Nursing is a rewarding and lucrative profession but the cost of actually becoming a nurse can be quite high – especially among nursing professionals who complete advanced programs. Fortunately, there are ways nurses can get their student loans forgiven.
Nursing and Student Loans
Most of these highly-skilled nurses end up having to borrow substantial student loans. In fact, the most recent report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing revealed 69% of graduate nursing students surveyed had taken out federal student loans to pay for college.
Many borrowed both for undergraduate as well as for advanced degree programs, leading to bigger student loan balances. That’s why while 54% of college graduates had debt balances below $55,000, much higher balances weren’t unheard of. And a full 16% of newly graduated nurses reported having $100,000 or more in student loans.
While nurses can make a good living, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting a median annual wage of $71,730 for registered nurses, those who go into public service work are likely to make much less. Fortunately, there are ample opportunities for loan forgiveness for those nurses who put their skills to work serving the public.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness for Nurses
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is available for individuals in any profession, including nursing, who do qualifying public interest work. PSLF enables nurses to have the remaining balance of eligible federal student loans forgiven after making 120 on-time payments on an income-driven repayment plan.
To be eligible for PSLF, nurses must have qualifying loans including Federal Direct Stafford Loans, PLUS Loans and Department of Education Consolidation loans. Loans that are not forgivable under PSLF, such as those obtained through the Federal Family Education Program, can become forgivable if consolidated.
They also must work full-time for in a public service position. Working for the federal, state, or local government counts, as does working for most 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Full time is considered 30 hours of work per week or whatever your employer defines full time as– and multiple part time jobs that add up to 30 hours per week count. Nurses must be working at their public service job both when each of the 120 required payments is made and when loans are forgiven.
Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program
The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program helps licensed registered nurses; advanced practice registered nurses; and nurse faculty members to have qualifying debt forgiven.
To be eligible, nurses must have obtained their education from an accredited nursing school in the United States and must work-full time either in a public or nonprofit healthcare facility serving a high-need area or at an accredited nursing school.
Qualifying nurses can receive funds to pay up to 60% of the total balance of qualifying nursing loans during a two-year period. After the completion of the initial two-year service contract, nurses who continue to meet the requirements can apply to work a third year and have an additional 25% of their loans repaid.
Nurses who wish to receive repayment help through this program can submit an application through the Bureau Health Workforce Customer Service Portal. There is an annual submission deadline.
National Health Service Corps
Qualifying licensed primary care clinicians who serve for at least two years in a Health Professional Shortage Area can qualify for repayment through the National Health Service Corps. Funding is available on a limited basis and priority is given to those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as those likely to remain a service provider in an underserved area even after completing their service commitment.
Applications must be completed online and must include supporting documentation including proof of U.S. citizenship as well as account statements and a loan disbursement report showing outstanding loan balances. Applications are accepted only for a limited time period each year and the application process takes an estimated three weeks to complete.
Up to $50,000 in loan repayment funds are available for full-time workers through this program, while part time workers can receive a maximum of $25,000. The amount of loan repayment funds available will depend upon a Health Professional Shortage Area (HSPA) score, which takes into account both the nurse’s specialization and the level of need. Nurses may choose to continue to serve and apply for additional funding after fulfilling their two year commitment and could obtain assistance to pay off up to the full balance of their student loans.
State-Based Forgiveness Options
Individual states may also provide additional loan repayment assistance to nurses who work in qualifying high-need locations or other public service positions.
Loan forgiveness options vary by location. Maryland, for example, offers the Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program while Michigan provides assistance through the Minnesota Nurse Loan Forgiveness Program.
Those interested in a state-based program can find out about options by checking with local nursing schools or professional organizations or by consulting the state’s Department of Education or Department of Health.