To help mitigate the burden of student loan debt, student loan forgiveness programs for nurses offer financial assistance in exchange for work commitments.
This guide provides a state-by-state breakdown of local nursing loan forgiveness programs, along with advice from experts to help you apply for state and national student loan forgiveness programs.
Student Loan Forgiveness Explained
Nursing school requires a significant financial investment that often involves taking on student loan debt. Data from the National Student Nurses' Association suggests that nearly 70% of nursing students use student loans to pay for their degree.
While nursing graduates may land lucrative jobs, it often takes professionals several years to pay off their student loan debt.
The size of a student's debt balance typically corresponds to the length of time it takes to complete their degree. However, the National Student Nurses' Association reports that some registered nurses (RNs) with an associate degree in nursing have accumulated up to $80,000 in student loans.
Students completing graduate school, according to a report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, said they expected to owe a median debt of $40,000-$54,999.
What is Loan Forgiveness, and How Does it Work?
Nursing graduates can turn to student loan forgiveness programs and cancellation programs to help eliminate their student debt. Programs may offer full or partial financial help when nurses commit to working in underserved areas.
Dr. Karen Crowley, associate professor at the School of Nursing at Regis College, explains that student loan forgiveness programs offer the chance to eliminate student loan debt and gain continued job security. However, nurses should understand program specifications before accepting funds.
"It is essential that nursing students and nurses understand what will be required of them, for how long, and decide if these requirements are something they see as feasible," she says.
Student loan forgiveness programs come with strings attached. Many require students to fulfill work commitments for at least two years. Crowley reminds nurses that, "because of the requirements set by these programs, nurses won't have the flexibility of where they work or switching employers without loss of the forgiveness benefits."
College Loan Forgiveness Programs for Nurses
Nurse Faculty Loan Programs
Nurses who agree to teach for four years after graduation, along with learners studying for their master's or doctoral degrees in nursing, can apply for funding to pay for tuition and other college expenses. The NFLP offers up to $35,500 for each academic year.
"NFLP recipients can earn up to 85% of loan cancellations upon completion of four years of employment as a nurse educator," Crowley explains.
Who Is Eligible: A nursing student must attend an accredited nursing school, sign a promissory note, meet academic standards, and show an interest in working as a nurse educator to qualify. Full-time and part-time students may apply.
Nurse Corps Loan Repayment
This program offers nurses up to 85% of reimbursement toward their unpaid student loan debt. RNs, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), and nurse faculty can apply. Nurses receive 60% of their debt paid off over two years. After that, nurses receive funds to cover 25% of their remaining loans.
Who Is Eligible: Eligible nurses must work in approved colleges or critical shortage facilities for at least two years. An eligible nurse must:
- Maintain an unencumbered license
- Have an unpaid loan balance related to any level of education for nursing
- Have completed the nursing program to be eligible for this program
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Full-time working nurses who have made at least 120 monthly payments on their Direct Loan through an income-driven repayment plan can find reprieve from their debt. This program benefits nurses based on their employers rather than the type of work they perform.
Who Is Eligible: A qualified applicant must work at least 30 hours a week at a site that meets the program guidelines. Candidates who merge their loans into Direct Loans may apply. Qualified employers include AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and nonprofits. Employees of tribal governments and state, local, or federal government organizations may also qualify.
Perkins Loan Cancellation
According to program guidelines, eligible applicants must have received their Perkins Loan before 2017. Crowley explains that nurses can potentially "receive 100% federal loan forgiveness." The applicant's work or volunteer history also determines whether they can receive reimbursement for their outstanding loans.
Who Is Eligible: Seasoned nurses who have served high-need communities for five consecutive years or more may apply. Some applicants can apply to have their loan discharged or completely forgiven in cases of school closure, death, or bankruptcy.
Army Nurse Corps Benefits
Candidates who meet the requirements can receive $40,000 per year over three years to repay student loans. Army nurses can also receive benefits, salaries, and housing allowances. Crowley mentions that nurses who enlist part-time in the Army Reserve can receive prorated student loan forgiveness. Some nurses also receive a signing bonus.
Who Is Eligible: Nurses who agree to enlist in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and complete at least three years of service can receive up to $120,000 in funding to repay their student loans.
Disadvantaged Faculty Loan Repayment Program
The FLRP benefits nursing instructors who devote their careers to education in the field. Qualified recipients receive up to $40,000 to repay their student loans.
Who Is Eligible: Requirements for this program include proof of a college degree or certificate in a healthcare field. Applicants must work at approved colleges for at least two years. This repayment program accepts U.S. citizens from disadvantaged backgrounds. RNs and APRNs can apply.
Indian Health Service
This IHS program offers up to $40,000 in repayment toward unpaid educational loans to recruit healthcare practitioners to underserved American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Qualified nurses must commit to working in hospitals, clinics, or tribal agencies serving communities experiencing nurse shortages for two years.
Who Is Eligible: Nurses do not have to be of American Indian or Alaska Native heritage to receive assistance. Individuals who meet requirements can renew their applications annually. Undergraduate loans for prerequisite courses that meet graduate degree requirements may also qualify for repayment.
National Health Service Corps
Nurses who commit to working at an NHSC-approved location for at least two years can receive loan repayment assistance. Eligible sites must be located in designated health professional shortage areas. All applicants must submit supplemental documents, including loan information verification and proof of U.S. citizenship.
Who Is Eligible: To meet qualifications for loan reimbursement, each nurse must hold U.S. citizenship and work at a facility serving Medicare, Medicaid, or the State Children's Health Insurance Program patients. Healthcare professionals, such as certified nurse midwives and nurse practitioners, can apply.
Additional Ways to Pay off Nursing Student Loans
Graduates can consider other ways to pay off nursing student loans, as well.
Outside of student loan forgiveness for nurses, individuals can reduce their educational debt by enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan. Nurses with these plans can pay a percentage of their salaries rather than a specific dollar amount.
Income-driven payment plans allow individuals to pay more as they earn experience or additional certifications while keeping payments low in entry-level work. These plans can help nurses moving for their first jobs, who often have relocation expenses on top of loan repayment.
Travel nursing, which usually pays a higher hourly salary, offers another alternative to nursing loan forgiveness programs. However, this pathway can be more demanding, as travel nurses are often sourced to provide care during states of emergency or aid in nursing shortages.
Finally, nurses can consider refinancing their student loans. If interest rates have dropped or a graduate finds a new funding source, such as a credit union that charges less interest, refinancing may offer a strong pathway.
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