Top 3 Student Loan Forgiveness Programs for Nurses
By: Kathleen Gaines BSN, BA, RN, CBC
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 2018 took out some sort of student loan. And a recent CNBC.com report indicated that about 69% of students in 2018 took out student loans, graduating with an average debt of $29,800.
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 3 student loan forgiveness programs for nurses are:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)
- Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program (NCLRP)
- State-Level Loan Forgiveness
1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)
The most common Loan Forgiveness program is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). We'll dig into what it is, who qualifies for it, and some things you need to consider before applying for it.
What is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program?
This program forgives the remaining balance of all federal loans after the borrower has made a minimum of 120 qualifying monthly payments. 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, and you must be using a qualifying repayment plan while working for a qualifying employer.
- A qualifying employer means that you work for:
- Government organization at any level (federal, state, local, or tribal)
- Not-for-profit organizations that are 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 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?
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. Furthermore, all jobs must be qualifying organizations for hours to be included.
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,
- Help you understand more about the PSLF Program and what you need to do to participate and possibly have your loans forgiven
- Help you assess whether your employer qualifies for PSLF
- Help you assess whether your loans qualify for PSLF
- Help you decide which PSLF form to submit
- Use the information we have about your federal student loans to explain other actions you should or must take if you want to receive PSLF
2. Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program (NCLRP)
Another option for nurses is the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program. We'll outline what it is, who qualifies for it, and some things you need to consider before applying for it.
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. These can include,
- 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?
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)
The application is lengthy and requires documentation from your employer as well as additional supporting information.
3. State-Level Loan Forgiveness
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 a few examples of states that have loan forgiveness programs for nurses:
- Alaska: 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
- California: Registered nurses who work in a Health Professional Shortage Area or Medically Underserved Area can receive up to $10,000. There is a one-year commitment at a qualifying organization. Recipients can be awarded up to three times.
- Illinois: 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
- Louisiana: 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.
- Minnesota: 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.
- Montana: 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.
- Pennsylvania: 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.
- Vermont: 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: West Virginia’s State Loan Repayment Program (https://www.hsc.wvu.edu/icrh/financial-incentives/state-loan-repayment-program-slrp/) 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 has very specific eligibility requirements including the type of student loan that is eligible for repayment. It is beneficial to nursing students to find out additional information regarding their state’s forgiveness program as well as federal programs in order to pre-qualify. By taking out the appropriate student loans while still in school can make a difference once determining which loan forgiveness program to apply for.
Additional Loan Forgiveness Programs for APRNs
Beyond the options we've listed here, there are additional loan forgiveness programs for advanced practice nurses, including nurse practitioners, certified midwives, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and nurse educators.