College tuition increased from 1985 until 2013 by a whopping 538%. People started taking on more and more student loan debt to pay for college, and now it is a huge financial issue for Americans. Some stats that illustrate the problem include:
- 69% of new graduates have student loan debt
- The average amount of student loan debt is $29K
- 40 million borrowers in the US owe $1.3 trillion
- Student loans now account for more debt than credit cards
There is Help
There are thankfully some programs to help people pay off their loans.
Public Service Programs
Organizations such as the Peace Corp and AmeriCorp offer loan repayment assistance programs (LRAP). You work for these organizations for a certain amount of time, and then they help you with your loans. You also receive a salary (or stipend) as part of your employment. You can lose repayment benefits if you leave your employment early.
In addition to LRAPs, there are Public Service Loan forgiveness programs. If you are a Direct Loan Program borrower, you may qualify for income-based repayment and loan forgiveness after 10 years (and time spent in the Peace Corp or AmeriCorp could count toward these 10 years). You must continuously work as a public servant for 10 years. These are great options and can help people fields that include:
- Emergency Management
- Public Interest Law
- Child Care
Private Volunteer Programs
Private organizations such as SponsorChange and ZeroBound operate on a basic premise that you exchange your labor for help paying off student loans. SponsorChange works this way: you volunteer at a designated nonprofit and donors pay your student loans. At ZeroBound, you come up with an idea (a program at a local hospital for instance), and people crowdfund your student loans when you put your idea in to practice. Donors know their money addresses an organization’s manpower needs and not administrative costs.
The service branches also offers loan repayment programs. You must be in one the Military Occupational Specialties, not just an officer, to receive this benefit in the Army. Most of the programs highlighted here only help with federal loans. But the Army, for instance, also helps pay off private student loan debt.
Teachers and Health Care Professionals
Similar to public service programs, there are loan assistance programs for teachers and healthcare professionals. You may be eligible to cancel:
- $17,500 for math and science teachers
- $17,500 for special education teachers
- $5,000 for full-time teachers in other specialties
Keep in mind, this program applies to Stafford loans and you are eligible for cancellation only after 5 years of service in certain low-income schools.
There are also programs that help people in the healthcare field. For instance the Nursing Education Loan Repayment program offers assistance to full-time RNs. If you work at certain nonprofit facilities, you can get:
- Up to 60% of loans forgiven for 2 years of service
- An extra 25% forgiven for an additional 3rd year of service
Additionally, the National Service Corp offers substantial assistance to people in healthcare professions that include:
- Nurse Practitioners
If you know someone who is graduating with six figures of loan debt from a professional degree, this program offers qualified individuals who work in designated communities:
- $25,000 per year in loan repayment for 2 years of service
- $35,000 in loan repayment for an additional year
Review Your Options Carefully
As we noted earlier, some programs only help with specific federal loans, while the qualifications for others are complicated. Most programs pay little or nothing if you do not complete your term of service. For student loan borrowers that qualify, these programs offer solid debt relief for those willing to work in certain areas or in education.