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Are you a teacher or a student pursuing a master’s in education? Have you borrowed money through the Stafford Loan or PLUS Loan programs? Have you heard of the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program? If you qualify for this federally sponsored program, you can have up to $17,500 of your student loan balance cancelled.

The purpose of the program is quite simple: to encourage people to become and remain teachers and to reward those who choose to work in low-income schools.

The PLUS college loan and the Stafford Loan are included in this program

Loans made under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program and the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program may qualify for forgiveness, providing that you meet certain requirements. FFEL and Direct Consolidation Loans are also eligible.

How do you qualify for forgiveness of these federal student loans?

To apply, you must have worked full-time for at least five consecutive academic years in a designated low-income school that is eligible for federal funds under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. If the status of the school changes during your time of service, it won’t impact your eligibility. Neither alternative/private student loans nor the Perkins loan is eligible for the program.

Depending on your qualifications, you may be reimbursed at one of two levels.

Up to $5,000

If you began teaching before October 30, 2004 as an elementary school teacher (with demonstrated knowledge and teaching skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and other areas of the school’s curriculum) or as a secondary school teacher (having taught in a subject area that is relevant to your academic major), you may receive up to $5,000 in forgiveness. If you began teaching after October 30, 2004, you may receive up to $5,000 in forgiveness if you are a highly qualified elementary or secondary school teacher.

Up to $17,500

You may receive up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness as a highly qualified mathematics or science teacher in a secondary school. You may also qualify for this amount if you are a highly qualified special education teacher (at an elementary or secondary school) working with students with disabilities that correspond to your special education training.

To be considered highly qualified, you must have achieved full-certification in your state.

Other details

If your loans are in default, you won’t qualify for forgiveness unless you’ve made repayment arrangements with your lender. Anything you’ve already repaid won’t be reimbursed. Additionally, your loans must have been taken out prior to your fifth year of teaching.

When you apply, the Chief Administrative Officer at your school (such as the principal) must certify that you meet all the qualifications. If you taught at more than one qualifying school over the course of the five years, an administrator at each one must certify your eligibility.

You may only apply once you have completed your fifth year of teaching. Contact your loan holder for an application.

Other loan forgiveness programs

In addition to the above program, there are other ways to have all or part of your loan cancelled. Under the National Defense Education Act, your loan amount may be forgiven in increasing increments. (This program also requires service in a designated low-income school.)

For additional loan-forgiveness opportunities, check with your district and state department of education.

Teaching is a noble profession that has a profound impact on the lives of many. By rewarding you for choosing a career in the classroom, federal loan forgiveness can take your mind off your student debt and keep your focus on the students who need you.