According to The Wall Street Journal, more than seven million student borrowers are at least 12 months behind on their loan payments. That’s a lot of people who are in default, a situation which leads to troubling and costly consequences down the line.
Fortunately, student loan forgiveness programs can offer cash-strapped students a way out. By agreeing to work in a very specific career role or meet other criteria, you can often secure total or partial forgiveness of your loans after a set period of time.
Here are the top seven ways to score student loan forgiveness in 2016.
1. Work in public service
Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) offers forgiveness of your remaining student loans after working in a qualified position in the public sector and making 120 qualifying payments. Qualifying jobs typically include government positions at the local, state, or federal level, non-profits, and jobs that provide certain types of qualifying public services.
PSLF is perfect for borrowers who have their hearts set on a career in public service and want their loans forgiven after 10 years, regardless of how much they earn.
2. Sign up for an income-driven repayment plan
For borrowers who do meet certain income guidelines, and income-driven plan is another option to consider.
These programs include: Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Income-Based Repayment (IBR), and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR). These plans require you to fork over 10-20 percent of your discretionary income for a period of 20-25 years, but lead to total loan forgiveness.
Some volunteer opportunities offer much more than a chance to give back; they offer loan forgiveness as well.
Volunteering with AmeriCorps, for example, could mean having as much as $5,700 of your loans forgiven, depending on the year and the program where you provide service. Meanwhile, SponsorChange.org matches volunteers with nonprofit organizations that are willing to pay down student loans in exchange for labor.
Volunteer opportunities that lead to forgiveness are ideal for individuals who want to give back while earning extra money to pay down, or completely pay off, their loans.
4. Join the military
Students who want to get through college with minimal debt can consider joining the military before college or once they graduate. Some branches of the U.S. military offer loan forgiveness programs, with the Army and Navy repaying the maximum amount allowed by law for active duty enlistments.
If full-time work for the military isn’t your style, you can join the National Guard and receive partial or total loan repayment after six years of service.
While joining the military isn’t for everyone, earning money for college is a smart move for anyone who wants to earn a degree while providing invaluable service to their country.
5. Get your Perkins loans cancelled and discharged
Federal Perkins Loans may be forgiven for students whose careers meet certain criteria post-graduation. To qualify, you need to work in certain qualifying professions that meet a public need, serve in the armed forces, work in certain health care positions, or find qualifying work in a number of different careers that include everything from librarian to attorney.
Cancellation of Federal Perkins Loans is the ideal solution for anyone who has them and doesn’t mind working in high-need professions.
6. Seek out employment-based forgiveness
Depending on your profession, you could qualify for special loan forgiveness options that aren’t available for everyone. Some employment-based forgiveness programs include:
- Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program: This program helps healthcare professionals serving in the military repay up to $50,000 in loans per year of service.
- NIH Loan Repayment Program: Doctors who meet certain career guidelines and eligibility requirements can earn up to $35,000 in student loan repayment.
- Equal Justice Works: This service provides a network of law schools that offer loan repayment assistance programs specifically for lawyers.
- Teacher Loan Forgiveness: This program is available for teachers who work in qualified elementary or secondary schools that serve mostly low-income students for five consecutive years or longer.
7. Check with your state
Many student loan forgiveness programs are being created on the state level, as well. Mostly geared to teachers, doctors, lawyers, and those who work in the public sector, state programs vary by range and scope of forgiveness.
Examples include the New York City loan forgiveness program, which awards up to $24,000 for teachers who work six years in a authorized New York City Department of Education school, and the Healthcare Professional Loan Repayment Program, which awards up to $35,000 per year for two years for healthcare professionals who work in rural and underserved areas of Washington state.
The Bottom Line
While these loan forgiveness programs usually require some sacrifice on your part, they can lead to the ultimate solution for any college-fueled financial crisis – complete forgiveness of your loans.
Always take special care to understand the commitment involved first. You might not like the idea of repaying your loans the hard way, but signing up for the wrong forgiveness program could also spell trouble. Some basic due diligence can go a long way towards ensuring you find a loan forgiveness program that fits your lifestyle and goals.
Andrew Josuweit is the CEO and founder of Student Loan Hero, a website that combines easy-to-use tools with financial education to help the millions of Americans living with student loan debt manage their student loans smarter. They’ve helped over 60,000 borrowers manage and eliminate over $1 billion in student loan debt since 2012.
From the Mint team: If you have student loans and do not think you qualify for any of the above Student Loan Forgiveness programs, refinancing your loan may be an option for you. Mint’s new Loan Center has select student refinancing and personal loan options that may suit your needs (and have passed our sniff test!).