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What is Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness?

What is Teacher Stuent Loan Forgiveness?

I’m a 20 plus year veteran teacher.  Some days I feel I know a lot.  Others, not so much.  Most often my epiphanies are classroom related. This time, though, I learned a big lesson about life, and so I must confess that I was today-years-old when I realized that I could have gotten some of my college education paid for by good ole Uncle Sam. I could have saved myself quite a bit of money and a whole lot of headaches, if only I had asked, “what is teacher’ student loan  forgiveness?” Turns out, many teachers qualify for loan forbearance and forgiveness through the teacher loan forgiveness program. They do so just by doing what they love to do the most – teach.

Teachers who work in low-income schools and teach high-need subjects can save thousands of dollars through the federal student loan forgiveness program. The teacher can apply for loan forbearance in order to postpone debt payments until after he or she qualifies for the loan forgiveness. Rules are plenty but so are the opportunities for debt cancellation.

We know that teachers believe in education.  Why else would they work in their chosen field?  It’s definitely not for the money.  Many would call themselves life-long learners, and most end up completing 60 hours of graduate work after receiving the requisite bachelor’s degree needed for teaching.  That is around 180 hours of university studies or about $160000 in tuition!  Fortunately, the federal government shows mercy for educators by helping them alleviate some of their student loan debt.

What is the teacher loan forgiveness program?

The teacher loan forgiveness program has its roots with the Higher Education Act of 1965.  That legislature provided financial support for education on multiple levels.  This act allocated monies for low-income schools and set rules for repaying or discharging federally funded education loans. The Higher Education Amendment of 1998 followed suit and amended the Higher Education Act to give provisions for discharging teacher loans.

The act was meant to both ease the financial strife of teachers and to provide incentives for working in underserved schools and subject areas.  Low-income schools are underserved as are math, science, and special education classrooms.  It is difficult to find qualified people to teach in those environments. Teachers who work in low-income schools and teach underserved subjects benefit most from the forgiveness program.

Who qualifies for teacher loan forgiveness

The government doesn’t just pass out money to every teacher who asks.  Three general criteria must be met before student loans are forgiven.  Not every teacher will meet each of the qualifications, so there is a sliding scale that determines the amount each teacher can have forgiven.

Some overriding criteria must be met for a teacher to receive loan forgiveness.  All of the following criteria must be met to receive a discharge for the loans.

  •  A teacher must be deemed as highly qualified for his or her subject area.
  •  A teacher must have been employed for 5 full, consecutive academic years, and at least one of the years must have been completed after 1998.
  • The teacher can not owe money on certain student loans that were taken out before 1998. This is a common stipulation for many loan forgiveness programs.
  •  Unless repayment arrangements have been approved by the student loan provider, a teacher cannot be in default on any student loan.
  •  The teacher must be employed at a qualified school or educational service agency.
  •  The student loan must have been taken out before the end of the five required teaching years.

Not all of these stipulations are as cut and dry as they seem.  Some allow for exceptions while others require more distinction. Read on to find out more.

What makes a highly qualified teacher?

To be considered highly qualified, you must have an undergraduate degree and teach with a standard teaching certificate. You should be endorsed for the academic subject in which you are teaching. You are also required to have passed the appropriate state teacher exams or to have demonstrated competence on your teacher evaluations.

What if I didn’t teach for a full academic year?

To count an academic year as a full year, the following must apply:

  • one-half of the academic year must have been completed; and
  •  you have fulfilled your contract requirements necessary for tenure, retirement, and salary increase; and
  •  your year was interrupted because
    • you went back to school at least half-time and the focus of study was education-related; or
    •  you were out of work because of a condition covered under FMLA; or
    • you were called to active duty for more than 30 days to the U.S armed forces or reserves

What is a qualified school or educational service agency?

Teachers who receive loan forgiveness must have taught at a low-income school or service organization such as head start or community action agency.   To determine if your school or service is a qualified low-income facility, search the Teacher Cancellation Low Income (TCLI) Directory.

The directory includes early education programs, charter schools, and non-profit private academies.  Most of the schools on the list have Title 1 status. Considering there are nearly 50,000 Title 1 schools nationwide, there is a good chance you already work for a qualifying organization. Not every low-income school is listed in the directory, so be sure to do your homework, if you don’t see your school.

How much of the loan can be discharged?

Those who teach underserved populations may receive the loan discharge. Teachers who teach math and science in low-income middle or high schools can have up to $17,500 of their loans forgiven.  Special education teachers in any low-income educational setting can receive the same amount.  Other educators who serve in low-income schools or service agencies will receive up to $5000 in forgiveness.  This includes regular education elementary teachers.

What is loan forbearance?

It takes 5 years for a teacher to qualify for loan forgiveness.  That’s a lot of time to be paying on student debt, and it’s exceptionally difficult when you’re living on a paltry teacher’s income.  Fortunately, loan forbearance is available.

Teacher loan forbearance operates in conjunction with the federal teacher loan forgiveness program.  Essentially forbearance defers federal educational loan payments until teachers qualify for loan forgiveness. Loan forbearance is similar to loan deferment as payments can be postponed until a future time; however, unlike deferment, interest still accrues during the time of forbearance.

Of course, some rules apply to forbearance.

  • Forbearance applies to the balance of the loan which will not be covered by the teacher loan forgiveness program.
  • Forbearance requests must be submitted annually until after the five requisite years are completed.
  • It usually takes 60 days for forbearance to be processed and approved.  The teacher does not have to make payments during that time but can do so if he or she wishes.

How and when can I apply for teacher loan forgiveness?

The time to apply for teacher loan forgiveness is after you’ve worked the required five years.  A Teacher Loan Forgiveness application can be found on  And the form can be turned into your loan provider.  You will need to document your teaching career with a qualified school, but it’s a fairly easy process and just requires a few signatures.

Are there other ways teachers can receive help with loan repayment?

While teachers receive a significant benefit from teacher loan forgiveness, it doesn’t cover all student loans and expenses.  Fortunately, other programs can help alleviate some of the financial pain caused by excessive student loans.  Just because a teacher receives monies from the teacher loan forgiveness program, doesn’t mean that he or she cannot benefit from other forgiveness programs or grants.

Other programs worth mentioning can add to the teacher loan forgiveness program. Here are a few to consider:

  •  Public service loan forgiveness offers discharges for some of your loans if you have made at least 120 payments over the course of the loan term.
  •  An income-driven repayment plan helps out when your student debt is higher than your annual income. You must make a certain amount of loan payments to qualify for this plan.
  •   Rate caps and interest rate relief can be acquired if you have done any military service.
  •  Volunteering for AmeriCorps will earn you a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award which can be used to repay loans.

There are so many options for teachers when considering student debt!


Teacher loan forgiveness and forbearance for the loan are not new to educators, nor the loan forgiveness program the only available avenue for loan assistance.  Many teachers qualify for funding from one or more of the programs available.  Even if a teacher has completed an undergrad program and has been working for many years, he or she can still pay off old loans or have graduate school loans discharged.

With so many opportunities for loan forgiveness, it is well worth your time to do further investigation. Maybe you can reap some of the benefits the government provides for teachers. I sure wish I had!

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Written by Robin Smith

Teacher by profession, author by choice, Robin E. Smith has freelanced multiple projects including ghostwritten memoirs and business start-up courses. When not writing, she’s likely camping or kayaking with friends and family near Cincinnati, Ohio. You see her musings by visiting her twitter handle @Legacy14Twelve.

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