Nurses: Check Out These Student Loan Forgiveness Options Just for You

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Nursing requires patience. (Get it? Patients? Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

But besides patience, it also requires a lot of money to complete a degree.

The average cost of tuition for an 18-month Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program is about $10,000 to $15,000 nationally. Registered Nurses (RN) who get an associate’s degree typically take two to three years at an average cost of $31,000. Those who get a bachelor of science or beyond can expect to reach six-digit price tags, depending on their school.  

The good news is that there are options for student loan forgiveness for nurses. Here’s what you need to know.

Student Loan Forgiveness Programs for Nurses

Consider this a lesson in supply and demand: The best option for receiving loan forgiveness is to work in an area where there’s a shortage of nurses. 

Some programs are relegated to only registered nurses or those with an advanced degree, so know the requirements before you apply.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) administers two loan repayment assistance programs specifically for nurses: the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program and Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program.

Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program (NCLRP)

The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program is designed to help nurses who can commit to two to three years of work where there is a critical shortage of nurses in the U.S.

Depending on your level of need and where you work, you can get up to 85% of your U.S. nursing education debt paid by this program.

The biggest downside to this loan: The award is taxable; however, federal taxes can be deducted from the amount. 

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Who’s Eligible for the Loan?

You’ll need to be a licensed registered nurse, advanced practice registered nurse or nurse faculty to qualify. 

The awards are tier-based, categorized by where there is the greatest shortage of nurses, and preference is given to those in most financial need.

For an initial two-year commitment to working in a Critical Shortage Facility or serving as nurse faculty in an eligible school of nursing, you can receive an award of up to 60% of your loan balance. 

Depending on availability, you’ll have the option to extend to a third year to receive an additional 25% of your original balance. 

Which Loans Are Eligible?

All federal loans and private commercial loans that covered tuition and reasonable expenses for your nursing education are eligible, so long as none has been in default.

You must be a U.S. resident and have attended an accredited school of nursing in a U.S. state or territory to be eligible for this program. 

How to Apply

Submit your application through the Bureau of Health Workforce portal

National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program

The NHSC Loan Repayment Program offers two big benefits that the NCLRP doesn’t:

  1. The award is not taxable.

  2. You’re eligible for the program if you work full time or part time.

However, the program’s eligibility requirements are fairly steep and employment is restricted to NHSC-approved service sites.

Who’s Eligible for the Loan?

For nurses, the program is limited to nurse practitioners, psychiatric nurse specialists and certified nurse mid-wives. 

Like the Nurse Corps, this program is tier-based according to areas where there is a shortage of nurses. Working full-time at the highest tier can earn you up to $50,000 for two years of service, while part-timers can receive up to $25,000.

You must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. national to be eligible for this program. 

Which Loans Are Eligible?

Outstanding government (federal, state or local) and private student loans for undergraduate or graduate education are eligible.

How to Apply

The 2019 deadline has closed, but you can sign up to receive notification when the next application cycle begins

Alternative Nursing Loan Forgiveness Options

Beyond the feds, other loan forgiveness options are available specifically to nurses. But again, these programs have restrictions and often require you to serve where there’s a shortage.

State- and School- Forgiveness Programs

Almost every state has at least one type of student loan forgiveness program that’s designed for those in public service fields, and most have loan forgiveness options specifically for nurses who are willing to work in underserved areas.

How to Apply

Check your state’s Department of Health website for eligibility and application requirements. You can also contact your college’s financial aid or alumni office to find out about forgiveness program options in your state and at your school. 

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Employer-Driven Loan Forgiveness Programs

Some hospitals offer loan forgiveness awards to nurses, but eligibility requirements can include holding an advanced degree, having a specific loan type or working in a specialized department. 

For instance, Duke University Health System’s Nursing School Student Loan Forgiveness Program awards full-time registered nurses up to $25,000 if they work in procedural areas.

How to Apply

In addition to asking the HR department at your hospital, you can check out this directory of hospitals with loan forgiveness programs.

Other Loan Forgiveness Programs for Public Service

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Some of these programs aren’t restricted to nurses, but they are typically reserved for those in some type of service profession (like teachers or firefighters).

Perkins Loan Cancellation

The Perkins Loan Program ended on Sept. 30, 2017, but nurses and medical technicians with outstanding Perkins loans may still qualify for cancellation. 

A visit to your tax accountant is worth the investment if you’re considering loan forgiveness, since your net worth is typically the deciding factor as to whether the forgiven amount is taxable.

As a nurse you can qualify for up to 100% for five years of eligible service, depending on the type of loan you have and the date of the loan.

How to Apply

Contact the school where you obtained the Perkins Loan to learn its specific rules and application process. 

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness has gotten a lot of press lately because many of the early applicants found out they didn’t actually meet the requirements — the acceptance rate is hovering around 1%, according to a recent NPR report.

However, we’ve covered which questions you need to ask to make sure you qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. And the good news is that the Public program does not restrict nurses to a specific program or area — you will need to be employed by a government or non-profit organization, though. 

The terms “forgiveness” and “cancellation” essentially mean the same thing: You are no longer required to make payments on your loan because of your job. 

You’re eligible to qualify for loan forgiveness after 120 payments, and you’ll need verification from your employer for each year of qualification.

How to Apply

Login to the Federal Student Aid site and use the Public Service Loan Forgiveness tool to determine whether you, your loan and your employer qualify, as well as to fill out the form. 

AmeriCorps

If you’re willing to volunteer your nursing skills, AmeriCorps would like to help you pay off your student loan.

Nursing volunteers are eligible to receive the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, which can be used to repay qualified student loans that includes Stafford, Direct, Perkins Loans, Federal Consolidated Loans and others listed here.  

Active duty health professionals in the U.S. Army can qualify for up to $120,000 for their nursing school loans in a three-year loan repayment program; Army Reservists can earn up to $50,000.

You can use your award to repay defaulted student loans, as long as it qualifies. But beware that this award is subject to federal tax.

How to Apply

Start your AmeriCorps application here.

Although these forgiveness programs may not be the cure for all your debt, they could send you on the road to financial recovery.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.