Top 5 Student Loan Forgiveness Programs for Nurses
By: Chaunie Brusie BSN, RN
For a lot of us, the biggest downside to becoming a nurse is the thousands of dollars of debt that it costs to get our education. According to the Federal Reserve, more than half of students in 2019 took out some sort of student loan for higher education, and 17% of those students also fell behind in their payments last year.
The amount of debt students take on to earn their nursing degree varies widely from the school they choose to which degree they pursue. For instance, NerdWallet found that, on average, ADN-prepared nurses take on close to $20,000 in debt, BSN nurses, $23,711, and MSN-prepared nurses, over $47K.
Thankfully, there are lots of loan forgiveness programs available to nurses. Not all nurses will qualify, but for those that are lucky enough, they are definitely worth applying for.
The top 5 student loan forgiveness programs for nurses are:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)
- Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program (NCLRP)
- State-Level Loan Forgiveness
- Perkins Loan Cancellation
- Military Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses
1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness
The most common Loan Forgiveness program is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF).
What is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program?
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives the remaining balance of all federal loans after the borrower has made a minimum of 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full-time for a qualifying employer. So, after ten years of loan payments, you could get the rest of your student loans paid off.
The two caveats are:
- You must not default on your loans
- You must be using a qualifying repayment plan while working for a qualifying employer
What’s a Qualifying Employer?
- A qualifying employer means that you work for:
- A government organization at any level (federal, state, local, or tribal)
- A not-for-profit organization that is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
- Other types of not-for-profit organizations that are not tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
- AmeriCorps or Peace Corps serving as a full-time volunteer
It is very important to note for this type of loan forgiveness that the owner of the healthcare system must be a not-for-profit organization. At times, a hospital will be not-for-profit or serve an underprivileged population but will be owned by a larger for-profit corporation.
What are the Eligibility Requirements for PSLF?
To be considered for PSLF, nurses must work full-time (as defined by their employer) or work at least 30 hours per week.
Some nurses have more than one job, so hours can be combined, but paperwork must be completed by all places of employment. Also, all jobs must be qualifying organizations for hours to be included.
What Repayment Programs Qualify for PSLF?
In order to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you have to be on a qualifying repayment plan. All income-driven repayment (IDR) plans--which are plans that use your income to determine what your monthly payment will be--qualify.
Technically speaking, payments under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan do qualify, but by the time you made the required 120 qualifying payments necessary to qualify for the PSLF, you would have actually paid off your loan--so you will have to change to an IDR plan if you’re currently on a standard 10-year repayment plan.
Switching over could increase your payments if your income is higher, so you’ll have to be sure you carefully look into if switching your repayment plan makes sense for you.
All other repayment plans DO NOT qualify for PSLF and include:
- Standard Repayment Plan for Direct Consolidation Loans
- Graduated Repayment Plan
- Extended Repayment Plan
- Alternative Repayment Plan
How to Apply for PSLF
Applying for the PSLF can be confusing so the federal government has developed a specific tool to aid individuals in the application process. The tool accomplishes the following:
- Helps you understand more about the PSLF Program and what you need to do to participate and possibly have your loans forgiven
- Helps you assess whether your employer qualifies for PSLF
- Helps you assess whether your loans qualify for PSLF
- Helps you decide which PSLF form to submit
- Uses the information we have about your federal student loans to explain other actions you should or must take if you want to receive PSLF
In addition to using the tool, here are the basics you need to know before you can apply:
- The 120 qualifying monthly payments = 10 years, so you will need at least 10 years of qualifying payments before you’re eligible to apply.
- You have to be still working for the qualifying employer when you apply.
U.S. Department of Education
P.O. Box 69184
Harrisburg, PA 17106-9184
One note: If you already use FedLoan Servicing for your loan, you can upload both forms directly on their website instead of mailing your paperwork.
2. Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program (NCLRP)
Another option for nurses is the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program.
What is the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program?
The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program is for registered nurses who work in underserved communities at critical shortage facilities. Applications are accepted once a year to those interested in applying.
The NCLRP supports registered nurses, advanced practice registered nurses, and nurse faculty by paying up to 85% of their unpaid nursing education debt.
Individuals who work at a qualified facility can get 60% of their student loans paid off over two years of employment. Borrowers have the option of getting an additional 25% of their loans paid off by the Nurse Corps program for a third year.
In exchange, accepted applicants must work at least two years at a critical shortage facility or other appropriate locations in the United States.
What is a Critical Shortage Facility?
A critical shortage facility can be any of the following:
- Critical Access Hospital
- Disproportionate Share Hospital
- Public Hospital
- Private Non-Profit Hospital
- Native Hawaiian Health Center
- Rural Health Clinic
- Nurse Managed Health Clinic/Center
- American Indian Health Facilities
- Free and Charitable Clinics
- End-Stage Renal Disease Dialysis Center
- Residential Nursing Home
What Are the Eligibility Requirements for NCLRP?
According to the website, in order to be eligible for loan forgiveness, individuals must:
- Be a U.S. citizen, U.S. National or Lawful Permanent Resident and provide supporting documents
- Have earned a baccalaureate or associate degree in nursing (or equivalent degree), a diploma in nursing, or graduate or doctorate degree in nursing
- Have employment as a full-time RN or APRN working at least 32 hours per week at a public or private nonprofit CSF or be employed as a full-time nurse faculty member at a public or private nonprofit, eligible school of nursing
- Have outstanding qualifying educational loans leading to a diploma or degree in nursing
- Have completed a nursing degree program for which the loan balance applies
- Have a current, full, permanent, unencumbered, unrestricted license to practice as an RN, or an APRN if applicable, in the state in which they intend to practice, or be authorized to practice in that state pursuant to the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC)
How to Apply for NCLRP
The application is lengthy and requires documentation from your employer as well as additional supporting information. Because it can be a bit complicated, it’s recommended that you first familiarize yourself with the Application and Program Guidance document before you begin your application.
In general, you may be ready to apply for the forgiveness program if you meet the following criteria:
- You’re an LPN, APRN, or nurse faculty member.
- You earned your degree from an accredited nursing school in a U.S. state or territory.
- You work full-time in a CSF in a high-need area or accredited nursing school.
It’s also worth noting that the forgiveness is given out depending on your financial need, so there may be applicants who receive higher amounts based on their needs.
Once you’re ready, you can submit your application through the Bureau Health Workforce (BHW) Customer Service Portal.
3. State-Level Loan Forgiveness for Nurses
Each state offers loan forgiveness for nurses but the requirements, eligibility, and work commitment vary.
Information for each program can be found on individual state webpages. Residency requirements vary per state, as do specific eligibility requirements.
Here are just some of the loan forgiveness programs for nurses at the state level.
Alaska’s SHARP program is designed to recruit healthcare professionals to work in specified shortage areas in exchange for loan assistance. Nurses can receive up to $27,000 per year in loan forgiveness depending on the position and location. Interestingly, employers must match the loan forgiveness as part of the program
Registered nurses who work in a Health Professional Shortage Area or Medically Underserved Area can receive up to $10,000 through the California State Loan Repayment Program. There is a one-year commitment at a qualifying organization. Recipients can be awarded up to three times.
Like other states, Florida’s Nursing Student Loan Forgiveness Program offers financial assistance (up to $4K/year for 4 years) for nurses to work in shortage areas.
Nurses in Illinois who commit to working in veterans’ homes may be eligible for loan assistance of up to $5,000 per year for four years. To be eligible for the Veterans’ Home Nurse Loan Repayment Program, nurses must be
- An Illinois resident
- Meet certain licensing requirements from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation
- Have their employment verified in good standing by the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs
The Health Care Loan Repayment Program requires a 5-year service commitment in exchange for $6,000 or 20% of the qualified loan balance.
Kentucky’s State Loan Repayment Program is open to both APRNs and RNs and uses a sponsoring program to match loans 50-50. For RNs, the max amount dispersed in exchange for a two-year service commitment is $20,000.
The Louisiana State Loan Repayment Program was created to encourage health care professionals to serve in rural or inner-city communities in exchange for loan assistance. The importance of this program came to light after Hurricane Katrina when there was an overwhelming need for nurses in Louisiana.Nurses who work full time at a designated Health Professional Shortage Area or a nonprofit may be able to receive up to $15,000 each year with a three-year commitment.
The Michigan State Loan Repayment Program (MSLRP) is used to recruit both medical and dental providers by offering up to $200,000 for qualifying loans and in exchange for a commitment to serve practices in underserved communities designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). Note: only APRNs qualify for this loan, so a regular RN would not qualify.
The Minnesota Nurse Loan Forgiveness Program offers repayment assistance to licensed practical or registered nurses who work with people with developmental disabilities or in a licensed nursing home. The program requires a commitment of at least two years, which can be extended for another two years in nursing homes. Eligible candidates may receive $5,000 each year, with a maximum award of $20,000 over four years.
The Montana Institutional Nursing Incentive Program offers loan assistance for registered nurses who work full time at a Montana state hospital or state prison. Eligible candidates must submit proof that their current loan balance is at least $1,000. The amount awarded depends on the number of candidates, as well as available state funding. Program participants can apply for repayment assistance for up to four years.
Ohio’s Nurse Education Assistance Loan Program gives assistance to Ohio nursing students who enrolled for at least half-time study. The funds can also be used for nurses who plan to be nursing instructors later as well.
The Oregon Partnership State Loan Repayment Program requires nurses to commit to either 2 years of full-time service of 4 years of part-time service in a health shortage area to qualify for repayment. Full-time nurses can receive 50% of their loan, up to $35K per year, while part-time can receive up to $17.5K per year. This is also a matching program, so half of the funding will be required to come from the nurse’s employer.
The Pennsylvania Primary Care Loan Repayment Program offers loan assistance for registered nurses who work in designated Health Professional Shortage areas. Eligible candidates can receive up to $60,000, part-time nurses can receive up to $30,000. The service commitment is two years.
The Rhode Island Health Professional Loan Repayment Program requires 2 years of full-time work or 4 part-time work in a health shortage area for loan repayment.
The Rural Communities Health Care Investment Program only requires 12 consecutive months in a qualified rural community to qualify for a max payment of $10K.
Vermont’s Educational Loan Repayment Program for Nurses offers a maximum annual award of $6,000. The service commitment is usually 12 months in an underserved area designated by the program. To qualify for the program, nurses must agree to work a minimum of 45 weeks each year, with 20 hours per week dedicated to clinical hours.
West Virginia’s State Loan Repayment Program offers student loan forgiveness for nurses practicing full-time for a minimum of two years in underserved rural areas. Qualifying sites must be in a designated Health Professional Shortage Area. Eligible candidates can receive up to $40,000 for a two-year commitment and may receive an additional $25,000 for another two years if the contract is extended. There is a maximum of four years of funding totaling $90,000.
Each loan forgiveness program is going to have very specific eligibility requirements including the type of student loan that is eligible for repayment.You’ll want to find out additional information regarding your state’s forgiveness program as well as federal programs in order to pre-qualify.
Taking out the appropriate student loans while still in school can make a difference once determining which loan forgiveness program to apply for.
4. Perkins Loan Cancellation
Another option that nurses may be able to use for loan forgiveness is the Perkins Loan Cancellation program.
What is the Perkins Loan Cancellation?
The Perkins Loan is commonly used by teachers as a loan forgiveness program, but nurses can be eligible too. A full-time nurse can be eligible to have 100% of their federal loans completely forgiven if they have 5 years of eligible services.
What are the Eligibility Requirements?
Full-time nurses who received Perkins loans before 2017 and have worked for 5 consecutive years in a healthcare professional-shortage area may be eligible.
How to Apply
You can only apply for the Perkins Loan Cancellation through your loan provider or your school, so you’ll need to check with the school or your loan provider for the specific form and paperwork. You may need an application and an employer verification form proving that you have been employed for the minimum required amount of time.
5. Military Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses
There are a few different types of loan forgiveness programs for nurses that enroll in the military. One of the most popular options is the Army Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program. Both RNs and APRNs are eligible.
What is the Army Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program?
In exchange for enlisting in the Army, you can qualify for up to $120K to repay nursing loans in exchange for a minimum 3-year service to the Army. This loan repayment program is 3 years long, and you can receive $40K per year.
In addition to the repayment funds, you can also earn sign-on bonuses for enrolling in the program. There are also options for Army reserve loan forgiveness, which provides part-time, local options for Army Reserve nurses.
What are the Eligibility Requirements?
In order to enlist as an Army nurse, you must be:
- Between the ages of 21 and 52
- Hold a BSN from an accredited school
- Have a valid RN license
- Meet the Army’s physical and moral standards
- A U.S. citizen or permanent resident
How to Apply
In order to apply or learn more, you will need to find an Army Health Care Recruiter in your area by calling 1-800-USA-ARMY or online at healthcare.goarmy.com.
Additional Loan Forgiveness Programs for APRNs
Beyond the options we've listed here, there are loan forgiveness programs that are specific for advanced practice nurses only, including nurse practitioners, certified midwives, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and nurse educators.
If you are interested in becoming an APRN, it is worthwhile to both check with your school as well as your current and prospective employers to see what kind of loan forgiveness may be available.
And for nurses who don't qualify for loan forgiveness, refinancing your student loans to a lower interest rate may be an option. The new loan replaces your old one, leaving you with a lower payment and/or a shorter payoff time frame. You can learn more about refinancing in our guide to refinancing nursing school student loan debt.
Pros and Cons of Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
While student loan forgiveness programs sound incredible at first glance--and for many individuals say they can be life-changing--they do warrant consideration over the pros and cons.
Relying on a student loan forgiveness program for your nursing education may not always be the best route for you, depending on your individual situation.
Some of the pros of using a student loan forgiveness program can include:
- Full loan forgiveness
- Partial loan forgiveness
- Options for nurses who know they will stay in consecutive employment
- Options for nurses interested in serving in shortage areas
- Financing for nurses with limited socioeconomic resources
On the other hand, the cons include:
- You won’t be able to switch employers if your forgiveness program requires consecutive employment
- You will be limited to where you can choose to work
- You will have to work to a public or non-profit employer
Other Ways to Pay off Nursing Student Loans
If you decide that the student loan forgiveness program is not right for you, or if you’d like to explore other options, some of the other ways to pay off nursing student loan debt include:
- Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans: These plans are most appropriate for nurses whose debt is higher in comparison to their income, because their loan payments will be lower and based on their income. Using this plan, if you make payments on your federal IDR loans for 20 to 25 years, your remaining debt can be forgiven.
- Travel nursing: Travel nursing can also be an option to help you pay back your student loan debt faster. Although travel nursing agencies may not offer specific student loan forgiveness, many offer different types of bonuses, as well as stipends that can help boost your pay. You could even work part-time travel nursing jobs in your local area in addition to a regular RN job to get additional income, if needed. (Just be sure to take care of yourself and avoid burnout!)
- Refinancing your student loans: In some situations, it may also make financial sense to refinance your student loans to consolidate or lock in a lower interest rate. Keep in mind that if you choose to refinance any federal student loans, however, they will become private loans, so you won’t be eligible for any federal loan forgiveness programs on the balance.