Student loans are a major burden for many young professionals — especially in fields that require a lot of education, such as health care or the law. Fortunately, student loan forgiveness programs could allow you to get at least some of your debt wiped out if you work in a qualifying job.
Your options for student loan forgiveness will vary depending on your career, your degree, and the type of work you’re willing to do. Below, see some possible options for forgiveness for people in health care, law, the military, and other positions that help the public.
10 jobs that could earn student loan forgiveness
If you’re looking for work that makes a difference — and that could also potentially make you eligible for student loan forgiveness — here are 10 jobs worth considering.
1. Government employee
Working for the government in any position — whether in administration or in management — could entitle you to loan forgiveness through a variety of federal and state programs. While federal forgiveness programs are an option no matter where you live, state-based programs will vary depending where you live.
Some of the programs that could entitle you to loan forgiveness if you take a government job include the following:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Full-time work for a federal, state, local, or tribal government makes you eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). If you qualify, you could get the remaining loan balance of Federal Direct Loans forgiven after making 120 payments under an income-driven repayment plan. Some loans, such as Federal Perkins Loans and loans under the Federal Family Education Loan Program, can also become eligible for forgiveness if consolidated.
- Federal Student Loan Repayment Program: Under the Federal Student Loan Repayment program, different government agencies can establish their own repayment programs to help employees repay federally insured student loans. These departments can provide up to $10,000 in repayment assistance toward eligible loans. The maximum total amount of repayment is $60,000, and employees must agree to continue to work for the government for at least three years.
You should check with the agency you work for to see if it runs a forgiveness program for which you might be eligible. For example, the Department of Justice Attorney Student Repayment Program offers repayment help to qualifying attorneys who work for the Department of Justice. You can find out more about this program below in the section of this article explaining loan forgiveness options for lawyers.
2. Not-for-profit employee
Nonprofits do important public work. If you work for a not-for-profit organization in any position, you could be eligible for loan forgiveness under the following programs:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Specific requirements for this program are mentioned above under the section about government work. Basically, you must work full time for a qualifying not-for-profit and must make 120 payments on qualifying Direct Loans or consolidated federal loans, after which time the remaining balance of your loans will be forgiven.
- Perkins Loan Cancellation: Full-time employees of nonprofit child or family service agencies could qualify for Perkins Loan Cancellation if your nonprofit caters to high-risk children and families from low-income communities. If you qualify, you could have 15% of your Perkins Loan balance canceled for your first and second years of service; 20% canceled for your third and fourth years; and 30% canceled during your fifth year.
Other forgiveness programs you may be eligible for are based on the type of nonprofit you work for. For example, if you work for a nonprofit that provides educational services, you could potentially qualify for loan forgiveness for teachers; if you work for a health care nonprofit, you could qualify for forgiveness through various loan forgiveness programs for doctors or nurses.
Shaping young minds is rewarding, but the pay isn’t always great — especially if you work in low-income areas. Fortunately, there are a number of different options for loan forgiveness that could be available to teachers depending on their type of work. Some programs that could lead to loan forgiveness include the following:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Most public and private elementary and secondary school teachers qualify for PSLF, which forgives loans after 120 payments on an income-driven repayment plan. Check the section on working for the government to find out full details about becoming eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
- Perkins Loan Cancellation: If you work full time as a teacher serving low-income families; special education students; or an area where there is a teacher shortage, you could become eligible to have up to 100% of your Perkins Loans canceled.
You must be employed directly by the school system, but you do not need to be certified or licensed. As with nonprofit employees, you may have 15% of your balance canceled during the first and second year of service; 20% canceled in years three and four; and 30% canceled during year five.
- Teacher Loan Forgiveness: Full-time teachers can qualify for up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness of Direct Loans and Stafford Loans, depending on the subject they teach. Math, science, and special education teachers may qualify for the full $17,500 of forgiveness; teachers of other subjects can qualify for up to $5,000 of forgiveness. You must teach for five complete consecutive academic years in low-income schools or educational agencies to be eligible.
Many states also operate loan forgiveness programs for teachers. Options and eligibility vary depending on where you live. Some examples include the following:
- Illinois Teachers Loan Repayment Program: Under this program, Illinois provides an additional $5,000 in matching funds for students who qualify for federal loan forgiveness programs. You must teach in a low-income area in Illinois to be eligible.
- Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Assistance: This program provides up to $2,500 in loan repayment assistance to full-time teachers who work for at least a year in a preschool, primary, or secondary level in a shortage teaching field or shortage community in Texas.
Nurses play an instrumental role in caring for patients and helping people to stay healthy or improve their health. In recognition of their contribution to society, there are many programs that provide loan forgiveness for nurses. Some of your options for loan forgiveness if you’re in nursing include the following:
- Perkins Loan Cancellation: You can have up to 100% of your loans canceled for five years of eligible service. The cancellation schedule is the same as the one described under Perkins Loan Forgiveness in the nonprofit section. You’ll have 15% of your balance canceled in years one and two; 20% in years three and four; and 30% canceled during year five. You must work full time to be eligible.
- Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program: The Health Resources and Services Administration pays up to 85% of unpaid nursing educational debt. You can become eligible for forgiveness if you’re a licensed registered nurse, advanced practice registered nurse, or nurse faculty member who works full time at an accredited nursing school or a Critical Shortage Facility in a high-need area.
If you qualify, you could have 60% of unpaid nursing education debt repaid over two years and have the option to work a third year to have an additional 25% of the original balance repaid.
There are also state-specific options for forgiveness, including the following:
- Bachelor of Science Nursing Loan Repayment Program: This program is open to California nurses who provide at least 32 hours per week of direct patient care in a Registered Nursing Shortage Area; Primary Care Shortage Area; or county, state, prison, or veteran’s facility. Award recipients can qualify for up to $10,000 in repayment help and can receive the award as many as three times for a total of $30,000 in repayment assistance.
- Nursing Student Loan Forgiveness Program: Licensed nurses in Florida working at a designated employment site can qualify for up to $4,000 per year in educational loan repayment. Designated employment sites include public schools, teaching hospitals, and specialty hospitals for children. Nurses can participate in the program and get loan repayment for a maximum of four years.
- NYS (New York Schools) Nursing Faculty Loan Forgiveness Program: New York state residents who are licensed nurses can qualify for this program by working as a faculty member or clinical instructor at a nursing school in the state for at least 12 credit hours per year. Faculty members can get up to $8,000 per year in loan payments and can receive a maximum of $40,000 in funds toward reducing their nursing school debt.
Many other states also provide similar programs to help those in the nursing field with debt repayment.
While working in certain medical specialties can be quite lucrative, there’s great demand for doctors to do public service work or take jobs in low-income areas. There are also a number of loan forgiveness programs that incentivize doctors to provide treatment to underserved communities.
Some options for loan forgiveness for doctors include the following:
- NIH Loan Repayment Programs: If you work in medical research for the National Institute of Health, you could receive up to $50,000 per year in loan resistance payment. You must be a qualified health professional performing biomedical research or working in a biobehavioral research center to become eligible.
- National Health Services Corps Loan Repayment Program: If you work in a designated Health Professional Shortage Area and specialize in certain fields — such as family or internal medicine, gynecology, or pediatrics — you could become eligible for up to $50,000 in student loan repayment help. You’ll need to commit to working for two years in a shortage area to be eligible.
- Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program: You can receive up to $40,000 toward repaying your health professional education loans if you commit to at least two years of service in a health facility providing care to Alaska Native or American Indian communities. Funds are awarded based on health program facilities with the greatest need for health care providers. You can continue to extend your service contract and receive additional funds toward loan repayment until your loans have been fully repaid.
- National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities Loan Repayment Program: This loan repayment program provides up to $35,000 per year to health professionals with doctoral degrees who conduct research into health disparities in non-federal research settings. You must make a research commitment of at least two years to be eligible.
Doctors can also become eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, military loan forgiveness if they’ve enlisted, or for state-specific forgiveness. The Association of American Medical Colleges has a database of state-specific loan forgiveness programs for medical professionals.
6. Military member
Serving in the military requires you to put your life on the line, so it comes as no surprise that you get some benefits for the brave decision you’re making. Some of your options for getting loans forgiven will vary depending on the branch of military you join; however, other programs apply to any military member.
Programs that could provide loan forgiveness include the following:
- Perkins Loan Cancellation: Military service may qualify you for Perkins Loan cancellation if you serve in a hostile fire or imminent danger pay area. You could qualify for up to 50% of cancellation for four years (at a rate of 12.5% annually) if your active duty service ended prior to Aug. 14, 2008. If you had qualifying active duty service after this date, you’re eligible to have up to 100% of your loan balance canceled over five years of service.
- Army College Loan Repayment Program: Active duty soldiers who agree to a term of service of three or more years can become eligible for this repayment program. You must have a high school diploma, score at least 50 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery to be eligible, and decline to enroll in the Montgomery GI Bill.
Eligible active duty soldiers will receive repayment equal to a third of their outstanding principal balance for each year of active duty service, with a maximum of $65,000 in repayment over three years.
- Navy Student Loan Repayment Program: Sailors who enlist can obtain up to $65,000 in loan repayments during their first three years of service. This program is available for active duty sailors who receive eligible ratings. Federal Stafford Loans, Perkins Loans, Consolidated Loans, and Parent PLUS Loans are eligible for repayment.
The program works the same as the Army’s in that you’ll receive repayment of a third of your outstanding eligible loan balance for each of the first three years of service.
- Army Reserve Student Loan Repayment Program: If you enlist in the Army Reserves for six years, you can become eligible for this program, which will provide up to $50,000 in total repayment.
- National Guard Student Loan Repayment Program: Non-prior service soldiers can become eligible for the National Guard student loan repayment program by enlisting for a minimum six-year term of service. You must enlist in a critical skills vacancy or other qualifying position and score at least 50 on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test. You can receive up to $50,000 total in loan repayment assistance toward repaying federal student loans.
You should talk with your recruiter or visit milConnect to learn more about benefits available to you.
While many attorneys work for private firms and earn hefty salaries, others choose to use their law degrees to help the less fortunate in need of advocates. Those who do certain types of legal work can become eligible for loan forgiveness as a result of their career choice.
Loan forgiveness options for attorneys include the following:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness: If you work as an attorney for any federal, state, or local government agency, you can become eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness for your Direct Loans and consolidated loans. As mentioned in the PSLF section for government workers, you must work full time and make 120 payments on an income-driven plan to qualify.
- Perkins Loan Cancellation: If you’re a full-time attorney working as a public defender or working for a community defender organization, you can qualify for Perkins Loan Cancellation — provided your service began on or after Aug. 14, 2008. You may be eligible to have up to 100% of your Perkins Loan balance canceled over five years.
- Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program: If you have at least $10,000 in qualifying loans, including Direct Loans, Federal Consolidation Loans, or Perkins Loans, you could potentially qualify for this program if you work for the Department of Justice and agree to continue working there for at least three years. This program provides as much as $6,000 per year toward loan repayment with a total maximum of $60,000.
- Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program: Attorneys who work for a grantee of the Legal Services Corporation can receive up to $5,600 toward their loans for up to three years. Attorneys must have at least $75,000 in outstanding debt and repayment assistance can be used only to pay qualifying law school loans and accrued interest. Repayment funding is awarded by a lottery system to approximately 70 attorneys annually.
As with the other professions on this list, there are also loan forgiveness programs available in different states. For example, the Florida Bar Foundation offers grants of up to $5,000 that lawyers can use to repay loans. You must be employed at least part time for a civil legal aid organization that is currently receiving a grant from the Bar Association’s foundation to be eligible.
Attorneys can check with their own state’s Bar Associations to find options for loan forgiveness where they live.
Pharmacists can earn a good living, with average salaries well above $100,000. However, pharmacists can sometimes be eligible for loan forgiveness if they work in underserved communities. There are both federal and state programs that make forgiveness possible for pharmacists, including the following:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Pharmacists who work in community or hospital pharmacies could potentially become eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Federal loans can be forgiven after 120 on-time payments if you work full time in one of these settings.
- National Health Services Corps Loan Repayment Program: Loan repayment for pharmacists is the same as for nurses under this program. Pharmacists must work at least two years in designated Health Professional Shortage Areas to become eligible to have as much as $50,000 in loans forgiven.
In addition to these federal programs, there are also state-specific options forgiveness. A few examples include the following:
- SHARP (Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program) Practitioner Loan Repayment in Alaska: Pharmacists are classified as Tier 1 providers, which means they can get up to $47,000 of loans forgiven for working full time or half time in underserved areas for at least two years.
- Kentucky State Loan Repayment Program: Pharmacists employed at eligible Kentucky State Student Loan Repayment Program facilities or those working at a Health Professional Shortage Area can qualify for up to $80,000 in loan forgiveness with a two-year service commitment. For each federal dollar the program provides, the pharmacist must have a match from a sponsor source, such as an employer or state foundation.
- North Dakota Loan Repayment Program: Registered pharmacists who work in designated shortage areas can get up to $50,000 per year in help with loans. This is another matching program, and state dollars must be matched by the work site. A two-year commitment is required to qualify.
You can research within your own state to find similar programs to help you repay your debt from becoming a pharmacist.
Veterinarians provide routine and life-saving care for animals of all types, from pets to livestock to military animals. There are both federal and state options to get loan forgiveness for doing certain types of veterinary work. Examples include the following:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness: If you work for the government or a nonprofit as a veterinarian, you could qualify to have eligible federal loans forgiven after making 120 on-time payments on an income-based plan.
- Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program: Eligible veterinarians can qualify for up to $25,000 in loan repayment per year for serving in an area designated by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture as being in a shortage situation. Veterinarians must agree to serve in the shortage area for up to three years.
- Active Duty Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program: If you join the Army Veterinary Corps and serve on active duty, you can qualify for as much as $120,000 over three years to repay your loans from veterinary school.
- Health Resources and Services Administration Faculty Loan Repayment Program: This program provides up to $40,000 in student loan repayment for veterinary medical college faculty from disadvantaged backgrounds. You must serve for two years on the faculty of an accredited health professions college or university, and your employing educational institution must agree to provide matching funds.
You can also find out about state-specific loan forgiveness options by visiting the American Veterinary Medical Association, which details state veterinary loan repayment programs.
There are many different loan forgiveness options for dentists, just as there are for other health care professionals. Some of those options include the following:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Eligible dentists who work for the federal government or for a nonprofit can qualify for this program. After 120 on-time payments on an income-driven plan, dentists can have the remaining balance of their eligible federal loans forgiven.
- Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program: If you join the Dental Corps of the Army and serve on active duty, you can qualify for up to $120,000 in loan forgiveness. You can receive $40,000 towards repaying loans annually for three years of service.
- Health Resources and Services Administration Faculty Loan Repayment Program: If you’re from a disadvantaged background and work as a faculty member of a dental school or health professionals school, you can qualify for up to $40,000 in loan forgiveness through this program.
- National Health Services Corps Loan Repayment Program: Dentists must work in a designated Health Professional Shortage Area for at least two years to become eligible to have as much as $50,000 in loans forgiven.
- Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program: Dentists who work in American Indian or Alaska Native communities for at least two years can qualify for loan repayment assistance, up to a maximum of $40,000.
What to do if you don't qualify for student loan forgiveness
If you don't qualify for student loan forgiveness in your current role, don't fret — there are still options that may help ease the burden. The best first step is to call your loan servicer. They may be able to provide recommendations that will make your payments more manageable.
In some cases, refinancing an existing student loan to one with more favorable terms could save you thousands of dollars over the long term. If you choose to go this route, lenders will typically look at your credit and payment history to determine if you're eligible to refinance. Some may also consider your debt-to-income ratio.