What Is Teacher Loan Forgiveness?

Teacher loan forgiveness is a program that enables teachers at approved schools to reduce or eliminate up to $17,500 of their student loan debt.

Teacher loan forgiveness programs are a great option for teachers at qualifying schools. They're the real deal, and following through on such programs can be a significant financial windfall for teachers.

But there are hurdles to clear before you can participate in teacher loan forgiveness programs. Follow the steps below to get the job done, and start eliminating your teacher student loan debt.

3 Qualifications for Teacher Loan Forgiveness

  1. The five consecutive years of teaching at qualified schools should be entirely completed after 1998. (Check out the list of qualifying schools at the U.S. Department of Education's teacher loan cancellation page.)
  2. The teacher loan forgiveness candidate must not have held an outstanding balance on Direct Loans or any Federal Family Education Loans as of October 1, 1998. Additionally, teacher loan forgiveness candidates must not have held a Direct Loan or Federal Family Education Loan beyond October 1, 1998.
  3. The amount of the loan forgiven under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program depends on teacher qualification levels. Teachers with five consecutive and complete years of instruction at a qualified school with a track record of high performance in science and math, for example, can earn up to the maximum $17,500 in teacher loan forgiveness. That's also the case for teachers who instruct at low-income schools or at an educational service agency. Teachers in lower qualified programs may only earn up to $5,000 in a teacher loan forgiveness program.

Note that if a teacher has defaulted on a college loan, that teacher is not eligible for a teacher loan forgiveness program until arrangements have been made to repay the loan, suitable to the approval of the student loan provider.

Perkins Loan Teacher Forgiveness Programs

Federal Perkins loans are also eligible for teacher loan forgiveness. With a Perkins loan, teachers can have their loans forgiven or reduced if they meet federal guidelines for Perkins loan forgiveness, such as teaching at low-income community school or by teaching full time.

Teachers who focus on key subjects, like math, science, bilingual studies are deemed highly qualified for a Perkins teacher student loan forgiveness program.

Perkins loan forgiveness programs can eliminate a substantial amount of student loan debt—up to $27,500, the maximum allowable Perkins loan amount for undergraduates, while graduate student loans maxed out at $32,500, according to government figures. (Perkins student loans were eliminated in September 2017.)

Perkins teacher loan forgiveness programs are based on an incremental model, with the loan forgiven steadily over a five-year basis. Perkins loan forgiveness provides teachers loan relief in the following incremental fashion:

  • Year 1: 15% of a Perkins student loan is forgiven.
  • Year 2: Another 15% of a Perkins student loan is forgiven.
  • Year 3: 20% of a Perkins student loan is forgiven.
  • Year 4: Another 20% of a Perkins student loan is forgiven.
  • Year 5: The remaining 30% of the Perkins student loan is forgiven. (See option #3 on Perkins loan.)

To process your application for a Perkins teacher student loan forgiveness plan, you'll need to contact the college or university where you received the student loan, as Perkins loans are administered by the schools of higher education the teacher attended.

Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness Mandates

The U.S. federal government has specific requirements to classify a teacher as "highly qualified."

  • The teacher must have at least obtained a bachelor's degree.
  • The teacher must have earned full state certification (which varies among the 50 U.S. states) as a teaching professional.
  • A teacher in a government-recognized charter school is deemed to have earned full state teaching certification as long as the educator has met all of the relevant requirements in a given state's charter school statutes.

If you're a teacher who did not complete a full school calendar year of instruction, the year may ultimately count toward your teacher loan forgiveness program, under the following conditions:

  • The teacher finished at least half of the qualifying school's academic year.
  • The teacher's school or educational service agency agrees that the contract requirements for the academic year were completed, and the teacher is in good standing.
  • An educator can still qualify for a teacher loan forgiveness program if he or she spent the time away from school on at least a half-time basis, in a qualified area of education instruction (usually the course of study category the teacher is instructing at a qualified school or educational service agency.)
  • A teacher can also qualify for loan forgiveness with a medical/health condition recognized under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, or if the teacher is a U.S. armed forces member or a U.S. military reserve member called for duty for more than a 30-day period.

Do Consolidated Teacher Student Loans Qualify for Forgiveness Programs?

Consolidated teacher loans are treated slightly differently in teacher loan forgiveness programs. For instance, with a Direct Consolidation Loan or a Federal Consolidation Loan, teachers can qualify for a loan forgiveness amount on the outstanding component of a consolidated loan that is used to repay one of the following eligible teacher loans:

How to Apply for Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Apply for a teacher loan forgiveness program by completing and submitting a Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application (for Direct Loans and FFEL loans.) The loan application should be sent to the teacher's loan provider.

Teacher's looking to qualify for a teacher loan forgiveness program will need to have an approved administrative manager at their school or educational services agency sign off on the application. The manager will review the entire certification section of the application and sign off on the section once it's deemed all the loan forgiveness qualifications have been met.

Getting Help with a Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program

Teachers can file for a student loan forgiveness program on their own, but getting help is a good idea. Start with the federal government student loan website, which has an abundance of student loan forgiveness program resources, as well as online applications that allow teachers to apply for loan forgiveness programs.

If you're rejected for a teacher loan forgiveness program consider refinancing your student loan to a lower interest rate, and to lower payments. A refinancing option is especially helpful if you're a teacher with a blend of public and private student loan debt, as refinancing multiple loans with a single lower interest rate can significantly curb your student loan debt.