What is Student Loan Forgiveness?
First, it’s important to understand what student loan forgiveness is, and what it does and does not include.
Generally speaking, forgiveness of a loan means that you’re no longer responsible for either part or all of your loan. Usually, this will be the remaining balance on your student loan at the time forgiveness is approved.
Forgiveness vs. Discharge and Cancellation
When it comes to your student loans, the terms forgiveness, discharge, and cancellation all mean the same thing: you’re no longer responsible for repaying part or all of your loan balance. However, forgiveness, discharge, and cancellation apply to different situations, so it’s important to know the difference.
Discharge – This means that you’re no longer responsible for repaying your loan due to circumstances such as disability or the closure of the school from which you received your student loan.
Forgiveness or Cancellation – These are the terms most applicable to you as a social worker or perspective social worker. They mean that you’re no longer responsible for repaying part or all of your loan due to your job.
Loan Forgiveness Programs for Social Workers
Going into the social work field does not automatically qualify you for student loan forgiveness (but it is a good first step). Loan forgiveness programs for social workers have strict criteria that must be met before your loans can be canceled.
The following loan forgiveness programs are specifically for graduates in the social work career field who are struggling to repay their debts.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is a federal program specifically designed to help public service and nonprofit workers get out of debt. If you took out federal loans to get your degree, PSLF is a good option for potentially eliminating future loan payments and saving a great deal of money in the process. For those looking for student loan forgiveness for social workers, the PSLF program is definitely where you want to start.
To qualify for PSLF, you must:
- Be enrolled in a qualifying repayment plan;
- Have made 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full-time for a qualifying employer.
It’s important to note that if your employer is not considered qualified, you won’t be eligible for loan forgiveness under this plan—even if you’re engaged in social or nonprofit work. A qualified employer must be one of the following types of organizations:
- Government organizations (local, state, federal, or tribal);
- Tax-exempt not-for-profit organizations (IRS Code Section 501(c)(3));
- Other not-for-profit organizations whose primary purpose is to provide a type of qualifying public service.
Apply for PSLF by filling out and submitting the Employment Certification form as soon as possible (don’t wait until you’ve made your 120 payments, or you may find out too late that your payments were not qualified). Continue to submit this form annually, as well as any time you switch employers.
National Health Services Corp
The National Health Services Corp Loan Repayment Program offers certain licensed clinical social workers up to $50,000 to help pay off their student loans. The amount you can receive through this program depends on where you serve (serving in a higher-need area results in higher eligibility). It also depends on how many hours you’re working.
To qualify for the National Health Service Corp Loan Repayment Program, you must be fully trained and licensed in one of the following eligible disciplines:
- MD, DO, CP, CNM, PA
- DMD, DDS, RDH
- Mental or Behavioral Health
- HSP, LCSW, PNS, MFT, LPC
Additionally, your student loans must be associated with the undergraduate or graduate education which led to your degree. Debt associated with residency programs does not qualify.
The NHSC also works with states with their State Loan Repayment Program. Through this program, the Corp provides assistance to states to help their local social workers repay their loans faster. You can find your local State Loan Repayment Program contact here.
Perkins Loans Cancellation
Unlike the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which requires you to make 120 qualified payments before qualifying for forgiveness, Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge will discharge a portion of your loans each year, if you qualify. Qualifying social workers who apply for forgiveness under this program are eligible for up to 100% forgiveness of their loans.
State-Funded Loan Forgiveness for Social Workers
Depending on where you live and work, your own state may be able to help you out with your student loans if you’re a social worker for a qualifying employer.
- New York Loan Forgiveness for Social Workers
New York State offers up to $26,000 to resident qualified social workers to repay their student loans. You must be a resident for at least one year and have at least one year of experience in a critical human service field. Learn more about the New York State Loan Forgiveness Program website.
- North Carolina Loan Forgiveness for Social Workers
Licensed clinical social workers who provide services to mentally ill patients in underserved areas are eligible for repayment assistance in the state of North Carolina. In return for a two-year agreement to work in a community health center or department, you could earn up to $30,000 to help pay off your loans. Learn more on the North Carolina Health and Human Services website.
Student Loan Forgiveness for Social Workers
Whether you’re already a social worker or you’re interested in going into the field, learning about your options when it comes to student loan forgiveness is an important step towards a financially successful future. If you find your employment does not qualify for loan forgiveness programs for social workers there are other jobs that offer student loan forgiveness, or you may still have other options for reducing your monthly loan payments, including income-driven repayment plans and refinancing.