Student Loans

The Ultimate Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses

If you are struggling with student loan debt, you are not alone. It has become a widespread problem, with the amount of outstanding student loan debt more than doubling over the last eight years. However, if you have gone into nursing, you may get help from a variety of programs that offer student loan forgiveness for nurses.

The following reviews some of these programs, to help you recognize and assess what your options are.

Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses: National Programs

Depending on what type of student loan you have and your current employment situation, you may be eligible for one of these national programs that provide relief from student loan debt for nurses:

  1. Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation Program. If you received a Federal Perkins student loan and are now a nurse, you may be eligible for having as much as 100 percent of your loan debt forgiven. To be eligible, you have to be employed full-time as a nurse and your loan has to have been made after October 1998. To apply for this forgiveness program, contact the school that arranged the loan for you or the student loan servicer designated by that school.
  2. NURSE Corps Repayment Program. The federal government recognizes that there is a shortage of nurses in certain key facilities, so to create an incentive for nurses to work in those facilities it offers the NURSE Corps repayment program. This offers the potential of up to 85 percent payment of your student loan debt – 30 percent in each of the first two years, which is the minimum commitment, and an additional 25 percent for an optional third year. To be eligible, you must be a registered nurse working in a qualifying facility. You must have accrued your student loan debt working towards an associate, baccalaureate, or graduate degree in nursing, and you must not have defaulted on any previous government loan or service obligations. Employment at any of several types of medical facilities would qualify you for this program and those types of facilities are described in a detailed brochure from the US Health Resources and Services Administration.
  3. National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program. Another program designed to address the shortage of healthcare professionals in certain areas is the NHSC Loan Repayment Program. This can provide up to $50,000 in funding for loan repayments in exchange for a two-year commitment. Primary care providers, including nurse practitioners, are eligible as long as they work in an approved facility in a location designated by the NHSC as a high-need, underserved area. The NHSC ranks areas according to the level of need, and the amount you receive under this program depends on the severity of the need in the area where you work.

Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses: State Programs

Besides federal programs, some states also offer programs that make it easier for nurses to pay off their student loans. The following list is far from all-inclusive, but is meant just to show a few examples of this type of program:

  1. California offers a program that can provide up to $8,000 in loan repayment assistance for nurses who earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and up to $6,000 for those who are Licensed Vocational Nurses. The main requirement is that you must commit to working for a two-year period in an eligible facility that serves an area the state has identified as having a high need. You can get more information on this program from California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
  2. Colorado has a Health Service Care Program with generous benefits for certain healthcare practitioners, including certified nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners, and psychiatric nurse specialists. It requires a three-year commitment to working in a public or not-for-profit primary health care facility. This program offers nurses up to $50,000 in loan repayment assistance if you work full-time during your three-year commitment, and up to $25,000 if you work part-time. More information is available from Colorado’s Department of Public Health & Environment.
  3. Illinois offers loan repayment assistance to nurse practitioners and nurse midwives who agree to at least a two-year commitment working full-time in an eligible facility, or four-years if you work part-time. This benefit can be up to $25,000 a year for each of the two years of a full-time commitment. More information is available from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  4. North Carolina offers a loan repayment assistance program for nurse practitioners and nurse midwives who are willing to make a four-year commitment to working in an eligible facility. This program can provide a total of up to $60,000 in exchange for that four-year commitment. Contact North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services for more information.

Contact your state’s government to see what kind of loan forgiveness programs might be available to nurses where you live.

Other Loan Management Options

Besides student loan forgiveness programs for nurses, you have other options if making your student loan payments becomes overly burdensome. These include the following:

  1. Student loan refinancing. Refinancing is an opportunity to make your loan payments more manageable, either by lowering your interest rates, by stretching repayment out over a longer time, or reducing the number of loans you have to one. In particular, if you have been working steadily and paying your bills for a few years, you may find you now have a much better credit rating than you did when you first applied for your student loan, and this could qualify you for a better rate. When it comes to refinancing student loans, the only thing to be wary of is a new loan that lowers your payments now but results in you having to pay considerably more in total over the life of the loan.
  2. Income-based repayment. If you have a federally-backed student loan, you may qualify for income-based repayment. For students who can demonstrate some degree of financial hardship, these programs can limit your payments to 15 percent of your income. Just be advised that you will have to reapply for these programs each year if you want to continue in it.
  3. Negotiate with your current lender. People often make the mistake of avoiding their lender when they run into trouble making loan payments. What may surprise you is that lenders generally do not want you to default and may be willing to talk to you about ways to make your payments more manageable. What is important, though, is giving this a try before you fall behind.

Nursing is a tough but rewarding career. Special programs that ease student loan burdens for nurses are intended to make the profession a little less tough and a little more rewarding.