The Complete List of Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

If you’re like most folks fresh out of college, you’re probably feeling the weight of your student loans. Picture this: the average grad walks off the stage with a diploma in one hand and about $38,000 in student loan debt in the other. And when you add it all up, Americans are lugging around a whopping $1.77 trillion in student loans. That’s a lot of zeros!

female student

But here’s a glimmer of hope—student loan forgiveness, cancellation, and discharge programs. They’re like the secret cheat codes of the student loan world, offering ways to reduce or wipe out your debt if you meet certain conditions. Sure, it sounds a bit like finding a unicorn, but these programs are very real and could be a game-changer for your finances.

Whether you’ve dedicated yourself to public service, are struggling to keep up with payments, or are dealing with other challenges, there might just be a silver lining. It’s all about getting savvy with the options out there. This guide is here to break down those options, making the whole thing a bit easier to wrap your head around. So, let’s dive in and see if we can’t lighten that financial load a bit.

Student Loan Relief Options: Forgiveness, Cancellation, and Discharge Explained

When it comes to student loans, the terms forgiveness, cancellation, and discharge are often heard, but what do they really mean? Let’s clarify these concepts to better understand how they can impact your student loan journey.

Student Loan Forgiveness and Cancellation

Forgiveness and cancellation essentially mean the same thing: they offer a way out from under your student loan debt based on your employment. If you work in certain fields, like public service or education, you might be eligible to have part or all of your loans forgiven or canceled. It’s a way of rewarding those who contribute to the community or take on roles that are in high demand but perhaps not as highly compensated.

Student Loan Discharge

Discharge, on the other hand, applies when you’re no longer required to repay your loan due to other circumstances out of your control. This could include severe disability, the closure of your school, or, in some cases, bankruptcy. Unlike forgiveness and cancellation, discharge doesn’t hinge on your job choice, but rather on significant life events that affect your ability to pay.

Primarily for Federal Student Loan Debt

While the prospect of reducing or eliminating student loan debt sounds appealing, it’s important to note that these options are predominantly available for federal student loans. Private student loans don’t usually offer the same types of forgiveness, cancellation, or discharge opportunities. Federal loans include specific protections and benefits, including these paths to potentially free yourself from debt under certain conditions.

Comprehensive List of Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

Tackling student debt can feel overwhelming, but there’s a silver lining with several student loan forgiveness programs designed to help. Let’s walk through some of the key federal student loan forgiveness programs, how they work, and what you might need to know about each.

Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Forgiveness

IDR plans adjust your monthly loan payments based on your income and family size, making your student loan debt more manageable. If you’re enrolled in one of these plans, you could see the remaining loan balance forgiven after 20 or 25 years of regular payments, depending on the specific plan.

Forgiveness terms: The specific term for forgiveness depends on which IDR plan you’re enrolled in. Plans include the Income-Based Repayment (IBR), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR).

Tax implications: It’s crucial to understand that forgiven amounts under IDR plans may be considered taxable income in the year they are forgiven, which could affect your taxes.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

If you work full-time for a government or not-for-profit organization, you might qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you’ve made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan.

Application process: To apply, you’ll need to submit the PSLF application along with proof of employment with a qualifying employer. It’s recommended to submit an Employment Certification Form annually or when you change employers to ensure you’re on track.

PSLF help tool: The Federal Student Aid website offers a PSLF Help Tool that guides you through the application process and helps determine whether you qualify for the program.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Teachers who work full-time for five complete and consecutive academic years in a low-income school or educational service agency may be eligible for forgiveness of up to $17,500 on their Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans and their Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans.

Amounts forgiven: The amount of forgiveness you can receive depends on the subject area you teach. Highly qualified teachers in mathematics, science, or special education may be eligible for the maximum amount, while others may qualify for up to $5,000.

Application process: After completing the required five years of service, teachers can apply for forgiveness by submitting the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application to their loan servicer.

Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge

This program allows for up to 100% cancellation of Federal Perkins Loans for individuals working in certain public service jobs, including teaching, law enforcement, nursing, and more. The percentage of loan cancellation increases with each year of service.

  • Teachers: Up to 100% for teaching in low-income schools or in fields of expertise that have a shortage of qualified teachers.
  • Nurses and medical technicians: Up to 100% for full-time work in qualifying positions.
  • Law enforcement and corrections officers: Up to 100% for those serving in eligible roles.

To apply for Perkins Loan Cancellation, you must contact the school that provided the loan or the loan servicer the school has designated.

students working

Student Loan Discharge Programs

While student loan forgiveness programs are often tied to your job or the type of work you do, loan discharge programs come into play under specific circumstances that affect your ability to pay your loans.

These scenarios include severe disability, your school closing before you can finish your education, or in rare cases, bankruptcy. Let’s dive into the key loan discharge programs and how you can apply if you find yourself in one of these situations.

Total and Permanent Disability Discharge (TPD)

If you’re unable to work due to a physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or has lasted (or is expected to last) continuously for at least 60 months, you may qualify for a TPD discharge, which wipes out the remaining balance on your federal student loans.

How to apply: You can apply for a TPD discharge by submitting documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (if you’re a veteran), the Social Security Administration, or a physician certifying your disability. The application process and more details are available on the Federal Student Aid website.

Closed School Discharge

If your school closes while you’re enrolled or soon after you withdraw, you might be eligible for a discharge of your federal student loans. This program is designed to help students who couldn’t complete their education due to their school’s closure.

How to apply: To apply for a closed school discharge, you’ll need to contact your loan servicer with evidence of your enrollment or withdrawal near the time of the school’s closure. Your loan servicer can guide you through the application process.

Discharge in Bankruptcy

Although it’s rare, you can have your student loans discharged in bankruptcy. This requires proving that repaying your loans would cause undue hardship to you and your dependents.

How to apply: Discharge in bankruptcy involves filing a petition in bankruptcy court and demonstrating undue hardship through an adversary proceeding. Given the complexity of these cases, consulting with a legal professional experienced in bankruptcy law is advised.

Other Discharge Opportunities

There are other specific circumstances where you might be eligible for a loan discharge, including if you’re a victim of identity theft, if your school falsely certified your eligibility to receive loans, or if you work in certain public service jobs that qualify for Perkins Loan cancellation.

For each of these discharge programs, the application process and requirements can vary. It’s important to reach out directly to your loan servicer or visit the Federal Student Aid website for detailed information on eligibility, application forms, and necessary documentation.

Career-Specific Forgiveness and Assistance Programs

For professionals in certain fields, there are specialized student loan forgiveness and assistance programs designed to alleviate the burden of student loans. These programs recognize the critical services provided by nurses, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, often in underserved areas or in roles that are essential to public welfare. Here’s a look at some of the key programs available and how they aim to support those in these vital careers.

Nurses and Healthcare Professionals

NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program: This program offers significant assistance to registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and nurse faculty by paying off up to 85% of their unpaid nursing education debt. In return, participants are required to work for at least two years in a Critical Shortage Facility or serve as nurse faculty in an eligible school of nursing.

National Health Service Corps (NHSC): Healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, can receive loan repayment assistance by working in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). The NHSC program covers a wide range of professionals, offering up to $50,000 in loan repayment for two years of service.

Doctors and Medical Students

Students to Service Program: Aimed at medical students in their final year, this program offers up to $120,000 in loan repayment assistance. In exchange, students commit to serving in an HPSA for at least three years after graduation.

State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP): Many states offer their own loan repayment programs for healthcare professionals willing to work in underserved areas. While specifics vary by state, these programs generally provide substantial loan repayment assistance to doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers.


John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program: This program provides loan repayment assistance for public defenders and state prosecutors, offering up to $10,000 per year with a cumulative maximum of $60,000. It’s designed to encourage lawyers to enter and continue in public service roles.

Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program: Federal attorneys who commit to serving in the Department of Justice for at least three years may receive up to $6,000 per year in loan repayment assistance, with a total maximum of $60,000.

Other Professionals

In addition to these programs, there are numerous other federal and state repayment assistance options available for various professions, including veterinarians, pharmacists, teachers, and public service workers. Many of these programs are designed to attract professionals to work in high-need areas or in fields where there is a shortage of skilled workers.

State and Federal Repayment Assistance Programs

Both state and federal governments recognize the importance of attracting talented professionals to serve in critical roles. As such, they offer various loan repayment and student loan forgiveness programs tailored to specific careers. Eligibility criteria, service commitments, and the amount of repayment assistance vary widely, so it’s important for professionals to research the programs available in their field and state of practice.

For those dedicated to serving the public and making a difference in their communities, these career-specific forgiveness and assistance programs can provide a pathway to financial freedom, allowing them to focus on their important work without the looming burden of student debt.

Alternatives to Student Loan Forgiveness

If student loan forgiveness doesn’t fit your situation, don’t worry—there are other ways to manage your student loan debt effectively. From pausing your payments through deferment or forbearance to seeking out state loan assistance programs, various strategies can help ease the financial pressure of your student loans.


Deferment offers a temporary pause on your loan payments, providing relief during times of significant life transitions or financial challenges. This option is particularly beneficial if you’re pursuing further education, undergoing military service, or facing unemployment.

For subsidized loans, the government may cover the interest during the deferment period, preventing your loan balance from growing. However, interest on unsubsidized loans will continue to accumulate.


For those experiencing temporary financial hardships but not qualifying for deferment, forbearance can be a valuable option. It allows you to reduce or suspend loan payments for up to 12 months.

Keep in mind, interest accrues on all your loans during forbearance, which could increase the total amount you owe over time. Forbearance should be considered carefully, as it may lead to a larger loan balance due to the accumulation of interest.

State Loan Assistance Programs

Several states offer loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) to residents in specific professions, especially those serving public interests, such as healthcare workers, educators, and legal professionals.

These programs often require you to work in underserved areas or in roles where there’s a critical need for your services. The benefits vary by state but can significantly reduce your student loan burden, making them an excellent option for long-term relief.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

While primarily not an alternative to student loan forgiveness, income-driven repayment plans can adjust your monthly payments based on your income and family size. This approach can significantly lower your payments and, in some cases, may lead to loan forgiveness after 20-25 years of payments. It’s a strategy worth considering for making your student debt more manageable over time.

Assessing Your Options

Exploring these alternatives requires a thorough assessment of your financial situation and understanding the short-term and long-term impacts of each option. Whether you need a temporary break from payments or are looking for a strategy to reduce your loan burden over time, there’s likely an option that aligns with your needs.

Engaging with your loan servicer and possibly a financial advisor can help you chart a path forward that suits your financial goals and helps you manage your student loan debt more effectively.


Approaching your student loan debt with a strategy that suits your unique situation is key. With a variety of student loan forgiveness programs and repayment options available, taking the time to review your choices can lead to significant savings and stress reduction. It’s important to reach out for help if you need it—financial advisors, loan servicers, and educational counselors are valuable resources that can provide support and clarity.

Staying on top of changes in student loan forgiveness policies is essential. The rules and opportunities can shift due to legislative changes or updates in policy, potentially opening up new avenues for relief or altering existing ones. Being informed allows you to adjust your plan as necessary, ensuring you’re always working towards the most beneficial outcome for your financial health.

Additional Resources

To further explore your student loan forgiveness and repayment options, the following official sites are excellent starting points:

  • U.S. Department of Education: – For comprehensive insights into federal education policies and programs.
  • Federal Student Aid: – Your resource for detailed information on managing federal student loans, with access to applications for forgiveness and repayment plans.
  • National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS): – Track and manage your federal student loans and grants efficiently.
  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB): – Offers tools and resources for managing your finances, including strategies for handling student loan debt.

Utilizing these resources can empower you to make informed decisions regarding your student loans, helping pave the way to financial security.

Jamie Johnson
Meet the author

Jamie Johnson is a freelance writer who has been featured in publications like InvestorPlace and GOBankingRates. She writes about various personal finance topics including student loans, credit cards, investing, building credit, and more.