The average college student graduates with $38,000 in student loan debt. And collectively, borrowers in the U.S. owe more than $1.4 trillion.

female student

The typical American takes 21 years to repay their student loan debt. But many people are eligible for student loan forgiveness and could get rid of this debt much sooner.

What is Student Loan Forgiveness?

Student loan forgiveness is when the balance on your college debt is set to zero, regardless of how much you have left. No further payments are expected from you by the loan provider.

As a general rule of thumb, most people who receive student loan forgiveness have direct federal student loans. But student loan forgiveness is a possibility for certain private loans as well.

If you’re buried under a mountain of student loan debt, you could qualify for student loan forgiveness. Check out the complete list of student loan repayment options below to see what is the best option for you.

Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

PAYE is a federal student loan repayment program designed to help borrowers who are having difficulty meeting their student loan payments. With PAYE, your monthly payments are capped at 10% of your discretionary income.

Loan forgiveness is available after 20 years of consecutive payments. You can apply for PAYE at StudentLoans.gov.

Requirements

To be eligible, your payments with PAYE must be lower than they would be on a standard 10-year repayment plan.

You need to have taken out your loans after October 1, 2007. You also must be able to prove you are going through “partial financial hardship.” This means your debt is substantially higher than your income.

Loans that qualify

The following loans qualify for PAYE:

  • Direct subsidized loans
  • Direct unsubsidized loans
  • Direct PLUS loans
  • Subsidized FFEL Stafford loans
  • Unsubsidized FFEL Stafford loans
  • FFEL PLUS loans
  • FFEL Consolidation loans
  • Federal Perkins loans

REPAYE

REPAYE is a revised version of PAYE put forth by President Obama. It also allows borrowers to cap their monthly payments at 10% of their income.

But unlike PAYE, it doesn’t matter when the loan was taken out or if you’re going through any financial hardship. You can apply for REPAYE at StudentLoans.gov.

Requirements

If you have qualifying federal student loans, you’re eligible for REPAYE. For undergraduate borrowers, your loans are forgiven after 20 years of consecutive payments. For graduate borrowers, you’re eligible for loan forgiveness after 25 years.

Loans that qualify

The following loans qualify for REPAYE:

  • Direct subsidized loans
  • Direct unsubsidized loans
  • Direct PLUS loans
  • Subsidized FFEL Stafford loans
  • Unsubsidized FFEL Stafford loans
  • FFEL PLUS loans
  • FFEL Consolidation loans
  • Federal Perkins loans

Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

IBR plans cap your monthly payments at 10 to 15% of your discretionary income. After 20 to 25 years of consecutive payments, you’ll be eligible for loan forgiveness.

IBR will lower your monthly payments but it won’t stop interest from accruing if your payments are too low. So if your income goes up, your loan balance could end up being higher than it was before you went into the program.

You can always choose to opt-out of the program but if you do, you’ll lose the option for student loan forgiveness. You can apply for IBR at StudentLoans.gov.

Requirements

You’re eligible if your IBR payments are lower than they would be on a standard 10-year repayment plan. To receive student loan forgiveness with IBR, you need to make consecutive payments for 20 to 25 years. And you’ll need to let your student loan servicer know if you switch jobs or your income changes.

Loans that qualify

The following loans qualify for IBR:

  • Direct subsidized loans
  • Direct unsubsidized loans
  • Direct PLUS loans
  • Subsidized FFEL Stafford loans
  • Unsubsidized FFEL Stafford loans
  • FFEL PLUS loans
  • FFEL Consolidation loans
  • Federal Perkins loans

Income Contingent Repayment (ICR)

ICR plans don’t require that you maintain a certain level of income. Instead, your monthly payment will be set at 20% of your discretionary income. You’ll be eligible for student loan forgiveness after 25 years of consecutive payments. You can apply for ICR at StudentLoans.gov.

Requirements

If you have qualifying federal student loans, you’re eligible for ICR.

Loans that qualify

The following loans qualify for ICR:

  • Direct subsidized loans
  • Direct unsubsidized loans
  • Direct PLUS loans
  • Subsidized FFEL Stafford loans
  • Unsubsidized FFEL Stafford loans
  • FFEL PLUS loans
  • FFEL Consolidation loans
  • Federal Perkins loans

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program offers loan forgiveness to anyone who works full-time in a public service job. After 120 consecutive payments, you’ll be eligible for full loan forgiveness.

To apply for PSLF, you’ll fill out and submit the Employment Certification Form. You’ll have to resubmit this form each year and anytime you change jobs.

Requirements

To be eligible for PSLF, you need to work at least 30 hours a week at a local, state, or federal government agency or qualified nonprofit. And you need to make 120 payments through one of the following repayment plans:

  • Standard 10-year repayment plan
  • IBR
  • ICR
  • PAYE
  • REPAYE

Loans that qualify

All direct federal loans qualify for PSLF.

Perkins Loan Cancellation

If you have a public service job you are eligible to have all of your Perkins loans forgiven after five years. Unlike PSLF, this forgiveness program focuses solely on Perkins loans.

However, it is a pretty accommodating loan forgiveness program. Even if you work at a public service job for only a year, you still receive some of the benefits for your time there.

After the first and second year of service, you’re eligible to have 15% of your loans forgiven. After years three and four, you’re eligible to have an additional 20% forgiven. And after five years in a public service job, you can have the remaining 30% canceled.

If you’re interested, you need to contact your alma mater’s financial aid office and speak to them about the Perkins Loan Cancellation program.

Requirements

If you are a firefighter, teacher, police officer, nurse, or a librarian then you qualify for this program. You may also qualify if you’re in the military or work in some other type of public service position.

To qualify, you need to have taken out Perkins loans and work full-time in a public service position. And you’ll need to work in a public service job for at least five years to receive full loan forgiveness.

students working

What professions qualify for student loan forgiveness?

Military Loan Forgiveness

If you join the military after you attend college, you may be eligible for student loan forgiveness because of your service. How much you qualify for depends on how long you served and what rank you reach.

The Army, Navy, and Air Force all offer loan repayment programs for Army doctors, armed forces members, and veterans.

Student Loan Forgiveness for Teachers

Both PSLF and Perkins Loan Cancellation are popular programs for teachers. But there are other loan forgiveness programs available for teachers like the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program.

This program offers partial loan forgiveness to teachers who work at a qualifying school. The amount of loan forgiveness you receive depends on what grade and subject you teach.

Your loans must be in good standing and only direct loans and federal Stafford loans are eligible for loan forgiveness. And only loans taken out after Oct. 1, 1998 are eligible.

And many states offer student loan repayment assistance for teachers. For instance, a number of states offer assistance to teachers who work in areas where there is a teacher shortage. And some states offer assistance to teachers who are willing to teach in-demand subjects such as math and science.

Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses

Nurses also have access to many loan assistance and repayment programs. And many of these programs have minimal requirements and are available to nurses across the U.S. And like teachers, many states offer repayment assistance programs to nurses.

The NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program is available to nurses who work in underserved communities. If you’re willing to stay in this job for at least two years, you could have up to 60% of your loans forgiven. If you stay for the third year, you’ll have an additional 25% forgiven.

Applications are only accepted once a year so you’ll need to check the due date to make sure you apply on time.

Student Loan Repayment for Doctors and Health Care Professionals

The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) offers loan repayment assistance to qualifying health care profession. The program offers $50,000 in loan forgiveness to licensed doctors, dentists, and or clinicians who agree to work for at least two years in an eligible position.

The Student to Service program is available to doctors in their final year of medical school. You’ll commit to spending at least three years in a qualified position. In exchange, you’ll receive up to $120,000 of loan forgiveness.

The Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program grants up to $40,000 in loan forgiveness. In exchange, doctors agree to work for two years in an American Indian or Alaskan native community. And once those two years are up, you have the option to renew your contract and receive additional loan forgiveness.

If you work primarily in a research position, you might want to look into the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) loan repayment program. The military also offers loan forgiveness for doctors and health care professionals. And there are state programs available across the country.

Student Loan Repayment Options for Lawyers

Going to professional school isn’t cheap but there are many loan repayment programs available for lawyers. You may be able to find a local or state assistance program. And some law schools will even help their alumni repay their student loans.

The Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program is a good option for lawyers who want to work at the Department of Justice. If you work there for at least three years, you’ll receive up to $60,000 in loan forgiveness. You must have at least $10,000 in federal loans to qualify, though that’s a pretty low bar for most lawyers to meet.

The John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program was designed for lawyers who work in the public sector. For instance, public defenders could earn $10,000 in loan forgiveness a year for a maximum of six years.

Other Options for Student Loan Forgiveness

If none of the above ways work for you, there are other ways to get your student loans forgiven. Listed below are three situations where student loan forgiveness is possible.

  1. Your school unexpectedly closes: If you are enrolled in college and it unexpectedly closes before you complete your degree, you’re eligible for loan forgiveness. You’re also eligible if you withdrew within 120 of it closing.
  2. Bankruptcy: Student loan forgiveness is very hard to achieve in bankruptcy. Many borrowers going for forgiveness via this route lose in court and there are very few precedents of success.
  3. You become extremely ill or disabled: If you become very ill or have a long-term disability, you could receive loan forgiveness. However, even if your loans are forgiven, they will be considered tax-deductible.

Most people choose an income-based repayment plan instead. Your monthly payments could be as low as $0 and then you’ll earn forgiveness in 20 to 25 years.

Student Loan Forgiveness Resources

Loan forgiveness is a big topic and there’s always more to learn. If you still have questions, or would like to learn more, the Department of Education and Federal Student Aid websites have a ton of information you can look at.