Let’s be honest — you didn’t go into teaching to get rich, and you didn’t take all those loans from the Department of Education thinking that paying them back would be easy. Unless you’re working for a private school or for-profit teaching service, you’re probably never going to earn the “big bucks.”
You can see why paying your student loans back can be problematic. According to the National Education Association, the 2018-2019 average public teacher salary in the United States is only $61,730. Teachers who have Master’s degrees have $50,000 in student loan debt, on average. So, why do you have to deal with such a big student loan debt when your salary doesn’t give you enough money to pay it back?
Even after promotions and pay increases, it’s not going to get much better. Public school teachers at higher levels don’t do much better, either. So, should you just give up and start applying for private jobs to get better pay? No way!
Instead, it’s time to start doing your research. How can you make those monthly loan payments disappear? Learn more about making lower monthly payments, teaching at qualifying schools, and all the ways you can find forgiveness for student loans as a teacher.
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4 Main Types of Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness
There are 4 main ways you can get your student loan debt forgiven as a teacher. Some are more common than others, but it’s important to understand your options. You need to understand them to find the best solution for you and your situation:
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Payments needed: 120
Timeframe: 10 years
Max Amount Forgiven: No max
- Must be Direct Loans
- Must consolidate loans before enrolling
- Can’t be in default
- Must make payments through in an income-driven repayment plan
- Must work in a qualified public teaching role
PSLF doesn’t have the strictest requirements, but it can be difficult to meet all of the terms to qualify. If you can get this type of student loan forgiveness, it’s ideal. The rest of your loan balance after 120 consecutive payments made later than 2007 no more than 15 days late will be forgiven – and this forgiven amount won’t be taxable.
Curious to see if your employer qualifies you for public service loan forgiveness? Use this form to see if you are eligible.
Qualifying Income-Driven Repayment Plans
Federal student loan forgiveness for public servants is the government’s way of giving people who are serving the community a break. You can consolidate your debts to lower your payments now, then the remaining balances are forgiven on your debts after you make 120 payments.
Basically, you need to enroll in one of the Income-Driven Repayment Programs. Here’s how it works:
- You have to have federal student loans to qualify.
- You have to be able to prove at least partial financial hardship. This allows you to enroll in one of three programs designed for people who are struggling: (a) Income Based Repayment (IBR); (b) Income Contingent Repayment (ICR); (c) Pay as You Earn
Now there’s even more value: If you enroll in Pay as You Earn and can prove severe financial hardship (i.e. you are below the federal poverty line for your state) then your payments are reduced to $0 on the program. So, you pay nothing each month and it still counts towards your 120 payments.
This is extremely beneficial for teachers that work in particularly low-paying districts, as well as for single parents and even two-income families where both parents teach, or the partner has an equally low-paying job.
Make sure you’re in an eligible public education field
Of course, you need to make sure you’re eligible for the program. You must be:
- A full-time employee (work at least 30 hours weekly)
- Work for a nonprofit organization: (a) government organizations; (b) 501(c)(3) organizations; (c) private nonprofit organizations
- Work in one of the following fields: (a) public education; (b) early childhood education (including Head Start and state-funded pre-K)
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
Timeframe: 5 Consecutive Academic Years Teaching
Max Amount Forgiven: $17,500
- Must be a: highly qualified special education teacher; highly qualified secondary education teacher; highly qualified secondary mathematics teacher; or highly qualified secondary science teacher.
You could be eligible for up to $17,500 of loan forgiveness if you are a highly qualified teacher of special education, secondary mathematics, or secondary science. Other teachers could qualify for up to $5,000 in forgiveness.
How do I know if I am a highly qualified teacher?
Whether you’re an elementary or secondary school teacher, you can see if you meet the requirements for being a “highly qualified teacher.” The basic requirements are having a bachelor’s degree and state teaching certification. If you’ve had any of your certifications or licenses “waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis,” then you won’t qualify.
Elementary School Teacher New to the Profession
If you’re a new elementary school teacher, you must meet some extra requirements to be deemed a highly qualified teacher. You will need to pass a rigorous test administered by your state. The test proves your knowledge in reading, writing, math, and other elementary school topics.
Secondary School Teacher New to the Profession
New middle and high school teachers must take a similar state test to prove their knowledge as highly qualified teachers. If you want to qualify, you have to take a state subject test for every subject you teach and get a degree or certification in the subject(s) you teach.
Federal Teacher Cancellation for Perkins Loans
Years: 5 years
Max Amount Forgiven: No Max
- Teach at a school that serves low-income families
- Be a special education teacher or teach the subjects of math, science, foreign language, or bilingual education
Did you take Federal Perkins Loans to cover the cost of your education? You may be able to get them 100% forgiven. To qualify, you have to teach certain subjects and teach full-time at a low-income school.
Over the course of 5 years, your loans will be forgiven in the following percentages:
- 1st Year: 15%
- 2nd Year: 15%
- 3rd Year: 20%
- 4th Year: 20%
- 5th Year: 30%
If you keep teaching for all 5 of those years, that’s 100% of your Federal Perkins Loans forgiven, plus interest.
State programs that offer student loan forgiveness for teachers
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.
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
Even if your home state isn’t on the list, you may have other options for getting your debt forgiven. Search this database to find out what your state education agency has to offer.
What if I Took out a Consolidation Loan for my Student Debt?
You may still be eligible to have part of the outstanding balance of your loan forgiven.
There are Direct Consolidation Loans and Federal Consolidation Loans. If you used one of these kinds of loans to repay a Direct Subsidized Loan, Direct Unsubsidized Loan, Subsidized Federal Stafford Loan, or Unsubsidized Stafford Loan, it’s possible you could have the rest of what you owe forgiven.
On the other hand, if you consolidate federal student loan debt with a consolidation loan from a private lender, your federal loans will no longer be eligible for federal loan forgiveness programs.
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, 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.
Get it right the first time by working with a student loan specialist that understands exactly how forgiveness for teachers works.
Get help so you can focus on your students instead of your student debt
The programs that make all of this possible are government programs, so it is possible to do this stuff on your own. But the paperwork can be tough to navigate and it’s critical that you don’t make any moves in your career that can jeopardize your eligibility for forgiveness.
This is where a federal student loan consolidation specialist comes in handy, because they do all the work for you, and at fairly low fees as long as you work with the right organization. We can help you connect with the right specialist.
Article last modified on November 17, 2022. Published by Debt.com, LLC