Now, years later, your job is far from paying off your student loans. Your education wasn’t quite as “worth it” as you were promised, and you’re wondering how to get student loan debt forgiven. You know that there are student loan debt forgiveness programs, you just aren’t sure how to apply for them or even if you qualify.
Most of the articles out there are too complex, going into terminology and hyper-specific situations you don’t have time to research. Others are far too simple, promising that you can get student loan debt forgiven and glossing over the specifics. Today, we’ll take a balanced look at federal student loan debt forgiveness so you know whether you qualify.
Struggling with Student Loan Debt? You’re Not Crazy – Here’s Why Student Loan Debt Should Be Forgiven
When you’re struggling with student loan debt, people can try to place the blame back on you. “You chose to take out those loans, just pay them back!” “It can’t be as bad as you say it is, just skip the Starbucks.” “If you didn’t want to be in debt, you should have paid for college in full.”
The thing is, student loan debt is a bigger problem than anyone realized when they took out the loans. Between 1988 and 2018, the cost of attending college rose by 200%. Meanwhile, grants and scholarships have been falling, the cost of living has been rising, and wages have remained flat since about 1990.
That’s why most people are either scraping by on minimum payments or deferring their loans indefinitely. More than 20% of adults can’t pay all of their bills this month, and more than 40% couldn’t handle an unexpected $400 expense. And those are pre-pandemic numbers.
Since the pandemic, about half of Americans have experienced job or wage loss. This is part of the reason that federal and private student loan payments were placed on a freeze throughout 2020 and 2021 (and federal loans got another freeze through August of 2022).
The current administration in America ran heavily on a platform of student loan forgiveness. If it were up to them, your student loan debt would be partially or totally forgiven. The problem is that it’s not up to them, not entirely. Any plan for student loan debt would have to go through Congress.
Congress is divided on the issue of forgiving student loan debt, so loan forgiveness is unlikely to happen anytime soon. So if you’re struggling, you’ll need to take action. The good news is that there are ways to get student loan debt forgiveness, you just need to apply for it and meet the qualifications.
Your Job Qualifies for Student Loan Debt Forgiveness
So let’s dive into the most common way you could apply for student loan debt forgiveness. Your job might qualify you. If you hold one of these jobs for at least 5 years, you could get all or a portion of your student loan debt forgiven.
First, there’s the “obvious” job – joining the military. Most people know that if you are accepted into military service and serve for at least 5 years, your debt can be forgiven in full. This is an attractive option for many, since joining the military will guarantee a livable wage, benefits, and a strong community… all on top of getting that debt forgiven.
However, joining the military is a difficult career choice, and may not be right for everyone. If you have any kind of disability, chronic health condition, or ongoing mental health issues, you may not be allowed to join. Check with your health provider or a local military recruiter to see if this is a choice that’s right for you.
You may also be able to apply for student loan forgiveness if you work in a government or non-profit position. To qualify, you’ll need to work full-time in a public service position or for a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Then, you’ll need to make 120 monthly payments on an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. That’s 10 years of monthly payments, but you can choose to pay those once a year in a lump sum. So if your IDR payments are $100 a month, you can choose to pay $1,200 once a year for 10 years instead.
What about the student loan payment freeze? The great news is that these months “count”. The months your federal loans have been on a freeze will be added to the total of monthly payments you’ve made.
This is another one you may already know about. As a teacher in a qualifying school, you can also get part or all of your student loan debt forgiven. Many of the same conditions apply as with the Public Service forgiveness program, but there are some teaching-specific conditions. Visit the Teacher Loan Forgiveness tab on the Federal Student Aid (FSA) site to make sure you qualify.
Nursing, Firefighting, or Volunteer Work
This only applies to Perkins Loans, but yes, you can qualify for student loan forgiveness through these jobs. Again, check the FSA site for details on whether your job qualifies for partial or full student loan forgiveness through this program.
Since the Perkins loan forgiveness program covers a variety of situations, we won’t go into a lot of detail here. The devil’s in the details, so research your specific situation to be sure you can get your student loan debt forgiven.
Your Life Circumstances Qualify for Student Loan Debt Forgiveness
Certain life events can also qualify you for student loan debt discharge. “Discharge” means essentially the same thing as forgiveness. However, “discharge” is used in situations where you can’t be held responsible for repayment. “Forgiveness” is used when you could, technically, pay back the loan, but will not be held responsible for it.
As you’ve probably guessed, you don’t want to be in a situation where your loans could be discharged. The first life event that would qualify you for student loan discharge is death. That’s right, if you die, your loved ones will not be held responsible for your student loan debt.
The second is total and permanent disability. If you’re diagnosed with a chronic condition or are in an accident that would permanently prevent you from holding a normal work schedule, your loans will be discharged.
Finally, bankruptcy can occasionally cause your student loans to be discharged. This isn’t always the case, though, so you’ll want to check on the specific conditions of your loan.
Obviously, none of these things are events you want to experience! In the unfortunate case that one of these things has happened to you or a loved one, check with the FSA website’s tabs on discharge due to death, total and permanent disability discharge, and discharge in bankruptcy.
Your School Qualifies You for Student Loan Debt Forgiveness
There are also some situations where your school can qualify you for student loan debt forgiveness. Just like in the last section, none of these are ideal. The good news is that if any of these have happened to you, knowing your options can help you be debt-free quicker.
First, if your school closed before you graduated, you won’t be held responsible for the repayment of your loans. What many people don’t know is that this is also the case if your school closed within 180 days of your graduation. You’ll be automatically notified if you’re eligible for closed school discharge of your loans.
All you’ll need to do here is show that you didn’t transfer your credits to another school. The school and the FSA team will do the rest!
Second, you can apply for student loan debt discharge if your school made false promises or failed to do something concerning your education. This situation is rare, but it does happen. Some examples might be:
- Your school told you that you were eligible for loans or programs you weren’t eligible for
- Your school marketed itself as “Accredited” when it was not
- Your school forged documents
- Your school did not give you a legitimate degree
- Your school promised employment, especially employment with a specific company
- Your school broke federal or state laws during your education
These situations are rare, so you may be wondering how to find out if they apply to you. One way is to check whether your school is facing any legal action, such as a class-action lawsuit. If you believe that you qualify for this kind of discharge, also called Borrower Defense to Repayment, you can apply through the FSA website.
How to Apply for Student Loan Debt Forgiveness
You think you’re qualified, but you don’t know how to apply for student loan debt forgiveness. What are your next steps? The good news is that your next steps are pretty straightforward. For your federal student loans, everything happens through the FSA website.
First, you’ll check the standards the FSA has listed for your specific situation. In some cases, if your application for student loan debt forgiveness is denied once, you can’t reapply. Double-checking means you can be sure all your ducks are in a row before you apply, so you don’t have to worry about your application being denied.
Next, you’ll fill out the form or forms required. The great news is that these forms are usually linked on the very same page as the requirements, so you don’t have to search for them. These will include personal identifiers (like your social security number), questions about your school or workplace, and questions about your current repayment plan.
Then, you just have to wait for an answer. You’ll need to contact your loan servicer to check whether you need to make payments while you’re waiting since it could be a period of a few months.
Your application could be accepted, in which case all or a part of your student loan debt is forgiven or discharged. Congrats! If your application is denied, though, you have two options. The first is in case you think something went wrong. If the reason given for a denied application seems to be missing key information, reach out to your loan servicer for help.
If your application is denied and there’s no information missing, though, it’s time to look at an Income-Driven Repayment Plan (IDR). This is a repayment plan that uses your current income, number of dependents, and living situation to determine how much your monthly payment should be.
What to Do if You Don’t Qualify for Student Loan Debt Forgiveness
When you don’t qualify for student loan debt forgiveness, it’s easy to feel crushed by your debt. Many people only look into student loan debt forgiveness when they’re out of options and feel like they’ll never pay off their loans.
Even if you don’t qualify for forgiveness or discharge, you can adjust your monthly payments. IDR plans aren’t necessarily set in stone. If you welcome a new baby, change jobs, or even move to a new city, you can reapply.
And in the absolute worst-case scenario, you can apply for temporary relief. This can take your payments to the absolute lowest number possible, or even stop them. Just remember that the interest will still accrue, so try to avoid it!
When you’re working to get rid of student loan debt, you might feel doomed. The good news is that, even if paying off your loans takes years, you can keep your head above water. Subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll give you tips and tricks for saving and making money, even when you’re over-worked.
Your student loans don’t need to define your financial life. There is light at the end of the tunnel, even if you don’t get those loans forgiven.