While many argue that teaching is one of the most respectable careers, teachers in the U.S. generally don’t make a ton of money—which can make paying off student loans tough.
Luckily, a number of student loan forgiveness options exist for teachers, but it’s up to you to find and pursue the right opportunities. This guide to teacher loan forgiveness can help.
We’ll cover a few frequently asked questions, before diving into detailed information about a number of state and federal student loan forgiveness programs that might be relevant to your situation.
What is Teacher Loan Forgiveness?
If you can’t deal with your student loans and a lower salary than you might receive elsewhere, teacher loan forgiveness can help, but only if you fulfill certain requirements, such as teaching in an underserved area.
Recognizing that it’s tough to attract talented teachers to underserved areas when the pay is less, these state and federal programs offer to forgive a certain amount of your federal student loans for teachers who offer to serve in these regions.
The details of what you’ll need to do in order to take advantage of each program are different, so we’ll cover some of these in the sections below.
How much is loan forgiveness for teachers?
The amount of the loan amount that is forgiven will depend on each specific forgiveness program.
Some programs (such as loan cancellation for Perkins loans) allow for up to 100% forgiveness or cancellation of your loans after a certain amount of service. These programs typically forgive a set percentage of your loan balance in exchange for each year of service.
Others will forgive up to a set dollar amount—the federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, for example, offers up to $17,500 for highly qualified applicants who teach in specific subjects.
Many programs offer preference (and sometimes a higher amount of loan forgiveness) to teachers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects and to those in special education.
In addition, some programs determine forgiveness amount by the level of need in the school district you teach for.
How do you qualify for student loan forgiveness?
Just as award amounts vary by program, you’ll have to research specific qualifications for each program you’re considering applying for.
Many state-based programs take the form of undergraduate or graduate loans that are repaid on your behalf so long as you complete service requirements after graduating.
For these programs, keep in mind that you’ll need to apply for these loans or grants while you’re in school, rather than after graduating.
Can a consolidated student loan be forgiven?
Again, it depends—but if you’re thinking about taking advantage of forgiveness programs, do your research, as consolidation could either work for or against you.
Perkins or FFEL Program loans, for example, are not eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, unless they are consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan.
Perkins loans, on the other hand, are not eligible for Perkins Loan cancellation if they are consolidated.
Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Programs for Teachers
This program was created to encourage teachers to continue working in primary and secondary schools that serve low-income families. Minimum eligibility requires at least five consecutive years of teaching service, and, in most cases, the borrower must have Federal Stafford or Federal Direct loans (subsidized or unsubsidized)—those with only PLUS loans are not eligible for this program.
Those who teach full-time in an eligible elementary school or a secondary school in a subject relevant to their college major are eligible for up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness.
‘Highly qualified applicants,’ on the other hand, can receive up to $17,500 when employed to teach mathematics science for a secondary school or to teach special education to children with disabilities that correspond to their area of training.
Borrowers with Perkins loans may qualify for loan cancellation (also referred to as discharge) if they work at a school that is eligible for Title 1 funds or teach in a shortage area subject or are special education teachers.
In order to benefit from Perkins loan cancellation, teachers must complete at least one school year within a 12-month period. Fifteen percent of the loan will be canceled for the first and second years of service; an additional 20% per year is eligible for forgiveness in years three and four, and up to 30% can be canceled the fifth year.
You may also benefit from deferment while performing service that qualifies for loan cancellation, so you won’t have to make any payments on your Perkins loans while you’re working towards loan discharge.
Keep in mind that, if Perkins loans are consolidated with any other loans, the possibility of benefiting from Perkins loan cancellation will be lost, so make sure you won’t be taking advantage of this program before consolidating your federal loans.
The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant is a bit of a hybrid program that benefits those looking to pursue a bachelor’s, master’s, or post-baccalaureate program in a high-need field related to teaching.
Students can receive up to $4,000 in grant money per year to help them pay for the cost of their education. The conditions of the grant require teaching in a high-need field or in schools that serve low-income families for at least four years within an eight-year time window post-graduation.
If you fail to meet the service requirements for a TEACH grant, all funds you’ve received through the program will be converted to a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, which will incur interest charges from the date when each grant was disbursed and must be repaid in full.
This program is not limited to teachers but can be a good way for teachers who want to work full-time in public service to have some portion of their loans paid for.
PLSF offers full debt forgiveness for graduates in public service careers after they have made 120 payments on qualified federal student loans.
In order to qualify, you must have been working full-time for a qualified employer as defined by PLSF, and you’ll need to be on an income-based repayment plan.
State-based Student Loan Forgiveness Programs for Teachers
The TEL Program provides low-cost educational loans of up to $7,500 per year to Alaskans enrolled in teacher education programs at any accredited school nationwide. If you decide to return to Alaska and teach in a rural elementary or secondary school, you may be eligible for 100% forgiveness of your TEL loans.
This program is intended for recent graduates (after 2004) who teach within the Arkansas public school system in a geographical or subject-related shortage area. STAR grants both forgivable loans and federal loan forgiveness between $3,000 and $6,000 per year depending on qualifications.
Those seeking federal student loan forgiveness may be eligible for up to three years, while forgivable loans may hold a two- or three-year term, depending on the length of the student’s educational program. Students and graduates may only take advantage of one forgivable loan program at a time.
Delaware: Critical Need Scholarships
Full-time employees of Delaware public or charter schools who teach on a valid Emergency Certificate and in a critical need area are eligible for this forgiveness program. Reimbursements are made for up to the cost of three credits per term, currently $1,485 for undergraduates and $5,310 for graduate students.
Aspiring teachers attending a Delaware public college to earn teaching certificates in areas of critical need may benefit from participating in the Delaware Teacher Corps.
This program offers loans for up to the cost of tuition for students who meet the requirements. Graduates who teach in Delaware public schools can then take advantage of loan forgiveness—one year of teaching achieves one year of loan forgiveness. Preference is given to future middle and high school math and science teachers, as well as those planning to teach special education in a content area.
This program applies to residents enrolled in an approved special education teaching program at an Illinois public four-year college. Recipients will be exempt from paying tuition and mandatory fees for up to four calendar years as long as they are committed to teaching for at least two to five years after graduating.
This program is available to graduates who have fulfilled a five-year teaching obligation at an Illinois school in a low-income area and have qualified for government loan forgiveness programs. If these criteria are met, Illinois provides an additional matching award of up to $5,000.
Teachers who serve full-time in designated low-income schools may be eligible for $5,000 or $17,500 in loan forgiveness benefits from the state of Iowa.
This merit-based scholarship is awarded to students pursuing teaching degrees (bachelor’s and master’s) in hard-to-fill disciplines or who teach in underserved areas in Kansas. Recipients must serve as a teacher for a term equal to the length of the scholarship assistance.
Kentucky students pursuing a teacher education program at a participating college may be eligible to receive up to $2,500 of assistance per semester. One semester of teaching will repay one semester of aid.
Kentucky residents of ethnic minority groups (as defined by the school and state law) enrolled in a full-time participating Kentucky college teaching program are eligible to receive up to $5,000 per semester for an equivalent commitment of teaching service.
Maine: Educators for Maine Program
This forgivable loan program offers loans of up to $3,000 per year for undergraduates and $2,000 for graduate students. A merit-based program, students must submit an essay and will be evaluated based on their academic and extracurricular achievements.
Loans are forgivable for students who partake in eligible work for an eligible Maine school or child care facility after graduating. Those who do not ultimately work in this capacity must repay the loan in full, plus interest.
Teachers working towards a certification in a defined shortage field can apply for the WSSAG program under the Sharon Christa McAuliffe Scholarship. Students can apply for up to $19,000 in grant assistance; $2,000 per year for attending community college and $4,000 per year for four-year institutions. In exchange for the grant funds, graduates must serve one year in their field per one year of a grant awarded.
Maryland teachers who teach in schools designated as Federal Title I or Schools Identified for Improvement by the Maryland State Department of Education may be eligible for this program.
In addition, the Nancy Grasmick Teacher Award is a subset of this program that provides additional assistance to outstanding teachers who have taught in Maryland for the past two years, either in STEM subject or for a school with many low-income students.
Recipients will receive an annual payment based on their total educational debt at the time of application.
Mississippi: Graduate Teacher Summer Loan/Scholarship (GTS)
This program is intended for teachers who would like to pursue a first master’s degree and a Class AA teacher’s license. To be eligible, the candidate must be under contract in a full-time classroom (K-12) in an accredited Mississippi public school.
Recipients are awarded $125 per earned graduate credit hour as long as they teach continuously while receiving the funds and commit to one year of service as a teacher, counselor, or school administrator after the funds are received.
Teachers currently holding an Alternate Route Teaching License and teaching in a shortage area or subject may be eligible to receive up to $3,000 annually towards loans for up to four years.
This program awards up to $4,000 per year for no more than two years to candidates pursuing a bachelor’s degree in education in exchange for employment as a classroom teacher with the Mississippi public school system. A service obligation of one year per year of loans received applies.
Note: All Mississippi teacher loan forgiveness programs are currently on hold due to budget constraints, so only renewal applicants are eligible for loan funds at this point in time.
This program provides direct repayment assistance of up to $3,000 per year for up to four years to applicants who teach in an impacted school area and in an academic area impacted by critical educator shortages.
Students enrolled in an eligible undergraduate or graduate teacher education program may apply for up to $3,000 in loan assistance for up to five consecutive years in return for service in an approved public or private school in Nebraska. Up to $6,000 per year will be granted for service in critical shortage areas.
Eligible students may apply for up to $175 per credit hour, or a yearly maximum of $3,000, as part of an eligible graduate program. Students who meet loan forgiveness obligations will have their loans forgiven beginning after the first two years of full-time teaching, up to $6,000 for each year of teaching if the student teaches in a school district impacted by critical educator shortages.
New Mexico: New Mexico Teacher Loan-For-Service Program
This program provides repayment of the loan principal as well as reasonable interest accrued on federal loans taken out for teacher education purposes. Awards depend on the recipient’s total student debt, the program’s funding, and the need for specific types of high-risk teachers in public schools.
Recipients must commit to serve for an eligible employer for two years after they’ve finished school.
This program incentivizes students to pursue careers as secondary math and science teachers in New York. Awards are available for both undergraduate and graduate students in exchange for five years of full-time employment as secondary education math or science teachers in New York state.
Award recipients receive an amount equal to the annual tuition charged to a New York resident attending an undergraduate program at the State University of New York (SUNY), or the actual tuition their school charges, whichever is less. The standard SUNY tuition rate was $6,470 for the 2016-2017 academic year.
Newly hired teachers can receive $3,400 for each year of full-time service at a Teachers of Tomorrow high-need school for up to four consecutive years (totaling up to $13,600).
North Dakota: STEM Occupations Student Loan Program
Teachers who wish to participate in this program must hold a full-time teaching contract for at least nine months and have graduated in a STEM-related field.
Recipients are eligible to receive up to $1,500 per year in loan forgiveness for up to four years, and cannot receive this award at the same time as the Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program.
The program is designed for North Dakota educators who teach for grades and/or in content areas identified as having teacher shortages. Loan forgiveness recipients may receive up to $1,000 per year they teach in a teacher shortage area, for a cumulative total of no more than $5,000.
Through this program, qualifying math and science teachers in Oklahoma may be reimbursed for eligible student loan expenses (a set amount, which can vary yearly) or an equivalent cash benefit.
South Carolina: South Carolina Teachers Loan Program
The SC Teachers Loan Program offers loans of up to $2,500 per year for freshman and sophomores and $5,000 per year for juniors, seniors, and graduate students, up to a maximum of $20,000 for all borrowers.
These loans are then forgiven for those who teach in South Carolina public schools in critical subjects or geographic areas. Borrowers who teach in either a critical subject or geographic area will have their loans forgiven at the rate of 20% or $3,000, whichever is greater, for each year of full-time teaching. Loans held by those who teach in both a critical subject and a critical geographic area are forgiven at the rate of 33 1/3% or $5,000.
Tennessee: Tennessee Teaching Scholars Program
College juniors, seniors, and postbaccalaureate candidates admitted to a teacher education program in a Tennessee college or university may be eligible for the Tennessee Teaching Scholars Program.
Awards of $5,000 can be renewed for up to four years, though the recipient must maintain at least a 2.75-grade point average to remain eligible. For each year the award is received, recipients sign a promissory note guaranteeing that they will teach in a Tennessee public school after graduating. Award recipients who do not fulfill this requirement will be required to repay the full loan amount plus interest.
This program helps Tennessee public school teachers to pursue an advanced degree in math or a science, or a certification to teach math or a science. Loan recipients can receive $2,000 per academic year for a total of no more than $10,000.
These loans can be forgiven in exchange for employment in a Tennessee public school system. Loans are forgiven at a rate of two years of service for each year of funding received.
The Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Assistance Program is intended to increase the number of teachers in “Destination Shortage Fields”—that is, fields and communities with a shortage of teachers. The maximum award amount through this program is $2,500 per year.
This program offers a full waiver for tuition and fees at Utah public institutions or $995.00 per semester at private institutions. These benefits can be accessed for no more than eight semesters. Recipients of this award must complete an educator preparation program, obtain an educator license, and teach in Utah public schools for a period equal to the time they received assistance.
Virginia: Virginia Teaching Scholarship Program
Students planning to teach in one of Virginia’s critical shortage teaching areas can take advantage of up to $10,000 per academic year in scholarship assistance through this program.
Unlike most scholarships, which don’t need to be paid back, the Virginia Teaching Scholarship Program requires recipients to serve in a public school of the Commonwealth starting the first full academic year after graduation for the same number of years that the scholarship was received.
West Virginia: Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship Program
Both undergraduate and graduate students who meet the academic qualifications and commit to teaching in West Virginia’s public school district can benefit from scholarships of up to $5,000 per year. In exchange for the award, students agree to teach at a public pre-school, elementary, middle or secondary school level in West Virginia for two years per every year of award received.
Wisconsin: Minority Teacher Loan
Wisconsin resident, minority, undergraduates can take out a loan of between $250-$10,000 per year for up to $30,000 for their entire academic career to pursue licensure in a discipline identified as a teacher shortage area.
Loans are forgiven at a rate of 25% per year for each year forgiveness criteria are met. In order to qualify for forgiveness, borrowers must teach full-time for a public elementary or secondary school in the city of Milwaukee. Borrowers who do not meet forgiveness criteria must repay their loan at a rate of 5%.
This program has most of the same elements as the Wisconsin Minority Teacher loan. It differs in that being a member of a minority group is not a required qualification. In addition, loans through this program may also be forgiven if borrowers work in a county defined as “rural.”
This program provides loans to Wisconsin residents who are enrolled at least half-time in an undergraduate or graduate degree program at an eligible institution. Eligible programs are those that prepare students to be licensed as teachers of the visually impaired or as orientation and mobility instructors.
Graduates who go on to teach in this discipline in Wisconsin can benefit from loan forgiveness. Employers that qualify borrowers for forgiveness include: 1) Wisconsin schools that employ the borrower as a licensed teacher or an orientation or mobility instructor, 2) the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, or 3) a cooperative educational service agency.
For each of the first two years, the borrower meets the forgiveness criteria, 25% of the loan is forgiven. For the third year, 50% is forgiven.