Getting Student Loan Forgiveness as a Teacher (a How-to Guide)

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 2/04/20

As an incentive to enter government, nonprofit, or other public sector work to benefit the public good, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) offers several approaches to student loan forgiveness for teachers and other public servants.

If you want to become a teacher or you have recently graduated and are considering career options with a bachelor’s degree, you could work for several years in certain types of school districts or with certain groups of children and have your student loans forgiven. As a result, you may not need to repay as much money to the federal government.

Student loan forgiveness allows you to stop making monthly payments on your student loans if you meet certain qualifications. Teaching certain subjects or grade levels, teaching in certain areas, or working with certain types of students can all qualify you for some programs. Student loan forgiveness for teachers has some other basic qualifications, depending on the program.

Student Loan Forgiveness Programs for Teachers

As a teacher, you can work with specific grades or certain socioeconomic groups of children and qualify to have your student loans forgiven. There are two basic federal programs offering student loan forgiveness for teachers. 

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): This program was launched in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the first group of qualifying professionals signed up in 2017.

    To qualify for the PSLF program, you must:
    • Work for a government agency or nonprofit organization that meets DOE requirements
    • Work full time (either as defined by your employer or over 30 hours per week)
    • Have direct student loans or direct consolidated loans, as other types of student loans do not qualify
    • Repay your loans through an income-driven repayment plan
    • Have made 120 qualifying payments by the time your public service time requirement is complete

The DOE can help you understand whether your current teaching position qualifies for this form of loan forgiveness when you submit an employment certification form, which is the first step in beginning the process of student loan forgiveness for teachers using PSLF. Once the DOE determines that your work and type of federal loans qualify you for this approach to loan forgiveness, they will calculate how many qualifying payments you have left. If you have deferred or gone through forbearance at any time during your loan, payments made on interest during this time do not count toward your 120 qualifying payments.

Qualifying payments include those made:

  • After Oct. 1, 2007
  • Under a qualifying repayment plan, like income-based
  • For the full amount as shown on your bill
  • No later than 15 days after the due date
  • While you are employed full time by a qualifying employer

Deferment, forbearance, the grace period, and in-school status are times when you may not need to pay the full monthly loan payment, but these also do not count toward PSLF student loan forgiveness for teachers. However, you can go through a deferment or forbearance period, and go back to making payments that count toward the qualifying 120 payments. These qualifying monthly payments do not need to be consecutive.

If you have ever defaulted on your loan, you are not qualified for forgiveness. If you have other types of loans that are not direct federal loans, these may not qualify. For example, if you took out a Perkins loan, a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL), or your parents took out a parent PLUS loan, these do not qualify for the PSLF program. However, if you consolidate as many of your federal loans as possible into a direct consolidation loan, this will qualify for the PSLF program.

Teaching positions that are accepted under the PSLF program include:

  • Early childhood education
  • Public education
  • Public library services

Sending in the employment certification form will also let you know if your current teaching position does not qualify you for student loan forgiveness through PSLF. If you are interested in this program, you may then consider changing jobs. You could also see if your work qualifies you through the other major federal student loan forgiveness for teachers program.

  • Teacher Loan Forgiveness: This is a specific loan forgiveness program for teachers, with different requirements compared to the PSLF. According to this loan forgiveness program, “teachers” are those who provide direct classroom teaching at a school, and those who provide classroom-like teaching in a non-classroom setting. For example, special education teachers who may work in nontraditional environments are still considered teachers according to this loan forgiveness program.

    Highly qualified teachers, per this loan forgiveness program, are those who:
    • Attained at least a bachelor’s degree
    • Have full state teacher certification
    • Have not had their certification or license waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis

Different states have different teacher certification training and testing requirements, especially if the state has a charter school program. You should ask about this process to ensure you become a highly qualified teacher, as this can impact your qualification for teacher loan forgiveness.

Teachers working in low-income schools or educational service industries (both elementary and secondary school levels) in rural, urban, and suburban areas qualify for the teacher loan forgiveness program. The school or agency must be listed under the Teacher Cancellation Low Income (TCLE) Directory. This is updated and published every year by the DOE.

To qualify for this loan, you must teach in a qualifying school and position for five consecutive years. Once you have met this standard, you can apply to have up to $17,500 on direct subsidized or unsubsidized loans, or federal Stafford loans, forgiven or canceled. If you used money from a parent PLUS loan through your family or money from a federal Perkins loan, these do not qualify for this student loan forgiveness program for teachers.

If you think you qualify, submit a Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application to your loan servicer. You must have completed five consecutive years of teaching before you can submit this application. Then, the DOE will determine if you qualify and inform you of your next steps. 

Although the federal government no longer offers Perkins loans, many teachers may still be paying these loans back. Teacher loan cancellation options, rather than student loan forgiveness for teachers, may be a better option for cutting down or getting rid of the Perkins loan.

To qualify for teacher loan cancellation, you must:Work full time in a public or qualifying nonprofit prekindergarten, elementary, or secondary school as a classroom teacher or special education teacher

  • Work in an educational setting with infants, toddlers, or youth with disabilities
  • Teach mathematics, science, foreign languages, or bilingual education
  • Have a specific state-based field of expertise considered necessary
  • Be employed directly by the school system, as contract employees are not qualified

With the first and second year of service, you may qualify to have 15% of your student loans canceled; in the third and fourth years, you may have up to 20% canceled; and in the fifth year, you may have up to 30% of your loan canceled. This cancellation program can benefit far more people than student loan forgiveness for teachers.

Be Sure You Qualify Before You Apply

The DOE has denied 99% of applicants since 2017, when the first round of PSLF-eligible teachers could apply for loan forgiveness. While it is one of the more famous and newer programs for student loan forgiveness for teachers and other public servants, it may not be the best option for teachers. Other loan forgiveness and cancellation programs may work better, as listed above.

Taking out private student loans, with lower or variable interest rates, may also work better for you, as you can budget your repayment in a different way. Work with your loan servicer to determine if you should apply for any of these programs, so you can have some or all of your student loans forgiven.