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Article Updated July 3, 2018

If you feel burdened under the weight of student loan debt, we have some good news: you may be able to get those student loans forgiven. In 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report estimating that up to one in four Americans may be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, but only a small percentage are actually using it.

Most student loan forgiveness programs aren’t a secret—but it might seem like they are because so few people take advantage of them. If you’d like to wave a magic wand and make your student loan debt disappear, here are five ways to help make that happen.

Difference Between Forgiveness, Cancellation, and Discharge

While the terms forgiveness, cancellation, and discharge may all mean the same thing, they are actually used in different ways. Federal student loan forgiveness or cancellation typically occurs when you no longer have to make the payments on your student loans due to your job. However, a discharge will occur in the case of a disability or other circumstances such as the closing of the institution where you received your loans.

  1. Loan Forgiveness Programs for Health Care Professionals

If you’re a doctor or a nurse, you could get a significant amount of your student loans forgiven in exchange for your service. Here are a couple of loan forgiveness options and programs to check out.

  • The Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program:This program is for health-care professionals who serve in the military. You could get up to $50,000 of student debt forgiven for each year of military service.
  • Maine Dental Loan Repayment Program:Get up to $20,000 of your student loan debt paid for if you’re a dental professional who sets up shop in an underserved area in Maine. Other states offer similar programs for medical professionals in underserved areas.
  1. Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge

Those who took out a Perkins loan to help pay for college and work in a qualifying career could have their entire debt wiped out after five years. All Perkins loan borrowers are eligible for potential loan cancellation or forgiveness. Here’s a look at some of the professions that qualify.

  • Active Duty Military Service:If you served in a hostile fire or imminent danger pay area before August 14, 2008, you could have up to 50% of your loans forgiven. Those who began serving on or after that date may qualify for 100% loan forgiveness.
  • Full-Time Public Service: Police officers, firefighters, and other law enforcement personnel may be able to have 100% of their loans and student debt forgiven. Attorneys that work in a community or federal public defender organization may also qualify for total loan forgiveness.
  • Educators:Teachers of certain subjects, special education teachers, and teachers serving low-income students may all be eligible for loan forgiveness up to 100% of the loan. Librarians and speech pathologists in Title I schools may also be eligible for forgiveness of federal student loans.
  1. Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs

There are a number of loan forgiveness options available for teachers who work in underserved areas. Some are state-specific, and others are federal programs. Find out if you qualify for either of the federal programs for teachers.

  • Teacher Cancellation:As noted above, teachers who work full-time at a low-income school may be able to have their Federal Perkins Loan canceled. This option is also available to teachers of certain subjects like math, science, or bilingual education.
  • Teacher Loan Forgiveness:This program was designed to encourage people to enter the education field. If you’ve been a full-time teacher for five consecutive years in a designated school or agency, you may be able to have up to $5,000 of Direct and Stafford loans forgiven. Secondary teachers who teach math or science, as well as special education teachers in elementary or secondary schools, may have up to $17,500 of Direct and Stafford loans forgiven. Unfortunately, PLUS loans are not eligible for this forgiveness program.
  1. Forgiveness Programs for Volunteering

Some federal student loan forgiveness programs are related to volunteer work instead of your nine-to-five profession. If you’ve got a penchant for community service, then you might be able to get a little help with your student loans from these organizations.

  • AmeriCorps and VISTA:When you volunteer for AmeriCorps or VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), you can qualify to suspend your student loan payments for the duration of your service. You can also earn time that will help you qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
  • Peace Corps:If you want to volunteer across the globe, the Peace Corps can help you make a difference and move you closer to paying off those student loans. Volunteers receive forbearance of loan payments during their service, and they earn over $8,000 of readjustment allowance and partial Perkins loans cancellation upon completing their service.
  1. Total and Permanent Disability Discharge

While no one plans to be disabled, it’s reassuring to know that student loan help is available if you have a terrible accident or become ill. In the worst cases, your entire student loan debt can be wiped out, eliminating this extra worry during an already trying time. There are three ways to demonstrate that you are “totally and permanently” disabled.

  • Military-Related Disability: Veterans can qualify if the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has determined that you cannot work because of an injury incurred during your military service.
  • Social Security Disability:People who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may also qualify to have their student loans discharged.
  • Medical Disability:If a doctor determines that you’re unable to work due to a mental or physical disability, then you may be able to get your student loans discharged. The disability has to have lasted for more than 60 months or be expected to last for more than 60 months.

Income-Based Repayment Plans

Income-Based Repayment Plan, otherwise known as an income-driven repayment plan or income-contingent repayment plan, is when your monthly loan payment is set at an amount that can be affordably paid each month.

Although federal student loans may be forgiven after twenty-five years or so of repayment, current rules are stating that the forgiven amount of a student loan borrowers debt can actually be taxed as if it were income.

This means that borrowers of student loans may actually end up owing the IRS as much as 25% of the total amount of the forgiven loan and this does not include any state taxes there may be.

An income-based repayment plan will help cover interest on the student loans which will decrease their balance each month, and this means that the debt will most likely be paid off well before the forgiveness is in play.

What to Remember About Student Loan Forgiveness

Student loan forgiveness and other federal forgiveness programs are free through the Department of Education. However, there may be other costs you will have to consider along the way.

Even though the student loans are forgiven, they may still be taxable. For example, a loan that had been discharged through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is not taxable. However, debt forgiven through an income-driven repayment plan is taxable.

Additionally, you want to be wary of debt relief companies that say they can get rid of all your debt after you pay them ridiculously high upfront fees. Many scams float around regarding student loan forgiveness. Therefore, you should only go through a legitimate government program as defined above.

Also, remember, it is free to apply for these forgiveness programs.

The Bottom Line

If you’re having trouble paying off your student loans, it’s important to find a workable solution, so you don’t default on them. Even if you file for bankruptcy, it can be difficult to have your student loans canceled and falling behind on your payments can hurt your credit and may even lead to wage garnishment.

If you’re worried that your student loans might be affecting your credit, get a free credit report so you can see exactly what’s going on. Get your free credit score now to make sure your student loans aren’t getting you in trouble.

Student loan forgiveness programs are not an instant solution. For example, one important thing to note is that if you do have your student loans forgiven, you will then owe taxes on the amount forgiven. This is because the IRS counts forgiven student loans as income.

So, while you might be able to escape your student loans, you should still budget to pay the associated taxes. But loan forgiveness programs can help you rebuild your financial peace of mind. Most people don’t realize that they might qualify for a student loan forgiveness program.

Don’t end up in a tough situation where you risk default without looking into the options that are available.

If you’re concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get a free credit score updated every 14 days.

You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

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  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Maybe. It depends on what kind of student loans you have & what exactly happened. The Department of Education explains the Borrower Defense process here: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/borrower-defense

  • Jennifer

    I will soon be 65 years old. Am I still responsible for my student loan?

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      Student loan debt is generally not dischargeable by age. In fact, it can be very difficult to have your student loan debt discharged.





    • Jeanine Skowronski


      You may want to consult a consumer attorney about what your options are.

      Thank you,


  • luluantipyrene

    I am in a situation where I signed on an income contingent loan. In 1999. I was on disability and gotten repeated deferment after deferment. I could have gotten permanent disability cancellation but I didn’t very stupidly thinking that I would be able to go back to work and I wasn’t able to. I am 61 years old now and in 9 years I am going to have to pay the income tax on a $140,000 loan. I want to see if I cannot go back and change that. But I remember the person the collector, told me that I could no longer cancel my loan for permanent disability back in 1999. I am Not sure what to do and I am on permanent disability now and I can’t go back to work and I can not pay the income tax in 9 years when it will be due.

    • Jeanine Skowronski


      You may want to consult a consumer attorney or a tax attorney to learn what you options here are.

      Thank you,


  • arnold

    Is it possible to get a loan forgiveness if the school didn’t teach me anything. i was not able to get a job in the field i went to school for due to the fact that i didn’t learn anything and now i have a 13k student loan to pay. The school name is [redacted] in Ontario Ca. there were several more students in the same situation as mine.

  • Cynthia

    I am sitting her in tears because i want to, and am willing to pay my student loans. the problem is that i cant afford to pay almost $800 per month. I have my daughter who is in graduate school and my Master’s degree loans to pay. I DONT know what to do. I applied for the income replacement option at the advise of a Navient representative who told me my payments would be less than $200 per month. I can reasonably manage $200 to $250 per month from now till eternity but, that is not the payment amount set for me. Does anyone have suggestions or anytthing that might help me. I am a nurse but I work for a “For Profit” hospital. .

  • Angie

    If you use a loan forgiveness program, will that hurt your credit score?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      I haven’t heard of an instance where it has. If you are talking about something like Income-based Repayment, then no. It should not.

    • ValidPoint

      No It does not, I know for fact. Good luck!

  • Marilyn P

    I really need to know if I will be able to go back to school if I apply for the program of student loan forgiveness?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Are you talking about Public Service Loan Forgiveness? It won’t prevent you from going back to school but if you have new loans that are eligible then you may start the clock over again. You’ll find details at IBRinfo.org.

  • Derrice C. Jones

    I’m a certified medical assistant. Do I qualify for loan forgivenes if I volunteer my services?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      The short answer is “I don’t know.” It depends on which programs you apply to and which ones you qualify for. This article is meant as a resource to help you explore options but it’s not a definitive list. You’ll likely have to do some digging to find out specific programs that can help you.

  • Jeana B

    My son is 46 years old and has student loan debt from 15-20 years ago. He has been incarcerated for the past 6+ years. He is unable to make any payments b/c of incarceration. Does he qualify for debt forgiveness? If so, where can I help him look for information? Thank you. He suffers from mental illness and addiction.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Jeana —
      We are not aware of debt forgiveness for people who are in jail. However, there sometimes can be for people who are permanently disabled. You can read more here: Disabled Student Loan Borrowers Get New Options

  • Marissa

    Im employed by non profit organization. Have a 10k loan that now is about 11500 due to interest. I’ve been told I may qualify for a student loan forgiveness program. I will $100 monthly for 120 payments (10yrs) which I may be able to pay. Most of these programs gave a starting fee I was quoted $199 for 5 mayments. Just to start the program. I was also quoted 235 for 3 payents. I want to know what is the best credited student loan forgiveness program
    why do they charge a start up fee? Are there any that do not charge?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      You do not have to pay a fee to apply for income-based repayment. Just to the Department of Education website and/or IBRinfo.org for information.

      • Marissa

        Would you happen to have contact info. I don’t see contact information

        • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

          I am not sure what you mean by contact info. You can apply for the program online here: https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/index.action.

          On the top right you will see a Contact Us tab and you can send them an email if you have additional questions.

  • Ryan

    http://www.sponsorchange.org does not work for me either (I’m in Seattle, WA). Looks like there could be some kind of network problem, though it’s strange that Gerri could access it and that one service (www.isitdownrightnow.com) says it’s up, but another (http://downforeveryoneorjustme.com) says its down.

  • Jack

    sponser change website did not work for me

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Jack – I just tried it and it worked fine. Remember sponsor is spelled with two “o”s and the extension is.org.

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