How Nurses Can Get Student Loan Forgiveness

Talia Lee-
June 24, 2024

You likely chose to become a nurse due to your passion for science and your desire to help others. Or maybe you’re currently exploring nursing schools with a career in mind.

Unfortunately, nursing education can be quite expensive. Costs can range from $4,000 for an associate degree in nursing to over $150,000 for an advanced degree. Additional factors influencing the cost include whether you attend an in-state or out-of-state institution, a public or private school, and where your coursework is conducted.

Even though you’ve earned your degree and are likely working in your chosen field, you might be facing years of student loan debt repayment. However, you can mitigate this burden through various student loan forgiveness programs designed to help nurses like you reduce the repayment period by eliminating part or all of your student debt.

The cost of a nursing education can vary significantly, ranging from $11,950 to $61,080 per year, depending on the degree and educational institution. Like many nursing students, you might have relied on loans to cover these expenses.

Student loan forgiveness, also known as loan cancellation or discharge, encompasses programs designed to eliminate some or all of your student debt. Many of these programs require you to work in areas with a shortage of healthcare professionals. This could include serving in medical clinics in underserved regions, military service, or positions with qualifying non-profit organizations.

Each loan forgiveness program has specific requirements, so it’s essential to review all the details before starting the application process.

A loan forgiveness program offers several advantages and disadvantages to weigh before pursuing this path.

  • Faster debt payoff: A forgiveness program can eliminate or reduce what you owe. More financial control and security: You can redirect financial resources toward savings or other goals. Positive credit score: Paying down — or off — a loan can improve your credit rating.
  • Forgiveness isn’t guaranteed: Many programs are highly competitive, and your application might not be accepted. Limited career paths: Program requirements might necessitate working in specific geographical areas or for certain employers, potentially limiting opportunities for advancement or promotions. Stringent requirements: You may need to work for a qualified employer for a set number of years to qualify for forgiveness.

Multiple options are available for forgiving or reducing nursing school loans.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a widely-used student debt forgiveness program. This plan can forgive the Direct Loan debt you incurred from nursing school if you meet the following criteria:

  • You have made 120 monthly payments under an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan.
  • You work full-time for a qualifying employer, such as government agencies or 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations.

The primary advantage of PSLF is that it significantly reduces your debt. Additionally, the forgiven amount is not subject to federal taxes.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) provides a PSLF Help Tool to check your eligibility and guide you through the application process for this debt relief program.

The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program (NCLRP), offered through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), can repay up to 85% of your nursing education debt if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • You are a registered nurse, advanced practice registered nurse, or nurse practitioner with a degree from an accredited U.S. nursing school.
  • You are a nurse faculty member teaching at an accredited U.S. nursing school with qualifying nursing debt.

To qualify, you must commit to working for at least two years in a critical shortage facility (CSF). A CSF is a public or private healthcare facility located in or serving a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). Nurse faculty members must teach at an eligible nursing school.

This program is highly competitive. In 2022, the Bureau of Health Workforce reported that 2,071 initial awards were granted out of 5,419 applications. It is important to note that NCLRP awards are subject to federal income taxes.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) also administers the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program (NHSC LRP).

You may qualify for loan repayment assistance through this program by working at an NHSC-approved site in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) for at least two years. After completing your initial two-year term, you can apply for additional one-year continuation service contracts to further reduce your student debt. However, these continuation contracts are not guaranteed.

Your chances of receiving assistance through the NHSC LRP depend on the HPSA score of your site, with higher scores indicating a greater need for medical services. Funding availability varies each year, and awards are granted until the funds are exhausted.

The program is available to nurse practitioners involved in primary care, behavioral, and mental health services. Certified nurse midwives working in maternity care areas are also eligible.

Awards from this program are exempt from federal income and employment taxes.

Until 2017, the Perkins Loan Program provided low-interest subsidized loans to undergraduate and graduate students with significant financial need.

Although the program has ended, you may still be able to cancel your remaining Perkins Loan debt by working in a public service job for at least five years. Qualifying public service jobs include military service, AmeriCorps/Peace Corps, and nonprofit organizations that support high-risk children and families in low-income communities.

For more information on canceling your Perkins Loan, contact the school that issued your loan or the school’s Perkins Loan servicer.

The Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program (IHS LRP) offers assistance in repaying nursing education loans if you commit to working for two years in a healthcare facility that serves American Indian and Alaska Native communities. This program is overseen by the Indian Health Service division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Similar to the NHSC LRP, you have the option to renew your contract annually until your student debt is fully repaid. Additionally, working in Indian health programs located in facilities with critical staffing needs increases the likelihood of receiving assistance with loan repayment.

The program prioritizes staffing needs in specific health professions such as family practice, psychiatry, geriatrics, pediatrics, and women’s health for nurses who are eligible.

While applicants do not need to be of American Indian or Alaska Native descent to apply, individuals from these backgrounds receive priority consideration when all other factors are equal, including site scores and staffing requirements.

Registered nurses, advanced practice registered nurses, and nurse faculty members from disadvantaged backgrounds, defined by economic or environmental factors, may qualify for the Disadvantaged Faculty Loan Repayment Program administered by HRSA.

To be eligible, you must fulfill a two-year service commitment at an approved, accredited health professions school located in a state or U.S. territory.

Similar to other HRSA programs, participants have the option to apply for contract extensions after completing their initial two-year term. While the repayment award is subject to taxation, participants may benefit from a tax liability offset equivalent to 39% of the repayment amount.

In addition to federal programs that can assist in forgiving all or a portion of your loans, many states offer their own support initiatives. These programs vary depending on eligibility criteria, residency requirements, specialized areas, and work commitments.

Examples include:

  • Alaska’s SHARP program
  • California’s State Loan Repayment Program
  • Kentucky’s State Loan Repayment Program
  • Oregon’s Partnership State Loan Repayment Program
  • Texas’ Rural Communities Health Investment Program
  • West Virginia’s State Loan Repayment Program

This list provides just a glimpse of the available options. For more details, visit the website of the specific state you are interested in.

Several loan forgiveness programs cater to nurses in military service. The Navy administers the Health Professions Repayment Program, and the Army provides comparable programs for active-duty personnel. Opportunities are also accessible for those interested in the Air Force, as well as reservists and veterans.

For further details, reach out to your respective military branch to explore the student loan benefits available.

Earning a nursing degree opens doors to helping others, and there are numerous student loan forgiveness programs tailored for nurses to alleviate or lessen the financial burden associated with their education.

If you find you’re ineligible for these programs, there are alternative options. Refinancing your loan or opting for an income-driven repayment plan can lower your monthly debt obligations. Another avenue is pursuing a career as a travel nurse, which often offers competitive pay and housing benefits, enabling you to allocate more funds towards paying off your educational loans.

The key takeaway is that there are viable solutions to manage the debt accrued during your nursing education. Each pathway discussed here presents an opportunity to reduce or eliminate loans, providing greater financial flexibility while pursuing your personal aspirations.

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