When you make the decision to work in the public sector — particularly in parts of the healthcare industry — you’re often making a choice to take less pay in favor of serving your community.

Unfortunately, just because you decided to serve the community, it doesn’t mean you don’t have the same debt as other nurses who went into higher-paying private sector jobs. So you have the same level of debt, and less income to pay it off.

Luckily, the federal government has recognized the problem and offers a solution for nurses who work in the public health sector.

How does loan forgiveness work for nurses?

Loan forgiveness for nurses is similar to what you see in other public sector service paths.

  1. First you have to be working the public sector (more on this below).
  2. Then you must have to consolidate your loans through one of the three consolidation programs designed for people facing at least partial financial hardship. That includes: (a) Income Based Repayment (IBR); (b) Income Contingent Repayment (ICR); (c) Pay as You Earn
  3. Once your loans are consolidated, you make payments to the program for ten years.
  4. After ten years, any remaining balances on your loans are forgiven. That means you don’t make any additional payments, and you’re completely free of the debt without any credit damage.

It’s important to note that you have to be in the public sector for the entire span of the 10-year period. You can’t start out in the public sector and then switch to private later. You won’t be eligible for loan forgiveness if you do.

What counts as a public sector nursing job?

The organization or institution you work for must meet the definition of a “public service organization.” That includes:

  • Government organizations
  • Public 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations
  • Private nonprofit organizations that provide public health services

You must be working full-time for one of the above as:

  • A nurse
  • A nurse practitioner
  • A nurse in a clinical setting
  • A healthcare practitioner
  • A member of the healthcare support staff

Fact: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average RN makes $67,930 annually as of 2012.

Full time is defined as working at least an average of 30 hours per week annually. As long as you work full time in one of the above fields in a public service organization, then you can have the remaining balances on your loans forgiven after 120 payments.

Pop Quiz

On average, how much does just the tuition cost for a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing?

a) $10,000-$15,000

b) $15,000-$20,000

c) $20,000-$30,000

d) 30,000-$40,000

Reveal Answer

The cost for books is typically $1,000-$3,000 more per year according to RNprograms.org.

c) $20,000-$30,000

Return to question

Navigating the forgiveness process

Full disclosure — any student loan consolidation and forgiveness programs available on federal student loans are provided directly from the government. So you don’t need a company to consolidate — in theory, you should be able to consolidate and apply for forgiveness on your own.

But the paperwork can be complicated. And you have to jump through a lot of hoops to make sure you qualify and remain eligible until the remaining balances on your loans are finally forgiven. This is where working with a student loan consolidation company provides a benefit, because they do everything for you and help ensure you stay on track for forgiveness.

Plus, since these organizations work with government programs, the fees are usually minimal and some agencies even offer guarantees that keep you protected from paying fees if your loans can’t be consolidated and forgiven.