If you're like most people, your student loans probably feel a bit like a ball and chain that you've been dragging through your life for years. Every month, you dutifully make a payment knowing that you'll be making that same payment next month, the month after that, and so on. But what if you didn't have to? What if there was a way to get your student loans forgiven?
It turns out that there are many ways to get federal student loans forgiven. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report in 2013 estimating that more than one-quarter of working Americans are eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, but only a small percentage are actually using it.
Programs like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program are relatively well known. However, there are some lesser-known programs that may also help you pay down your loans.
Here are five ways to say goodbye to your student loans that you might not have even known about. If you're not eligible for any of them, there are still other ways to lessen your student loan burden – such as through student loan consolidation, refinancing your loans, or by picking the right federal or private student loan repayment plans.
1. Loan Forgiveness Programs for Health Care Professionals
If you're a doctor or a nurse, there is probably somewhere in the country where you could get a significant amount of your student loans forgiven in exchange for your service. From federal programs like the Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program that helps health care professionals serving in the military repay up to $50,000 in loans per year of service, to the Maine Dental Loan Repayment Program which pays up to $20,000 a year for serving an underserved area, there are many ways to get your loans repaid.
2. Perkins Loan Cancellation & Discharge
Did you get Perkins loans to pay for college? Well, then that's good news for you. Borrowers of Perkins loans can have their entire debt forgiven after five years if they fit certain criteria. The professions that qualify for forgiveness are fairly broad and include anything from an attorney to a librarian, to even a speech pathologist. Check it out to see if your job fits the bill.
3. Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs
Great news if you're a teacher who is willing to work in underserved areas – there are several student loan forgiveness programs tailored to you. Many states offer awards specifically to draw teachers to underserved areas. Not only can you make a difference, but you can pay off your student loans while doing it.
SponsorChange.org is a nonprofit organization that helps graduates pay off student loans in return for volunteer work. Donors give money to projects or nonprofits to help them recruit volunteers and those volunteers get great work experience while also lessening their student loan burden.
5. Total and Permanent Disability Discharge
While no one plans to be disabled, it's good to know that if you have a terrible accident that your student loans could be forgiven. If you have a condition that prevents you from working that has lasted for more than 60 months or can be expected to last for more than 60 months, then you may be able to get your student loans discharged.
The Bottom Line
If you're having trouble paying your student loans, it's important to find a workable solution so you don't default on them. For the most part, student loans aren't dischargeable in bankruptcy, and falling behind on your payments can hurt your credit and may even lead to wage garnishment. (If you want to see how your student loans are affecting your credit, you can get a free credit report summary on Credit.com.)
There are many more people eligible for student loan forgiveness programs who don't take advantage of them. One important thing to remember — if you do get your student loans forgiven, you will then owe taxes on the amount forgiven. The IRS counts forgiven student loans as income; so while you might be able to escape your student loans, you definitely can't escape taxes.
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