How to Get Student Loan Forgiveness

Young friends using phone to look up student loan forgiveness.

Federal student loan borrowers have access to several relief options, including student loan forgiveness programs. Each program has a different set of eligibility requirements, but it's relatively simple to find out if you qualify and what you need to do to get approved.

Here are some steps you can take to determine your odds of getting student loan forgiveness and keep track of your progress.

1. Check if You Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness

Student loan forgiveness programs are only available to borrowers, including parents, with federal student loan debt. More specifically, you may be eligible if you belong to one of the following groups:

  • Teachers

  • Government employees

  • Nonprofit workers

  • Nurses, doctors and other medical professionals

  • Borrowers with disabilities

  • Borrowers on income-driven repayment plans

You may also be eligible for forgiveness if your college or university misled you or has closed, or if you have federal Perkins Loans. On rare occasions, you may even be able to get loans discharged through bankruptcy.

Here are the main student loan forgiveness programs available and what you need to do to qualify.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

You may qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program if you meet the following criteria:

  • You work full time for a government agency or qualifying not-for-profit organization
  • You have direct loans or have consolidated your loans into the direct loan program
  • You're on the standard 10-year repayment plan or an income-driven repayment plan
  • You make 120 qualifying monthly payments

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

You could get some or all of your debt canceled under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TLF) program if you meet the following requirements:

  • You're a full-time, highly qualified teacher for five complete and consecutive academic years
  • You're employed at an elementary or secondary school or an educational service agency that serves low-income students
  • The loans you're seeking forgiveness for were made before the end of your five-year service requirement

Income-Driven Repayment Plan Forgiveness

If you get on any of the four income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, you could qualify for forgiveness after a certain period of time. Once you've completed your repayment period, any remaining balance will be forgiven.

Income-Driven Repayment Periods
Repayment Plan Repayment Period
Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) 10-25 years based on original loan balance and loan type
Pay As You Earn (PAYE) 20 years
Income-based repayment 20 years for borrowers who first borrowed after July 1, 2014; 25 years for borrowers who first borrowed before July 1, 2014
Income-contingent repayment 25 years

It's important to note that the income-contingent repayment plan is the only IDR plan available to parents.

2. Choose a Student Loan Forgiveness Program

Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for more than one student loan forgiveness program.

For example, if you're a teacher employed at a public school, you may qualify for both the PSLF and TLF programs. If you choose to switch to an IDR plan, you'll also be eligible for forgiveness once you meet those requirements.

Here are some factors to consider to determine which student loan forgiveness program is right for you:

  • Career plans: With PSLF and TLF, your eligibility is tied to your job. Even if you currently qualify based on your career choice, it's important to consider whether that will still be the case once you meet the other requirements.
  • Forgiveness amount: Both PSLF and IDR plan forgiveness cover your full balance, but only after you meet your payment requirements—meaning it'll likely be less than what you currently owe. The TLF program, on the other hand, offers limited forgiveness based on which subject area you teach.
  • Other requirements: For each student loan forgiveness program, you may run into other requirements, such as the need to recertify your employment or income every year. Carefully review the stipulations for each program to determine which one is the most appropriate for your situation.

It's also important to note that you can work toward forgiveness on more than one program at a time. If you end up not meeting the requirements for one program or don't get your full balance discharged, you could get additional relief from a different one.

Keep in mind, though, that you can't double count the same period of teaching service toward PSLF and TLF forgiveness.

3. Calculate How Much You Can Get Forgiven

As previously mentioned, both PSLF and IDR forgiveness programs provide full forgiveness of your remaining balance once you meet the repayment requirement for the program.

Unfortunately, the Department of Education doesn't provide a way to see how much you can get forgiven. However, there are several online calculators from other sources that can give you a ballpark estimate.

With the TLF program, forgiveness is limited based on which subject area you teach:

  • Maximum forgiveness: You can get up to $17,500 forgiven if you teach math, science or special education.
  • Limited forgiveness: You can get up to $5,000 forgiven if you teach another subject.

4. Apply for Forgiveness

Depending on which program you choose, the application process will look different.

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Start by using the PSLF Help Tool to see if your employer is eligible, and generate a PSLF form. Fill out and submit the form electronically and provide an email address for your employer to certify your employment. It's recommended that you certify your employment each year.
  • Teacher Loan Forgiveness: Once you've completed the five-year service requirement, fill out the Teacher Loan Forgiveness application and submit it to your loan servicer. You'll need the chief administrative officer at your school or agency to complete the certification section.
  • Income-driven repayment plan forgiveness: IDR plan forgiveness is automatic once you complete your plan's required repayment period. If you're not already on an IDR plan, you can compare your options and apply through your Federal Student Aid account.

What to Do if You Don't Qualify for Forgiveness

If you aren't eligible for student loan forgiveness, here are some potential options you can consider to get help with your student loan debt:

  • Opt for a different repayment plan. The federal government offers several different repayment plans, some of which can provide lower monthly payments. And while forgiveness under an IDR plan may take several years, you can get started on your progress now.
  • Consider forbearance or deferment. If you're experiencing financial hardship, you may be able to put a pause on your monthly payments for several months through forbearance or deferment programs.
  • Look into student loan repayment assistance programs. While they aren't technically forgiveness programs, you can get help from your employer to pay down your student loans. Student loan repayment assistance programs are available from several government agencies and even some private employers.

The Bottom Line

If you're a student loan borrower, there are several ways to obtain forgiveness for your debt. However, the requirements can vary depending on which program you choose, and it can take several years to qualify for discharge.

If you're having a hard time paying your student loans, research and compare loan forgiveness programs and other relief options to determine the best path forward for you.