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If you went to medical school, you likely racked up a significant amount of student loan debt — as of 2021, medical school students graduate with an average medical school debt of $215,900.
Luckily, there are several medical school loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs available that could help you manage this debt. For example, you might be eligible for federal, state, or local programs that could eliminate some or all of your debt.
If you’re looking for medical school loan forgiveness, here’s what you should know:
- How to get medical school loans forgiven
- Federal loan forgiveness programs
- National loan forgiveness programs
- State-specific loan forgiveness programs
- Medical loan repayment programs for the military
- Consider refinancing your medical school loans
How to get medical school loans forgiven
While exact qualifying criteria for medical school forgiveness will vary by program, there are a few common requirements that you’ll likely need to meet in order to have your loans discharged. These include:
- Having eligible students: Some programs allow both federal and private student loans while others are available only for federal loans.
- Being employed in certain areas or fields: You’ll generally need to work in a shortage area or at a nonprofit or government organization to be eligible for loan forgiveness. The amount of time you’ll have to serve will depend on the specific program — for example, some repayment programs require two years of full-time service while Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) requires 10 years.
Making qualifying payments: You’ll need to keep up on your monthly student loan payments while you pursue student loan forgiveness. For some programs, you’ll need to be on a certain type of payment plan — for example, PSLF requires borrowers to sign up for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan.
Federal loan forgiveness programs
For borrowers with federal student loans, there are two main forgiveness programs.
1. Income-driven repayment plan forgiveness
If you have federal student loans, you may be eligible for an income-driven repayment plan (IDR). Depending on your income, family size, and student loan balance, signing up for an IDR plan can help reduce your monthly payments. Your loan servicer will extend your repayment term to 20 to 25 years and cap your payments at a percentage of your discretionary income.
If you still have a balance after 20 to 25 years of making payments, your loan servicer will forgive the remaining balance. However, the forgiven amount is taxable as income.
You can apply for an IDR plan online.
2. Public Service Loan Forgiveness
If you have federal student loans and work for a government agency or nonprofit organization — and many hospitals qualify — you could be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). With this approach, you sign up for an IDR plan and make 10 years of on-time payments.
After 10 years, the government will completely forgive your remaining balance. And, unlike IDR plan forgiveness, the discharged amount isn’t taxable as income.
Use the PSLF Help tool to find out if you’re eligible and to track your progress toward loan forgiveness.
National loan forgiveness programs
If you have federal or private student loans, you may be eligible for one of the following national programs.
1. National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment
Primary care medical, dental, and mental and behavioral healthcare providers can get up to $50,000 in student loan repayment assistance in exchange for working a two-year service commitment in an urban, rural, or tribal community with limited access to care. Both federal and private student loans are eligible for the program.
Visit the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) website for more information.
2. National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment
If you are pursuing a degree in allopathic or osteopathic medicine or dentistry, you could be eligible for up to $120,000 in loan repayment assistance, payable in four installments of up to $30,000 per year. In return, you must agree to work for at least three years in full-time clinical practice at a National Health Service Corps approved site.
Visit the HRSA website for more information.
3. National Health Service Corps Substance Use Disorder Loan Repayment
To combat the nation’s opioid crisis, the NHSC launched the Substance Use Disorder Loan Repayment program. It supports the recruitment and retention of health professionals in underserved areas. If you qualify for the program, you can get up to $75,000 in repayment assistance in return for a three-year service commitment.
To be eligible for the program, you must be working or have accepted an offer of employment at an NHSC-approved service site.
Visit the HRSA website for more information.
4. National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment
Health professionals pursuing careers in biomedical or biobehavioral research may receive up to $50,000 per year in repayment assistance through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment program. In return, you must make a commitment to engage in NIH mission-relevant research.
For more information, visit the NIH website.
5. National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities Loan Repayment
Health professionals with doctoral degrees who conduct health disparities or clinical research in nonfederal research settings for at least two years could receive up to $50,000 per year in student loan repayment assistance.
For more information, visit the National Institute on Minority Health and Disparities website.
6. Indian Health Service Loan Repayment
If you agree to serve at least two years in health facilities serving American Indian and Alaskan Native communities, you could receive up to $40,000 in student loan repayment assistance. As a participant in the program, you can extend your contract annually until your student loans are paid off.
For more information, visit the Indian Health Service website.
State-specific loan forgiveness programs
If you’re not eligible for a federal or national program, you may still be able to qualify for a state-specific one.
For example, you could receive up to $70,000 in repayment assistance through California’s State Loan Repayment program in return for a two-year full-time service commitment.
Or, health professionals in Colorado who are willing to work in areas with shortages can receive up to $90,000 in student loan repayment assistance in return for a three-year service commitment.
To find out if your state operates a similar program, visit the Association of American Medical Colleges database.
Medical loan repayment programs for the military
If you are a healthcare professional serving in the U.S. military, you might qualify for loan repayment assistance. Here are a few of the programs available:
1. Air Force Health Professions Student Loan Repayment Program
This program is available to a variety of healthcare professionals who serve in the U.S. Air Force. If you commit to at least two years of service, you could have up to $40,000 of your student loans repaid per year.
For more information, visit the Air Force website.
2. Army Health Professions Student Loan Repayment Program
Doctors who perform active-duty service in the Army Medical Corps could have up to $40,000 of your student loans repaid each year — $120,000 in total. This program is also available for dentists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.
For more information, visit the Army website.
3. National Guard Health Care Professional Loan Repayment Program
National Guard members who serve in the Medical or Dental Corps could have a portion of their student loans repaid in return for committing to at least seven years of service. You could get up to $40,000 per year for the first six years, then up to $10,000 for the seventh year.
For more information, visit the National Guard website.
4. Navy Health Professions Student Loan Repayment Program
To be eligible for this program, you must be qualified in a healthcare profession determined to be in shortage by the Secretary of the Navy and must be enrolled in your final year of medical study or in your final year of residency. In return for three years of active-duty service, you could receive up to $40,000 of your student loan repaid per year.
For more information, visit the Navy website.
Consider refinancing your medical school loans
While there are medical school loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs available, not everyone will qualify for one. If you don’t, another option for managing your debt is to refinance your student loans.
Depending on your credit, you might get a lower interest rate through refinancing, which could save you money on interest and potentially help you pay off your medical school debt faster. Or you might opt to extend your repayment term and reduce your monthly payments — though keep in mind that this means you’ll pay more in interest over time.
If you have both federal and private loans, it might be a good idea to refinance just your private loans for a better interest rate while pursuing forgiveness for your federal student loans. Ultimately, the best choice for you will depend on your individual circumstances and financial goals.
Find your loan score
If you’re wondering how competitive your loan is, the loan score tool below can help. Just enter your APR, credit score, monthly payment, and remaining balance (estimates are fine) to see how your loan stacks up.
Kat Tretina contributed to the reporting of this article.