Elementary classroom

Teacher Loan Forgiveness is Great…If All Your Loans Are From Undergrad

April 23, 2019

You’re a school teacher, which basically means you’re an angel. Who else but someone sent from God voluntarily agrees to work long hours, often without thanks, helping children try to make something of themselves, all while getting paid peanuts?

Because of all you do, you, of all people, deserve to have your student loan debt forgiven.

Thankfully, the government agrees.

To help you eliminate the (sometimes) massive student loan debt you incurred in becoming a teacher, the U.S. Department of Education offers 3 student loan forgiveness programs:

  • Teacher Loan Forgiveness
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness; and
  • Perkins Loan Cancellation for Teachers

Unfortunately, deciding which forgiveness program is best for you can be hard. The rules are many and they’re complex.

The last thing you want to do is mess something up and costs your self thousands in forgiveness.

No worries. I got you.

TL;DR: If you owe over $50 thousand in federal student loan debt, PSLF is likely the best choice for you. It’ll offer the most forgiveness. Teacher Loan Forgiveness is most valuable for teachers who have only undergraduate debt.

I talk about PSLF and the Perkins loan program elsewhere, however, so I won’t go in-depth here.

Instead, I want to help you decide if the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program is right for you.

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Choose Public Service Loan Forgiveness Over Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Let’s get the most important information out the way first.

Yes. You can potentially get forgiveness under both the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

But there’s a catch.

You can’t qualify for them at the same time.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say you’ve spent the past 5 years working at a low-income (Title I) school. Now, you’re eligible to get at least $5 thousand in student loan forgiveness under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. And you’re also potentially halfway to the 120 monthly payments you need for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

If you choose to get the $5 thousand in Teacher Loan Forgiveness, you lose the months you’ve earned towards forgiveness under the PSLF program.

You’ve reset your PSLF clock.

Now you’ll have to work another 10 years at the school before you’re eligible for the PSLF program.

This is one reason why I say you should choose Public Service Loan Forgiveness over Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

The other reason is there’s no cap on the amount of student loan forgiveness you can get under the PSLF program.

Before we move on, there’s one reason why Teacher Loan Forgiveness is better than PSLF.

With Teacher Loan Forgiveness, you don’t have to make payments under a loan repayment plan. You just need to not be in default. With the PSLF program, you have to make 120 monthly payments before you’re eligible.

Related: How to Get Out of Federal Student Loan Default Fast

My opinion?

Make sure your federal student loan debt is all Direct Loans. Consolidate if necessary. Forget about Teacher Loan Forgiveness. Get your loans forgiven under the PSLF program.

Maximum Forgiveness

Teachers have two forgiveness options that are specific to them as part of the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program:

  • You can get up to $5 thousand in forgiveness; or
  • You can get up to $17,500 in forgiveness.

Let me explain the difference.

Any teacher, regardless if she teaches math, science, or special education, gets the $5 thousand in repayment so long as she teaches at a low-income school.

But to get the larger amount in forgiveness, you have to meet a few more requirements.

Teacher Eligibility Requirements

You’re eligible for up to $5 thousand in forgiveness if:

  • You teach
  • Full-time
  • For five consecutive years[footnote]This requirement is waived if you were serving on active duty during a war or other military operation.[/footnote]
  • In a school district that serves low-income families.

Related: Find Out if Your School Qualifies as a Low-Income School

You’re eligible for up to $17,500 in forgiveness if you teach full-time as either:

  • a highly qualified math or science teacher in eligible secondary schools or
  • a special education teacher in an eligible elementary school or secondary school.

Also, for both programs, you had to have no outstanding federal student loan balance as of October 1, 1998.

What Loans Are Eligible?

Only certain federal student loans may qualify for Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness program will forgive:

  • FFEL (includes certain consolidation loans)
  • Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans (includes certain consolidation loans)

The program will not forgive:

  • Parent Plus Loans;
  • Grad Plus Loans; and
  • Federal Perkins Loans


Who is a Teacher

You’re a teacher if you provide direct classroom teaching or classroom-type teaching in a non-classroom setting.

Don’t worry if you’re a special education teacher. You’re considered a teacher as well.

Who is a Highly Qualified Teacher

While you may be the most awesome teacher there ever will be, for the U.S. Department of Education to consider you a highly-qualified teacher you must have:

  • a bachelor’s degree;
  • complete certification as a teacher from your state; and
  • Not had certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.

What if I Teach at a Public Charter School

As a teacher at a public charter school, you’re considered to have full state certification as a teacher if you meet the requirements outlined in the state’s public charter school law.

Full-Time Teacher

You teach full-time if, based on the standard used by the State your school is in, you’re considered full-time.

If you teach at more than one qualifying school, your hours at both schools can be combined.

What’s Considered a Secondary School

You’re a teacher at a secondary school if you teach at a public school or a nonprofit private school that provides secondary education as determined by state law or the Secretary for the Department of Education if the school is not in a state (Washington D.C.).

What if I Taught Less Than a Complete Academic Year

If you stopped teaching mid-year, that year might still count towards your 5 consecutive years of teaching.

Also, you must have left mid-year because:

  • You returned to school for a degree directly related to teaching;
  • You took FMLA; or
  • You were called on active duty status for more than 30 days.

In addition, you must meet 2 other requirements.

First, you must have completed at least one-half of the school year.

Second, your employer must consider you to have fulfilled your contract requirements for the school year for the purposes of salary increases, tenure, and retirement.

How to Apply For Teacher Loan Forgiveness

You’ll apply for Teacher Loan Forgiveness after you’ve been teaching for 5 consecutive academic years.

To apply, you’ll complete the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application and submit it to your loan servicer.

Download: Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application [OMB NO. 1845-0059, 07/31/2017]


While the form is technically past its expiration date, 07/31/2017, it’s still valid until the new form is approved.

You’re responsible for completing section 1:

Section one teacher loan forgiveness application

Section 2:


And Section 3:


Section 4 should be completed by the chief administrative officer at the school where you completed your teaching service.

Student Loan Lawyer Tate

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