Top Tips on How to Get Student Loan Forgiveness and Debt Relief
By Nikki Schilling
Over the past decade, student loan debt has taken a new seat at America’s table. Surpassing credit card and car debt, it is now the second largest form of debt in the country, totaling over a whopping $1 trillion, and falling only behind mortgage debt.
According to the Federal Reserve Board of New York, there are currently over 37 million people with existing student loan debt. This number has continued to grow in recent years and for many borrowers paying off student loans is a huge burden, weighing down their every move. It can prevent home ownership, hamper the ability to move, and limit potential career opportunities. In an effort to address this issue, a number of federal and private programs have been implemented to provide student loan forgiveness to those who need it most.
There are currently over 60 different programs that offer some form of student loan debt forgiveness, many of which are unknown to those that can take advantage of them. On top of these 60+ federal programs, many companies are starting to offer support to their employees as part of their benefits package.
Taking advantage of these programs can be confusing and difficult. But if you have student debt and qualify for any of these programs, you need to make sure you don’t pass them up. Below are some tips to help you take advantage of whatever options are available to you.
Do You Qualify?
The first thing you need to do is figure out what programs you qualify for. This can be a tedious task, but the payoff can really be worth it. You want to start this as soon as possible because some of the debt forgiveness programs require you to apply before you start employment.
Some of the information you will need to know includes:
- The type of loan you have – Is it federal? If so, what kind?
- Your intended or existing employment path – Do you already have a job? If so, what sector is it in?
- Have you applied to (or are already part of) the military or a volunteer program like the PeaceCorps?
One of the best resources out there to navigate the options is Saltmoney.org’s Free eBook “60 Ways to Get Rid of You[newsletter1][/newsletter1]r Student Loans without Paying Them.” It lays out most of the federal programs, so it will save you tons of time researching on your own. It is still important to do additional research, however, because these programs are constantly changing and new ones are being added.
Tip #1: Find Relevant Career-Based Programs
For the most part, the federal student loan debt relief programs are aimed at helping those that have taken public sector jobs or other forms of employment that give back to the community. Here are some of the current employment paths that could benefit from federal student loan debt forgiveness:
- Volunteer – These programs are available for those that are part of organizations like AmeriCorps and the PeaceCorps. Some of these programs do require you to apply before you start your service, so make sure to check into it ahead of time.
- Military – There are a few different programs that target members of the military, so be sure to evaluate each of them. Some are for specific branches of the military or specific durations of active duty.
- Teachers – Teachers in various sectors, including college level, have a few different programs that they can apply to, especially if they are part of an identified shortage area.
- Health Professionals – There are many programs aimed at health professionals, so make sure to perform a thorough search of programs if you fall into this category, especially if you are a health worker in the public sector. Many of these programs target specific agencies or positions.
- Government Workers – There are a variety of programs aimed at government workers, but are dependent upon your position, loan size, and the agency you work for.
- Non-profit Workers – There are a variety of programs offered to non-profit workers, many of which are dependent upon the size of your existing loan or the position you hold with them.
- Other Public Service Jobs – There are a large variety of programs that target other public sector jobs, so if you fall into this category, you should make sure to scan the list. This includes jobs like rescue worker, librarian, and childcare worker.
Tip #2: Check with Your State for State-Based Programs
There are also state-based programs, so you should check for any programs your state may offer. You could be eligible for these if you are a resident of the state, work in the state, went to school in the state, or have a license to work in the state, so make sure you check all of them.
Tip #3: Consider Any Extenuating Circumstances
If your school closed while you attended it or right after you graduated, you may be eligible to get your loan forgiven. If you left school and were not properly refunded, you may also qualify for this program.
A special program also exists for parents and spouses of some victims of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. This program does have additional qualifications, so not all victims are eligible.
If a borrower suffers a life-altering disability or dies, family members may be eligible for some programs that will discharge part, or all of, the borrower’s debt.
Tip #4: Evaluate Your Finances
Some programs offer debt forgiveness if your student debt far exceeds your income. In some of these cases, you will need to prove your situation to a judge to be eligible.
Make sure to check each category of offerings because there is a chance you could be eligible for more than one program. With over 60 offerings, it is important to be thorough before concluding your search.
The Application Process
Once you have figured out what programs you are qualified for, you can start the application process. For some programs, this means filling out the application immediately. For others, you can not apply until you have fulfilled all of their requirements, which can sometimes be many years down the line.
Tip #5: Keep Good Records
If you can not apply for the program until successful completion of the requirements, make sure to keep careful records of everything they will need. For many programs, this means keeping good records of your places of employment. Some programs will require you to provide proof through tax forms or pay stubs.
Tip #6: Be Diligent with Your Payments
It is also extremely important to make sure all of your student loan payments are paid on time. Some programs will not fulfill the debt forgiveness if any loan payments have been late. The last thing you want is to lose the opportunity to have thousands of dollars paid off just because you missed one $200 payment.
Tip #7: Check with Your Employer
Whether you qualify for federal programs or not, you should also check with your employer to see if they offer any of their own student loan debt forgiveness programs. As the average student loan debt has increased, many companies have started offering payment support as part of their benefits package. If your company has a pre-existing program for this, then make sure you sign up or fill out the required application. If your company does not have a pre-existing program, you should still ask them if there is an opportunity for support. Depending on your employer’s policies, they may be able to work out a deal with you or even start a program. Some companies offer to pay or reimburse for new or current education expenses, so also make sure to ask them if you could take advantage of that program to put towards your student loans.
Handling the Debt Forgiveness
Tip #8: Save Ahead for Taxes
Once you have successfully completed your requirements and have had your student loans forgiven, you have one more detail to worry about – taxes. Depending on your program, your loan forgiveness amount may be considered income, in which case you will need to pay taxes on it. Depending on the amount, this might be something you need to plan ahead of time to make sure you can cover the tax payment.
Regardless of the time or confusion involved, applying for student debt forgiveness is something you cannot afford to pass up. Estimates vary, but there is no question that a large pool of people do not take advantage of debt relief programs that they actually qualify for. Make sure you are not one of these people and use these tips to your advantage. If you qualify for one of these programs, the money is yours.
Don’t be someone that leaves the money on the table.