Student loan repayment can feel like a hole you can’t dig yourself out of. Income-based repayment plans and refinancing are great options, but they still leave you with monthly payments that can bust your budget. Using grants to pay off student loans could be a better way to deal with your student loan debt.

grants to pay off student loans; happy graduate with piggy bankWhat is a grant?

Unlike a student loan, a grant is money toward your education that you don’t have to pay back. Some grants, such as Federal Pell Grants, help you pay for college while you’re going through it. Others help you repay your loans after you graduate.

How do I qualify?

Each grant has different eligibility requirements. Many depend on which career field you work in and whether you work in an area with high need. You may also have to have federal student loans, as some of these grants don’t apply to private loans.

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Using grants to pay off student loans

There’s no easy way to find out which grant is best for you; you just have to put in the time to research which grants are out there. Luckily, we have a list that will get you started:

Farmers

New York State Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program

Do you have student loans and operate a farm in New York State for your full-time job? You could be eligible for a grant toward your student loan repayment. Only graduates who have student debt from obtaining a degree at a qualifying New York university are eligible for this incentive program.

Medical Professionals

California Bachelor of Science in Nursing Loan Repayment Program

Apply to this program and practice nursing in a qualifying California facility for at least one year and you can receive $10,000 toward your student loans. You can receive this award up to three times, which would mean $30,000 toward your loans.

Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program

This is a program from Indian Health Services (IHS) that can help IHS clinicians repay their loans if they work in facilities that serve American Indians or Alaskan Natives for two years. Eligible participants can receive up to $40,000.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Program

Health professionals with doctoral degrees could get up to $50,000 per year toward their student loans. Recipients must conduct research for at least two years.

Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program

Registered nurses who work full time (at least 32 hours per week) at a qualifying facility that is either nonprofit or in a critical shortage area could be eligible for up to 85% loan forgiveness. Their loans must have been used to pay for a degree from an accredited school of nursing.

The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program

Serve in an area of veterinary shortage for up to three years and you could get up to $25,000 per year toward repaying your student loans.

Pennsylvania Primary Care Loan Repayment Program

This is a Pennsylvania-specific program for health care professionals working in certain specialties. Your employer has to first send in a Loan Repayment Practice Site Application to ensure that the location qualifies.

Military Service Grants

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

If your parent or guardian died serving with the military in Iraq or Afghanistan, you could be eligible for this grant. You must also ensure that you aren’t eligible for a Federal Pell Grant because of Expected Family Contribution, but you do meet all other Pell Grant requirements.

Military College Loan Repayment Program

If you currently serve or have served in the United States Military, you could be eligible for Military student loan repayment programs. The amount of help you get depends on the branch you’re in.

Lawyers

Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Program

This program helps employees of the Department of Justice repay their student loans. If you meet all the requirements and accept the grant, you will be required to commit to three years at the DoJ.

Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program

The Legal Services Corporation implemented this program to help graduates of law schools who work at certain firms. It’s more of a lottery system than an application system, so read up on it before you get too excited.

John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program

Some attorneys with student loans may be eligible for this grant program, which can give you up to $60,000 in total. You may be eligible if you apply and agree to work as a public defender or prosecutor for at least three years.

Researchers

Contraception and Infertility Research Loan Repayment Program (CIR-LRP)

This loan repayment program is for health care professionals who work in areas of reproductive research. The CIR-LRP will pay up to $35,000 for each year of service. The amount paid can’t exceed half the principal amount of the loan.

National Institute of Mental Health Loan Repayment Program

Certain researchers working in mental health research could get up to $50,000 per year from the NIH to repay their loans. You must have a doctoral degree, conduct research at least 20 hours per week, and commit to two years of research, among other requirements.

Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering (STEM) Professionals

North Dakota Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Loan Grant

This loan repayment grant for North Dakotans working in STEM fields can get you a maximum of $6,000. Some STEM teachers may also be eligible.

Maine Alfond Leaders Program

If you work for a Maine-based employer and you work in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) field, you could qualify for the Alfond Leaders Program. This can pay up to half of your outstanding loan balance but can’t exceed $60,000.

Teachers

Grants for Teachers

Teachers have many options for grants. Teach for America, for example, is partnered with AmeriCorps and can provide some funding toward student loans. It can also be counted toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) as described in the AmeriCorps section below. Teach for America also lists several grants and scholarships for teachers on their site.

Teacher Loan Cancellation

Qualified teachers could also be eligible for loan cancellation through programs specifically geared toward teachers. This technically isn’t a grant, but it’s another way for teachers to have their loans forgiven.

Learn more about student loan forgiveness for teachers »

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Alternatives to grants for paying off student loans

Grants won’t work for everyone. Their qualifications can be very specific, so it’s hard to meet all the requirements. Sometimes student loan forgiveness programs or other repayment methods can work better. Here are some other ways you can pay off your loans:

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was designed to give public servants a way out of student debt. There are many ways to qualify, but you may need professional help – 99% of applications have been rejected.

Learn about qualifying for PSLF »

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

Income-Based Repayment Plans (also called Income-Driven Repayment Plans) can help you lower your monthly payments on your student loans.

Determine whether an income-based repayment plan is right for you »

Refinancing

If you have a good credit score, refinancing your loans for a better interest rate could also lower your payments.

Find out how refinancing your student loans works »

Peace Corps

Working with the Peace Corps is considered qualifying employment under Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) rules. When you apply to the Peace Corps, contact your lender to discuss your options.

AmeriCorps

Loans can be in forbearance during your time with AmeriCorps, meaning that you don’t meet the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) requirement of having made 120 on-time payments. However, there is a way to ensure that the years you spent working with AmeriCorps still count toward PSLF.

The bottom line

Your education is an essential investment. Unfortunately, that means student loans can be necessary to enter the career field you want to. When it comes to repaying your student loans after graduation, the most important thing to remember is to explore all of your options. Don’t leave any stone unturned. Grants, scholarships, side gigs, and more can all help you on your journey toward a zero balance on your student loans.

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Article last modified on November 7, 2019. Published by Debt.com, LLC