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Legitimate Ways to Get Student Loan Forgiveness: Exploring Government Programs

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Student loan forgiveness may appear too good to be true, but there are genuine avenues to achieve it through free government programs. While some options have specific requirements, making qualification challenging, income-driven repayment plans are accessible to most borrowers with federal student loans. This article provides detailed information on existing student loan forgiveness programs, shedding light on specific eligibility criteria. Additionally, it distinguishes these programs from broad student debt cancellation, highlighting the need to repay any remaining balance under certain circumstances.

Section 1: Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

  1. Income-Driven Repayment Forgiveness:
    • Overview: The federal government offers four primary income-driven repayment plans that allow borrowers to cap their monthly loan payments based on a percentage of their income.
    • Eligibility: Borrowers with large loan balances relative to their income can benefit the most from these plans.
    • Forgiveness Timeline: Depending on the chosen plan, borrowers become eligible for loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years.
    • Recent Changes: The March 2021 American Rescue Plan made income-driven repayment forgiveness tax-free from December 2020 to the end of 2025. However, most borrowers will likely qualify for forgiveness in the early 2030s.

More: How Income-Driven Repayment Plans Can Help You Manage Your Student Loan Payments

  1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF):
    • Overview: PSLF is available to government and qualifying nonprofit employees with federal student loans.
    • Eligibility: Borrowers can have their remaining loan balance forgiven tax-free after making 120 qualifying loan payments.
    • Temporary Expansion: Until October 31, 2022, payments on FFEL and Perkins loans, late payments, and payments made on any repayment plan retroactively count as qualifying payments.

More: Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program – A Guide

  1. Teacher Loan Forgiveness:
    • Overview: Teachers employed full-time in low-income public elementary or secondary schools may qualify for loan forgiveness after five consecutive years of service.
    • Forgiveness Amount: Eligible teachers can have up to $17,500 in federal direct or Stafford loans forgiven.
    • Qualification Date: Loans must have been taken out after October 1, 1998, to be eligible for this program.
  2. Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses:
    • Overview: Nurses burdened with student debt have several forgiveness options, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness, Perkins loan cancellation, and the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program.
    • Most Likely Option: Public Service Loan Forgiveness is often the preferred choice for nurses due to the limited availability of Perkins loans and the highly competitive nature of the NURSE Corps program.

Section 2: Other Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

  1. State-Sponsored Repayment Assistance Programs:
    • Overview: Certain states offer repayment assistance programs for licensed teachers, nurses, doctors, and lawyers.
    • Eligibility: Professionals in these fields may qualify for assistance based on specific geographical or subject area requirements.
    • Example: The Mississippi Teacher Loan Repayment Program provides up to $3,000 per year for a maximum of four years to eligible teachers with specific teaching licenses.
  2. Military Student Loan Forgiveness and Assistance:
    • Overview: Military personnel in various branches, such as the Army, Navy, Air Force, National Guard, and Coast Guard, may qualify for loan forgiveness programs.
    • Example: The National Guard’s Student Loan Repayment Program can provide qualifying soldiers and officers with up to $50,000 to pay off federal student loans.
  3. Additional Student Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs):
    • Overview: National or organizational LRAPs are available for public service professions.
    • Example: The National Institutes of Health offers up to $35,000 in annual debt assistance to health professionals conducting research.

Section 3: Student Loan Cancellation Programs:

  1. Perkins Loan Cancellation:
    • Overview: Borrowers with federal Perkins loans can have a percentage of their loans canceled by working in a public service job for five years.
    • Gradual Discharge: Approved borrowers typically see a portion of their loans discharged incrementally for each year of service.
    • Teacher Benefit: Teachers who work full-time in a low-income public school or teach qualifying subjects may be eligible for Perkins loan cancellation.

More: Understanding the Role of ECSI in Managing Perkins Student Loans

Section 4: Student Loan Discharge Programs:

  1. Closed School Discharge:
    • Overview: If your school closes, you may qualify for loan discharge.
    • Eligibility: You must have been enrolled or left within 120 days of the closure without obtaining a degree.
    • Application Process: Contact your loan servicer to initiate the discharge application. While the application is being processed, you must continue making payments. If approved, you will no longer be required to make loan payments, and you may receive a refund for previous payments made.
  2. Borrower Defense to Repayment Discharge:
    • Overview: Borrowers defrauded by their colleges may be eligible for debt relief.
    • Filing a Claim: To qualify, you need to submit a borrower defense to repayment claim to the U.S. Department of Education.
    • Discretionary Discharge: If your claim demonstrates clear, widespread fraud or misrepresentation by your school that affected a broad group of borrowers, the Education Department may automatically discharge your loans.
  3. Total and Permanent Disability Discharge:
    • Overview: Individuals who are totally and permanently disabled, either physically or mentally, may qualify for loan cancellation.
    • Eligibility: Documentation proving your disability is required.
    • Monitoring Period: After the discharge, the government may monitor your disability and finances for three years. Failure to meet the requirements during this period may result in loan reinstatement.
  4. Total and Permanent Disability Discharge for Veterans:
    • Overview: Veterans who are totally and permanently disabled can have their student loan debt discharged.
    • Automatic Process: Unless they decline due to potential state tax liability, veterans will have their loans automatically discharged. Federal tax liability for veteran loan forgiveness is not applicable.
  5. Discharge Due to Death:
    • Overview: In the unfortunate event of the borrower’s death, federal loans will be discharged.
    • Parent’s PLUS Loans: If a parent holds the loan or if the borrower is deceased, parent’s PLUS loans used for the borrower’s education will also be discharged.

The Caveats

  1. Beware of Scams:
    • Warning: Debt relief companies charging high upfront fees often fail to deliver results.
    • Legitimate Programs: Applying for loan discharge through government programs is free.
  2. Forgiveness for Defaulted Loans:
    • Preparing for Forgiveness: Defaulted federal student loans must be rehabilitated or consolidated to regain good standing before becoming eligible for forgiveness programs.
    • Alternatives: In severe cases, loan settlement or bankruptcy may be options to reduce debt. Discharge programs are available for defaulted federal loans.

More: Understanding Delinquency and Default in Student Loans


While student loan forgiveness may seem elusive, there are viable paths to obtain it through various government programs. Federal borrowers can explore income-driven repayment forgiveness, public service loan forgiveness, teacher loan forgiveness, and specialized programs for nurses. Additionally, state-sponsored repayment assistance, military forgiveness programs, and other national or organizational assistance programs exist. Understanding the available options and eligibility criteria can empower borrowers to effectively manage and potentially reduce their student loan debt.

More: Navigating Student Loan Repayment: Challenges and Strategies for Borrowers as Payments Resume

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