been included in countless articles, and has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Forbes and Entrepreneur as well as virtually every national and local newspaper in the country. Everyone should have a reason for living that’s bigger than themselves, and besides my family, mine is this: Teaching Americans how to live happily within their means. To me, money is not the root of all evil. Poor money management is. Money cannot buy happiness, but going into debt always buys misery. That’s why I launched Debt.com. I’m glad you’re here.

Published by Debt.com, LLC