Having to pay off student loans on a teacher’s salary can be daunting, but there is good news: some teachers qualify for student loan forgiveness. Loan forgiveness is the cancellation of the obligation to repay some or all of the remaining amount owed on a student loan. Some teachers may qualify for debt forgiveness under various programs. This article will discuss these programs and help you make sense of what can be a confusing loan forgiveness process.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
Under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program (TLFP), if you are a special education, secondary math or science teacher, you may be eligible for forgiveness of up to $17,500 of your Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans and Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans. Teachers of other subjects are eligible for up to $5000 of forgiveness of these loans. You may be eligible for forgiveness under TLFP if (1) you have been employed as a highly qualified teacher for five complete and consecutive academic years, (2) at least one of those years has been after the 1997–98 academic year; (3) you have been employed at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency that serves low-income students; (4) the loan(s) for which you are seeking forgiveness must have been made before the end of your five academic years of qualifying teaching service; and (5) you must not have owed money on a Direct Loan or Federal Family Education Program loan before or on October 1, 1998.
These can conditions can be confusing, so here are answers to common questions:
Do I Have to Work in a Classroom to Be Considered a Teacher?
No. If you provide classroom-type teaching in a non-classroom setting, you can still be considered a teacher.
What is a “Highly Qualified Teacher?”
You are considered a highly qualified teacher if you:
- Have earned a bachelor’s degree
- Have received full state certification as a teacher
- Have not had certification or licensing requirements waived on any basis. If you teach at a public charter school, you are considered certified as long as you meet the requirements for being a teacher at your charter school.
- Demonstrate competence in all the academic subjects you teach based on a high, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation. This competence measurement is set by the state, developed with teachers, principals and school administrators, is applied uniformly to all teachers in the same academic subject and same grade-level throughout the state. It also takes into consideration the time you have been teaching the academic subject.
What if I Did Not Fully Complete an Academic Year?
If you did not fully complete an academic year, the time may still be counted toward your five years if these three conditions are fulfilled:
- You completed at least one half of the academic year;
- Your employer considers you to have fulfilled the year for the purposes of tenure, salary increase and retirement; and
- You were unable to complete the academic year because of one of the following reasons: (1) you went back to school to further your teaching studies; (2) you had a condition covered by the Family Medical Leave Act; or (3) you were called to active duty status for the U.S. armed forces.
Note that any time spent working with AmeriCorps does not count toward the five years.
What is Considered a Low-Income School or Agency?
A school or educational agency that is listed in the Annual Directory of Designated Low-Income Schools for Teacher Cancellation Benefits (Low-Income School Directory) is considered low income. You can use this directory database to find out if your school qualifies:
When Can I Apply for Loan Forgiveness Through TLFP?
You can apply after you have completed the five year qualifying teaching requirement by submitting a Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program application which can be found here. Note that only the loans that you took out before the end of the qualifying five years of teaching are eligible for forgiveness.
Are PLUS Loans, Perkins Loans or Direct Consolidation Loans Eligible Under TLFP?
PLUS loans and Perkins loans are not eligible for forgiveness under TLFP. The portion of your Direct Consolidation Loan that repaid Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans and Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans may be eligible for forgiveness.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program
Under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, your Direct Loans may be forgiven after you make 120 qualifying monthly payments toward your student loan debt while working full-time for a qualifying public service or nonprofit employer. Teachers who work for a public school or a nonprofit private school may be eligible for this program.
How Much Debt Can Be Forgiven?
There is no cap to how much can be forgiven, but you only qualify for PSLF after you have made 10 years of repayments through an income-driven repayment plan.
Can I Use Both PSLF and TLFP?
Yes, but not for the same period of teaching. You would therefore have to work 10 years to qualify for PSLF and five separate years to qualify for TLFP.
What Constitutes Full-Time Work?
Full-time work for the purposes of PSLF is your employer’s definition of full-time work or 30 hours a week–whichever is greater.
How and When Can I Apply for PSLF?
You must be employed full-time by a qualifying employer when you apply for and receive PSLF. You can find a PSLF application here.
Are My Consolidated Loans Eligible for PSLF?
Only Direct Loans are eligible for PSLF, so you will have to consolidate non-Direct Loans into a Consolidated Direct Loan for them to be eligible. Note that some loans, such as private loans, are not eligible for Direct Loan consolidation.
A Lot Can Change in 10 Years. How Can I Be Sure I Remain Eligible for PSLF?
The best way to make sure you’re on track for PSLF is by submitting an Employer Certification Form every year and any time you switch employers. This will allow the people at Federal Student Aid to notify you about anything you may need to adjust in order to be PSLF eligible. You can find an ECF form here.
State Loan Forgiveness Programs
Some states sponsor student loan forgiveness for teachers, so be sure to check on your own state’s programs. You can find this information by searching the American Federation of Teachers database
Perkins Loans Forgiveness
Perkins Loans were a type of federal student loan that are longer available. If you have a Perkins Loan and wonder if you’re eligible for debt forgiveness, visit here for more information.
The world of teacher student loan debt forgiveness has several requirements and can be very confusing. Visiting the Federal Student Aid website and staying on top of loan payments and required forms can lead to valuable debt relief while you work at an important and noble profession.