What does Biden's student loan forgiveness mean for you? Learn more about the three-part plan here.

How to Get Student Loan Forgiveness for Teachers

There are multiple loan forgiveness programs available for educators, including initiatives announced by the White House in 2022.

Written by Ben Luthi / September 1, 2022

  • Teachers have access to multiple student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs.
  • Learn about the eligibility requirements and amounts for each program to determine if you qualify and what you'll get.
  • If you aren't eligible for long standing forgiveness programs, consider other forms of student loan relief, including President Biden’s proposal, announced in August 2022.

Dealing with student loan debt as a teacher can be a difficult uphill battle. While only 45% of educators have taken out student loan debt, according to the National Education Association (NEA), the debt can pose a significant burden.[1]

On average, educators with student loan debt have an average balance of $55,800, according to the NEA.[1] That's almost as high as the median salary for elementary school and high school teachers, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists at $61,350 and $61,820, respectively.[2-3]

Fortunately, there are several student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs available, both through the federal government and various state agencies—including President Joe Biden’s August 2022 announcement that millions of federal loan borrowers (teachers included) would receive $10,000 to $20,000 in relief.

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"The different programs available to teachers are great, but they're confusing," says Meagan Landress, a certified student loan professional at Student Loan Planner. This is primarily because the requirements can be onerous and they vary from program to program.

Here's what to know about how teacher loan forgiveness works and what to do if you don't qualify.

Inside this article

  1. Teacher Loan Forgiveness
  2. Public Service Loan Forgiveness
  3. Perkins Loan Cancellation
  4. State-sponsored programs
  5. Don't qualify for forgiveness?

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness program is a governmental program that offers up to $17,500 in forgiveness for federal loans.[4] To qualify, you have to meet several requirements. 

Here's a breakdown of the eligibility requirements for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. 

You must teach for a set period

To qualify, you have to teach for at least five complete and consecutive academic years in a low-income school or for an educational service agency. If you're not certain whether your school or agency qualifies, you can use the Teacher Cancellation Low Income Directory.[4]

Note that the directory changes each year. If your school or agency was listed at least of the years you taught but not the others, subsequent years will still be counted toward your eligibility.[4]

Also, if you’re unable to teach for an entire year, you can still receive credit it if you taught at least half the year, your employer considers you to have fulfilled your contract and you couldn't complete the full year because of one of the following:[4]

  • You returned to postsecondary education on at least a half-time basis in an area of study related to your qualifying teaching service

  • You had a condition covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act

  • You were called or ordered to active-duty military status for more than 30 days

You must be highly qualified

All teachers must have at least a bachelor's degree and a full state certification as a teacher to qualify for the program, and you can't have certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary or provisional basis.[4]

If you're new to the profession, you must pass a rigorous state test on the subjects you teach and complete an academic major, a graduate degree, course work equivalent to an undergraduate academic major or an advanced certification or credential in each of the academic subjects in which you teach.[4]

If you're not new to the profession, you must meet the requirements for teachers who are new to the profession and also demonstrate competence in the subjects you teach based on a uniform state standard of evaluation.[4]

Not all loans are eligible

Only loans in the Direct Loan and Federal Family Education Loan programs are eligible for this program, and they must've been taken out on or after Oct. 1, 1998.[4]

Additionally, the loans for which you're seeking forgiveness must've been disbursed prior to your five years of teaching service.[4]

Forgiveness amount is based on your subject

You can get $17,500 in forgiveness if you[4]…

  • Teach math or science at the secondary level 

  • Teach special education and your primary responsibility is to instruct children with disabilities; your teaching corresponds to your area of training[4]

If you don't qualify based on those requirements, the maximum forgiveness amount is $5,000.[4] 

Double-dip with the TEACH Grant

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness program is separate from the TEACH Grant, which offers up to $4,000 in grant money each year to help you pay for school. You don't have to pay back the grant as long as you teach in a high-need field for at least four years within the eight-year period after graduation at a school or educational service agency that serves low-income students.[5]

If you received TEACH Grants for both undergraduate and graduate studies, you'll need to complete one four-year period of service for each.[5]

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a broader program, but it includes student loan forgiveness for teachers. To qualify, you need to make 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full time for a federal, state, local or tribal government agency or for an eligible not-for-profit organization.[6]

Public schools are overseen by government agencies, so they count. Even if you work for a private school, though, it may still qualify if it's a not-for-profit organization.[6-7]

Note that you'll also need to pay your loans on an income-driven repayment plan, and the program is only for Direct Loans and Direct Consolidation Loans.[6]

Alert

The Education Department put a “limited PSLF waiver” in place through Oct. 31, 2022, that makes qualifying for this program much easier. Check the Federal Student Aid (FSA) website to see if you can receive relief under these more relaxed eligibility rules.

Because the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program doesn't offer a full discharge, you may be wondering if you can double-dip on that program and this one. The answer is yes, but you can't count payments made while working toward Teacher Loan Forgiveness toward your payments for PSLF.[4]

Depending on how much debt you have, it may make sense to focus on only one. "If one has a larger student loan balance, PSLF may be the better bang for their buck," says Landress. But if Teacher Loan Forgiveness covers most or all of your debt, opt for that one.

Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation

Perkins Loans are no longer available for college students—the program ended in 2017—but if you have loans from this program from your time in school, you may be able to get up to 100% of your debt canceled.[8-9]

To qualify, you need to identify with one of the following situations:

  • Teach full-time in a public or nonprofit elementary or secondary school system that serves students from low-income families

  • Work as a special education teacher or a teacher in the fields of mathematics, science, foreign languages, bilingual education or in any other field that your state has determined to have a shortage of qualified teachers[9]

To get the full forgiveness amount, you need to teach for five years, but you can still obtain partial forgiveness if you teach for less time. Here's how it breaks down:[9]

  • 15% per year for the first and second years of service

  • 20% for the third and fourth years

  • 30% for the fifth year

Remember that Perkins Loans are not eligible for other federal loan forgiveness programs. You can technically consolidate them and make them eligible for PSLF, but you can obtain forgiveness more quickly through the Perkins Loan discharge program.

State-sponsored programs for teachers

Many states offer student loan repayment assistance that can help teachers pay off student loans, as long as they meet certain requirements. In some cases, you may need to teach in a subject matter experiencing teacher shortages or cover certain subjects, such as math and science.

To find out if your state has a program that can help you, check out the American Federation of Teachers database.

What if you don't qualify for forgiveness?

If you're ineligible for forgiveness or repayment assistance on your student loans, there are some other potential ways to get some relief with your monthly payments or to save money. Here are some to consider:

  • Employer-based repayment assistance: You might be using your education background and teaching talents outside the classroom, perhaps for a private company. In this case, see if your boss or human resource representative will warm up to the idea of student loan payment matching.

  • Income-driven repayment: If you have federal loans, there are four income-driven repayment plans that can reduce your monthly payment to 10% to 20% of your discretionary income. They also extend your repayment plan to 20 or 25 years, after which any remaining balance you have is forgiven.[10]

  • Forbearance or deferment: All federal loans are eligible for forbearance and deferment, and many private loans also offer them. These can offer short-term relief by pausing your payments for a set period of time. They're just a short-term solution, however.[11-12]

  • Refinancing: If your financial health is in good shape, you may be able to refinance them and secure a lower interest rate or longer repayment term to reduce your monthly payment. Keep in mind, though, that if you refinance federal loans, you'll lose access to federal benefits, including forgiveness and income-driven repayment. Also, federal forbearance and deferment plans tend to be more generous than what private lenders offer.[11-12]

Every situation is different, so think carefully about yours and your goals to determine the right path forward for you.

Gianni Latange photo

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Article Sources
  1. "Student Loan Debt Among Educators: A National Crisis," NEA, July, 2021, https://www.nea.org/sites/default/files/2021-07/Student%20Loan%20Debt%20among%20Educators.pdf.
  2. "Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers," BLS, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm.
  3. "High School Teachers," BLS, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm.
  4. "Teacher Loan Forgiveness," FSA, https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/teacher.
  5. "Receive a TEACH Grant to Pay for College," FSA, https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types/grants/teach.
  6. "Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)," FSA, https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service.
  7. "I know that employment with a public school qualifies for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). What about employment with a private school?," FSA, https://studentaid.gov/help-center/answers/article/does-private-school-employment-qualify-for-pslf.
  8. "Perkins Loans," FSA, https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types/loans/perkins.
  9. "Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge," FSA, https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/perkins.
  10. "Income-Driven Repayment Plans," FSA, https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/repayment/plans/income-driven.
  11. "Student Loan Forbearance," FSA, https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/lower-payments/get-temporary-relief/forbearance.
  12. Louis DeNicola, "What Are Student Loan Deferment and Forbearance Programs?" Discover, July 20, 2020, https://www.discover.com/student-loans/repayment/finance/difference-between-deferment-forbearance.

About the Authors

Ben Luthi

Ben Luthi

Ben has been writing about money since 2013. He's been on staff at NerdWallet as a credit card writer and for Student Loan Hero, where he covered student loans and other personal finance topics. Ben's work has appeared in U.S. News, The New York Times, Experian, FICO, Credit Karma, Bankrate and more

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