In order to be a K-12 teacher, an individual has to attend college. Some professions don’t require a degree at all and some professions require a higher education degree, but to be a teacher, one needs at least a Bachelor’s or on their way to get a Bachelor’s. Attending school is quite expensive and most individuals acquire thousands and thousands in loans to pay for school. People can take anywhere from $500 in loans to $250,000 in loans. There are state and federal programs in place for teachers to qualify for loan forgiveness. So, what loan forgiveness programs are available to teachers?
There are four types of loan forgiveness programs available: Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, Teacher Loan Forgiveness, Perkins Loan Cancellation for Teachers, and State Sponsored Student Loan Forgiveness Programs. All of these programs are unique and have certain requirements that need to be met. Each teacher is different and needs to contemplate their own circumstances in order to find the best fit. Let’s dive in to what those look like!
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program
In order for a teacher to qualify for the PSLF program, a teacher must:
- Work full time as a teacher
- Be employed by a US federal, state, local, tribal government, or not-for-profit school district
- Hold direct loans
- Make 120 payments that fall under specific qualifications
- Be on an income-driven repayment plan
This program encompasses more employees than just teachers, but teachers are a large portion of individuals that utilize it. With the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, teachers can have the remaining balance on Federal Federal Direct Loans forgiven after 120 qualifying payments. This is projected to be about 10 years, under the assumption that a teacher will pay every month for those 10 years. As we will go into with the other programs, PSLF is the one program that does not require a teacher to teach at a title one or low-income Public School. Teachers are extremely needed at low-income schools. It is hard and always has been hard for districts to find teachers in low-income areas.
A qualifying payment falls under the following:
- During full-time employment
- Full amount listed on the bill is provided
- After Oct. 1, 2007
- Under a repayment plan
- No further than 15 days after the due date
This program does require an individual to work for a qualifying employer. The qualifying employer can be the following: government organizations (this includes military teaching), not-for-profit school districts that are tax-exempt, and serving as a full-time Americorps or Peace Corps volunteer.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness
In order for a teacher to qualify for TLF, a teacher must:
- Be employed full-time for 5 consecutive years (with at least one of them being after the 1997- 1998 school year)
- Not have an outstanding balance on Direct Loans
- Employed at an elementary or secondary school that is Title 1/serves low-income students
With Teacher Loan Forgiveness , a teacher can get either $5,000 or $17,500 forgiven. A teacher can get $17,500 in loan forgiveness if they are a highly qualified full-time math, science, or special education teacher. If a teacher is not in special education, math, or science they can potentially qualify for the $5,000 in loan forgiveness. (Highly qualified means having a bachelor’s degree, having full state certification, and did not have licensure requirements waived on an emergency basis.)
There are additional requirements for teachers that are classified under those who are new or not new to the profession. These vary by state, but generally this refers to a rigorous state academic test in the area that a teacher teaches in or completing college coursework in the area that a teacher teaches in.
Under this program, teachers are forgiven the amount at their 5 year mark of teaching. Let’s say a teacher qualifies for the $17,500 and they have $21,000 left at their 5 year mark. They would get the $17,500 subtracted and be left with $3,500 in loans. If a teacher qualifies for the $17,500, but only has $12,000 in loans, they would get their full amount forgiven and the remaining amount they missed out on could not be carried over.
This program is the most popular in the education field; it requires a short amount of time to complete and a great deal of people qualify. Even though it is a smaller monetary amount of forgiveness, a huge portion of teachers don’t last past 5 years, so 10 years can be too big of a stretch for some individuals.
Perkins Loan Cancellation for Teachers
In order for a teacher to qualify for the Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation, a teacher must:
- Teach in a low-income School
- Be in special education (this includes teachers of infants, toddlers, children, or youth with disabilities)
- Teach in one of the following fields math, science, a foreign language, bilingual education, or an approved area with a shortage
With this plan, a teacher can have forgiveness of up to 100% of their loans. This is an awesome opportunity for some individuals as universities can incredibly vary in cost. The amount can be forgiven in the following increments:
- 15% canceled for the first and second years
- 20% canceled for the third and fourth years
- 30% canceled for the fifth year
Under this potential Loan Forgiveness, a teacher may qualify for deferment while completing their teaching service. It is encouraged to call a teacher’s college or the Perkins Loan Servicer to obtain information on applying.
State Sponsored Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
Several states have loan forgiveness programs available for teachers. The requirements vary depending on the state and program. There is actually a database available to see what is in your state! It can be found here.
A lot of the state sponsored programs are looking for teachers in low income schools, but not all programs have that requirement. I think saving money is always at least worth a consideration.
What is Considered A Low Income School?
The term low income schools has been mentioned several times throughout this article, so what does it mean? Just so the classification is not misunderstood, the U.S. Department of Education publishes a specific list every year. It is called the Teacher Cancellation Low Income (TCLI) Directory. This directory allows someone to search up a specific state, district, and school to see if it qualifies as a low income school or agency. They even have a separate directory to locate state education agency employees to assist further if you cannot find the information you are looking for. The link to this list can be found here as well:
How does a Teacher Know Which Program is Best?
Every single one of these programs is different. They require different locations of teaching, different lengths of time, and provide different monetary amounts of forgiveness. A teacher can probably qualify for more than one program so considering where a teacher is at in the education process, either still in college or already finished, is extremely important.
Many of these programs a teacher cannot combine for the same years of teaching. For example, a teacher cannot qualify to receive forgiveness under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program for the same period. A teacher can, however, do both programs, but at different points in a teaching career, so maybe the TLF for 5 years and then the PSLF for the following 10 years.
This Loan Simulator is an effective tool for assisting a teacher in deciding between each program. It projects how much an individual might pay with their current repayment plan, it can simulate borrowing more money for another degree, or it can provide options of what your loans might look like with loan forgiveness. The tool can be found at this link:
By calculating the amount that a teacher might pay over the course of a loan, they can determine which program would best fit their situation. The burnout rate is quite high for teachers, so considering a program such as PSLF, that requires 10 years, might not be an option for some individuals. The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program might be a more feasible option because it only requires 5 years of teaching with the specified qualifications.
Such a large percentage of students accumulate loans from attending college. It is a massive burden to carry and these loan forgiveness programs can assist teachers in removing some of that burden. They are available to any teachers that qualify and all teachers that qualify should apply.
If I were considering loan forgiveness as a teacher, I would make sure I am on the right track as soon as possible. There are so many opportunities out there for teachers; it would be a shame not to take advantage. These opportunities are for new teachers as well as teachers who have been in the field for years already. Even if a teacher has been working for many years, that teacher could still get loans forgiven from years back.
My hope is that more teachers utilize the benefits the government provides for teacher loan forgiveness. A teacher’s work can be considered a thankless jo