Stagnant wages and increasing student loan debt are squeezing today’s teachers. The average new teacher today earns $3,644 less than a decade ago. And compared to the prior generation, new teachers are more than twice as likely to have student loans, averaging $55,800 in 2021.
If you’re a teacher, you’re well aware that student debt makes it harder to reach basic life goals, such as starting a family, buying a house, and even breaking out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.
However, more student loan forgiveness programs are available for teachers than most other professions. It’s not quite the same as a larger paycheck, but if you’re diligent about meeting the requirements, it can help if you’re struggling with your debt.
In this guide:
- Understanding teacher student loan forgiveness
- 5 teacher student loan forgiveness options
- Are there any drawbacks to teacher student loan forgiveness?
- Other repayment assistance options for teachers
Understanding teacher student loan forgiveness
Teacher student loan forgiveness programs run the gamut from well-known nationwide programs—for example, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)—to state and local incentives to bring new teachers in.
Each program has specific requirements you must meet, which usually include working in an eligible area or teaching certain subjects for a period. The type of student loans you have—federal or private—also dictates what teacher student loan forgiveness programs you’re eligible for.
More teacher student loan forgiveness options are available for federal loans than for private loans, but depending on the program, your private student loans may be eligible, too.
You can check which type of loans you have by logging into your federal student aid account to see a record of which federal student loans you’ve accepted. Any loans you have that are not listed are private student loans. You can also check what type of loans you have by reaching out to your student loan servicer.
The forgiveness plan should provide excess cash flow for the student to save in an emergency fund, contribute to their employer-sponsored retirement plan (begin or increase the savings to optimize retirement viability), invest for their future, or simply pay bills on time! -Erin Kinkade, CFP
5 teacher student loan forgiveness options
You may qualify for five major categories of teacher student loan forgiveness, but be sure to spend time researching other student loan forgiveness programs that may be available to you. Individual employers, for example, sometimes offer loan forgiveness programs.
|Program||Eligibility basics||Best if|
|Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TLF)||Federal Direct or Stafford Loans eligible|
Work full-time for 5 continuous years
Teach at a low-income primary school or secondary school, or an education service agency
May need to pass additional tests or have college degree in teaching subject areas
|You want faster loan forgiveness|
You have a lower amount of student loan debt
You can commit to teaching five years at a low-income school
|Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)||Federal Direct Loans eligible|
Work for a public or nonprofit school
Teach full-time for at least 8 months per year, for primary and secondary school teachers
Teach at least 9 credit hours per semester, for adjuncts and contingents
Make 120 qualifying payments (COVID-19 pause included)
Certify your eligibility every year to ensure you qualify later
|You have significant student loan debt|
You’re on an income-driven repayment plan
You don’t want to be pigeonholed to certain locations or subjects
You want the flexibility to switch careers or take breaks but don’t want to lose your progress toward forgiveness
|Federal Perkins loan cancellation program||Federal Perkins Loans eligible|
Teach in a low-income school or a critical area of need such as math or science
|You have federal Perkins loans|
|State and city-sponsored teacher student loan forgiveness programs||Varies; check with your regional education department||You have private student loans|
You’re willing to move to new areas to take a job
|Income-driven repayment plans||Federal Direct Loans eligible|
Work full-time or part-time
Income and family size determine your monthly payments
Renew your plan each year based on your income
|You want lower monthly payments based on your income|
You seek loan forgiveness after 20 – 25 years of payments
Here is a closer look at each program.
Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TLF)
|Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness|
|Forgiveness amount||$5,000 in federal Direct and Stafford Loans for most teachers|
$17,500 in federal Direct and Stafford Loans for special education teachers or those teaching math or science in a secondary school full-time
|Required years spent teaching||5 consecutive years, with at least 1 year after the 1997 – 1998 school year|
|Eligible teaching specialties||Any|
|Eligible schools||Low-income elementary or secondary schools or education service agencies|
More than 10,000 teachers have qualified to have more than $197 million in federal student loans forgiven so far through this program. It helps subsidize teachers looking to work in low-income schools and in critical-need subjects, such as math and science.
One of the stickier points of this program is the somewhat limiting requirements for five continuous years. If you take a break from teaching because you start a family, for example, you can’t use those prior years of eligible teaching to qualify for TLF—you’ll need to start all over again from the beginning.
Who is this best for?
TLF is a solid choice if you can commit to working for five continuous years in a low-income school or educational service agency. You may not qualify for as much loan forgiveness as with other programs, making this a better option if you have a smaller amount of debt or want it forgiven sooner.
One of the strong benefits of this program is the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Forbearance option, which lets you skip payments altogether if your loan balance is less than the amount you’ll have forgiven. This helps you free up your cash flow and maximize your forgiveness amount.
You can qualify for PSLF and TLF together. However, any payments you made before you applied for TLF won’t count toward PSLF, so it’s wise to consider this option carefully.
How to apply
You can apply for this program by submitting a Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application to your federal student loan servicer once you meet the program requirements. There’s no need to submit a form every year, as for PSLF.
Ensure you’re teaching at a qualified low-income school or education service agency, which you can find listed on the Department of Education website. Your school’s chief administrative officer must sign the form to certify your employment.
Teachers at any eligible school can apply, and you can earn a much higher amount of forgiveness ($17,500 as opposed to $5,000) if you teach in certain specialized subjects and meet specific requirements depending on whether you’re a new teacher or a seasoned professional.
For example, you may qualify for a larger amount of forgiveness if you’re a new teacher who specializes in teaching math or science at the secondary school level and have advanced credentials, such as a degree in physics or mathematics.
Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
|Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness|
|Forgiveness amount||Remaining balance on federal Direct Loans—no limit|
|Required years spent paying||10 years|
|Eligible teaching specialties||Any|
|Eligible schools||Any public or nonprofit private school.|
Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a valuable option if you’re a teacher working in a school that doesn’t otherwise qualify for teacher student loan forgiveness programs. Like TLF, any debts forgiven under PSLF are nontaxable. Unlike TLF, you could qualify to have the full remaining balance of your federal Direct Loans forgiven.
The PSLF program made headlines when the first enrollees started applying to have their loans forgiven in 2017 because the vast majority—99%—were denied due to loan servicer errors that caused people to fail to meet the requirements.
It’s improved since, and recent changes have made qualifying easier, but you’ll still need to ensure you meet the requirements.
Who is this best for?
This is an excellent option for teachers paying down their federal Direct Loans on an income-driven repayment plan. There are no requirements to work in certain schools or teach certain subjects, as with other teacher student loan forgiveness programs.
As long as you work for a public or nonprofit school and stay current on your loans, you may be eligible.
It’s also wise if you take a temporary break from teaching or move into another profession in the public or nonprofit sphere because you don’t have to meet the program requirements continuously.
How to apply
To qualify for PSLF, you must make at least 120 “qualifying” payments while working for an eligible employer. The default repayment plan already schedules you to pay off your loan in 120 payments, meaning PSLF is most beneficial for people who extend their loan term on an income-driven repayment plan or other loan modification.
Note: The federal COVID-19 pause in student loan payments doesn’t affect your eligibility. As long as you remained otherwise eligible for the program, those months still count toward PSLF. If your student loans have been inactive since 2020, that’s one-third of your payments.
Here are other eligibility requirements to be aware of:
- You’ll need to work for five years for an eligible employer to qualify for TLF, and, if approved, you can’t double-dip and use those same five years to qualify for PSLF. To qualify for both programs, you’d need to teach for at least 15 years.
- You’ll also need to have been teaching full-time, which has been difficult to quantify for contingent and adjunct faculty. However, recent changes have streamlined these applications, meaning you may qualify if you’re teaching nine credit hours or more per semester.
To check your employer eligibility for PSLF and start the application process, go to the Department of Education’s PSLF Help Tool. To apply, you’ll need to download a form, fill it out, and have your employer sign it to certify your employment.
It’s best to do this every year rather than wait because it might be difficult or impossible to get the signatures you need later.
Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation Program
|Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation|
|Forgiveness amount||Up to 100% of federal Perkins loans: 15% each for the first and second years of teaching, 20% each for the third and fourth years, and the remaining 30% for the fifth year|
|Required years spent teaching||1 – 5 years|
|Eligible teaching specialties||Critical shortage areas such as science, math, foreign languages, or any subject if you teach at a low-income school|
|Eligible schools||Low-income schools or other schools if you teach certain subjects|
Only primary and secondary schools are eligible
The federal Perkins loan program ended in 2017 when the last cohort of students received these low-interest government-backed loans through their own colleges and universities. If you’re still repaying yours, you may benefit from this program that forgives a portion of your loans every year, with the full amount being forgiven by the fifth year.
Teachers may qualify for Perkins loan forgiveness along with firefighters, police officers, and nurses. This gives you more freedom to explore other public service careers if you decide teaching isn’t for you.
Who is this best for?
This is a valuable program for Perkins loan borrowers because these loans aren’t eligible for other federal teacher student loan forgiveness programs (unless you consolidate them into a federal Direct loan).
Even so, this program is more valuable because you’ll earn partial teacher student loan forgiveness every year, with your final Perkins balance being erased after five years. That gives you more flexibility over the years because you won’t lose your payment progress like you would with TLF.
How to apply
You must apply for teacher student loan forgiveness with the servicer or school that issued your Perkins loans because the school is your lender. It can provide the specific forms you need.
Remember, as long as you stay eligible, you can apply for partial Perkins teacher loan cancellation every year until it’s forgiven in full by year five. You won’t wait to submit one forgiveness application at the end for this program like other teacher student loan forgiveness options.
State and city-sponsored teacher student loan forgiveness programs
|State and city-sponsored programs|
|Required years spent teaching||Varies|
|Eligible teaching specialties||Varies|
Many state and local governments have their own teacher student loan forgiveness programs to attract quality educators to their districts. These programs operate on a case-by-case basis, so you’ll need to check your options in your area or areas where you would consider moving.
Who is this best for?
State and local programs can be a terrific option (and indeed—just about the only option) if you have private student loans because the programs we’ve discussed so far only apply to federal student loans.
Federal loans make up the vast majority of student loan debt, but that doesn’t help you much if you also took out private student loans to become a teacher.
Of course, you must first verify the details of any state or local teacher student loan forgiveness programs you’re interested in. Some regional programs may still be limited to federal student loans or have other conditions attached, such as teaching in rural areas or in specialized subjects.
How to apply
You can find regional teacher student loan forgiveness options by checking with the education department in your state or even your local school district. If you’re still looking for a job, make sure you understand how teacher student loan forgiveness programs work and how to apply before you accept a position.
Income-driven repayment plans
|Forgiveness amount||Remaining balance after 20-25 years|
|Required years spent paying||20-25 years|
|Eligible teaching specialties||All federal student loan borrowers are eligible|
|Eligible schools||All accredited schools offering federal student loans|
Teacher student loan forgiveness programs aim for long-term debt reduction, but they may lack immediate benefits. That’s where income-driven repayment plans step in, offering a real-time solution based on your current financial state.
The monthly payment under these plans is often 10% to 20% of your discretionary income. But this approach has its drawbacks. For instance, the adjusted payments might not cover the accumulating interest, causing the loan balance to rise.
If you’re eyeing a loan forgiveness program such as PSLF, a rising balance may not pose an issue. But make a career switch to the private sector, and your repayment could skyrocket. A move to a higher-paying job could also result in increased monthly payments.
However, a commitment of 20 to 25 years to an income-driven plan could wipe out the remaining loan balance. The catch? You may have to pay income taxes on the forgiven amount, a detail worth budgeting for.
Who is this best for?
Income-driven repayment plans are a good fit for those who:
- Struggle with high federal student loan payments
- Plan to remain in lower-income or public service roles
- Desire monthly payment flexibility tied to financial circumstances
- Are open to a longer loan forgiveness timeline
How to apply
To get on an income-driven repayment plan:
- Fill out the Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request form on the Federal Student Aid website.
- Provide income verification, such as a tax return or pay stubs.
- Annually update your income and family size to keep your eligibility current.
Are there any drawbacks to teacher student loan forgiveness?
Student loan forgiveness has a few strings attached, so you’ll want to ensure you’re comfortable with those limitations. Consider these potential drawbacks:
- Location and subject requirements. You may need to work in certain geographic areas or teach certain subjects for an extended time, even if you’re no longer happy doing so. You may want to start a family or switch careers. Staying on the teacher student loan forgiveness track can limit your options.
- Taxes. Most of the large programs, including TLF and PSLF, offer tax-free loan forgiveness. Other programs, however, may tack that forgiven loan amount onto your taxable income that year, as if you’d earned it in a giant lump-sum paycheck. That can translate into a massive tax bill.
- Paperwork requirements. The paperwork required for forgiveness can also be onerous. Many student loan forgiveness applications are rejected every year for errors.
- Unclear eligibility and policy changes. Federal student loan servicers have come under fire because they’ve given out poor advice that made people ineligible for PSLF when borrowers thought they were eligible. That can have huge repercussions if you’ve made career sacrifices for a program you never qualified for. There’s always the possibility Congress changes teacher student loan forgiveness options before you’re eligible to apply.
Other repayment assistance options for teachers
Teacher student loan forgiveness can help if you qualify, but not everyone is eligible. However, you aren’t out of options. Here are other approaches you can take:
Student loan refinancing
If your private student loan isn’t working for you, and your lender doesn’t offer viable support options, one option is to refinance your student loans with another lender. This can also help you remove a cosigner from your loan or switch up your repayment terms.
If you refinance for a shorter term or while rates are low, you may get a cheaper rate that can help you save money on interest and pay off your loans sooner. If you refinance for a longer term length, you can lower your monthly payments, but you’ll be in debt for longer and may pay more in interest over the long run.
One word of caution: You can refinance federal student loans into private student loans. But federal student loans come with more protections and benefits, so it’s best to keep them in the federal system by consolidating them together instead of refinancing.
Most private student loan lenders offer temporary forbearance, where you can make reduced or even $0 payments for a few months if you run into a short-term financial hardship. The rules vary by lender, so you’ll need to check your contract or reach out to your student loan servicer to be sure.
You may be limited to a total amount of forbearance over the life of your student loans, and you’ll need to make up those payments later. Interest may also keep accruing on your loans while you’re in forbearance, causing your balance to increase.
Can Parent PLUS loans be forgiven for teachers?
Parent PLUS loans aren’t eligible for federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness. Still, you may qualify for loan forgiveness under PSLF, income-contingent loan forgiveness, or a state or local forgiveness program if you meet the requirements. Parent PLUS loan forgiveness is often based on the parent’s eligibility, not the child’s.
What information should I have ready for my teacher student loan forgiveness application?
You’ll need to check a box on the form to identify how you meet the requirements for teacher student loan forgiveness. Then, have your school’s chief administrative officer fill out the details of your employment and certify the application.
How long does it take to process a forgiveness application?
The time it takes to process student loan forgiveness applications depends on the specific program you’re applying for, how complicated the details are in your situation, and—in the case of PSLF—whether you’ve been streamlining the process by certifying your employment every year.
Can you work in private schools and still be eligible?
Most private schools are still classified as nonprofits and are, therefore, still eligible employers for PSLF. If they primarily serve low-income families, you may also qualify for TLF.
Is it possible to qualify for multiple teacher loan forgiveness programs?
Yes, if you meet the individual requirements for each program. However, some programs—such as PSLF—won’t count payments made toward forgiveness with another program, such as TLF.
Are part-time teachers eligible for loan forgiveness programs?
Most teacher student loan forgiveness programs have provisions for teachers working partial academic years, on a part-time basis for more than one eligible employer, or for adjunct and contingent faculty, so you may still qualify for loan forgiveness.
What happens if you switch careers or stop teaching before the loan is forgiven?
If you switch careers or stop teaching, you may lose any progress toward programs such as TLF, which requires a consecutive amount of time teaching. Other programs, including PSLF, allow you to piece together your qualifications across multiple years, granting more flexibility.
Can you still qualify if you’ve defaulted on a student loan?
If your student loans are in default, you may only qualify for federal student loan forgiveness once you rehabilitate your loans. Once they’re no longer in default, you’ll be eligible for forgiveness again.
Does teaching at a college or university count for teacher loan forgiveness?
College and university professors aren’t eligible for Teacher Loan Forgiveness. It’s mostly limited to primary and secondary school teachers or education service agencies. However, you may be eligible for PSLF.
Can you pause or defer loan payments while waiting for forgiveness approval?
If you’ve met the threshold to qualify for loan forgiveness and you’re just waiting for the application to be processed, you may still qualify if you put your loans into deferment.
However, deferred payments generally don’t qualify toward loan forgiveness requirements, so this can be risky if your lender determines you haven’t made enough payments yet.
How does marital status and your spouse’s income affect eligibility?
Your marital status and spouse’s income do not factor into most teacher student loan forgiveness programs because they’re based on your own employment details. However, your spouse’s income and marital status may affect loan forgiveness on an income-driven repayment plan.