When you’re a first responder, your work literally involves saving lives — and often putting your own life on the line. But finding a job in this line of work often requires specialized training in criminal justice or emergency medicine. And getting the education necessary to become an EMT, firefighter or police officer can be expensive.
The good news is, there are student loan forgiveness options out there. The availability of these programs depends where you work, though, and, in some cases, where you live. It’s important to explore all your options to make sure you get the help you need with your student loans.
Here is how first responders can qualify for student loan forgiveness:
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Public Service Loan Forgiveness enables you to get qualifying federal student loans forgiven, including Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans. To become eligible, you must work for a qualifying federal, state or local government agency or non-profit organization. This can include but isn’t limited to:
- City, state, or local police departments, fire departments, or sheriff’s offices
- The Bureau of Indian Affairs
- A state college or university or a private university with 501(c)(3) status
- Federal agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); Customs and Border Protection CPB); Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); National Security Agency (NSA); the U.S. Marshall Service or the U.S. Secret Service.
- A state or federal prison
- A local non-profit hospital or healthcare facility with 501(c)(3) status
PSLF is not available for part-time volunteer firefighters or EMTs. While there are some loan forgiveness options for volunteers, they do not apply to this type of volunteer work.
If you are eligible because of your full-time job as a first responder, PSLF enables you to get the remaining balance of your student oans forgiven after you’ve made 120 on-time payments on an income-driven repayment plan. You must be working full-time while you make your payments and when you apply for student loan forgiveness. This is defined as either 30 or more hours per week or meeting your employer’s definition of what it means to be full-time. If you have multiple part-time jobs and your hours add up to the minimum required weekly hours, you can still qualify.
Federal Perkins Loan forgiveness
Perkins Loans are no longer offered to students but those with existing loans can still apply for Perkins Loan forgiveness. This is available to firefighters, law enforcement officers, and corrections officers. However, you will need to be employed full-time in one of these potions and must prove that your role within the organization is central to is mission.
You’ll need to apply to your college to determine your eligibility for student loan forgiveness for your Perkins Loans. If your school approves you, you can have up to 100% of your Perkins Loans canceled over five years of service. You’ll have 15% per year canceled in each of your first two years of service; 20% per year canceled in years three and four; and the remaining 30% canceled after your fifth year on the job.
Depending where you live, your state may also offer loan forgiveness options for paid or volunteer work as a first responder. For example, the state of Pennsylvania legislature is in the process of implementing a First Responder Loan Forgiveness Program that would make up to $16,000 in college loan forgiveness available to volunteer firefighters and emergency personnel.
Forgiveness under income-driven repayment plans
First responders can choose an income-driven plan to repay federal student loans, including:
Each of these plans caps your monthly student loan payments at a percentage of your income and provides for loan forgiveness after you’ve made a required minimum number of payments.
With income-driven plans, you’ll have to make payments for either 20 or 25 years before qualifying for forgiveness, depending which plan you choose. Any balance remaining on your loans when you’ve completed these payments will be forgiven. For some borrowers with limited incomes, required monthly payments will be just a few dollars a month. However, unlike other options, student loan forgiveness under an income-driven repayment plan is taxable.
Check with your state’s Department of Education to explore forgiveness options that may be available to you.
There are also other programs for federal student loan forgiveness for the following professions: Doctors and Healthcare Providers, Dentists, Lawyers, Military, Nurses, Teachers, Veterinarians and Volunteering.
Other Options for Repaying Student Loans
Consider refinancing student loans. Refinancing student loans could potentially lower your interest rate, saving you money and getting rid of student loan debt faster. Depending on your term, you could also lower your monthly payment. However, it’s important to understand that refinancing any federal student loans means you no longer qualify for the great benefits that federal loans offer.
- Potential federal student loan forgiveness
- Potential for subsidized loans (interest is paid during deferments)
- Ability to enroll in monthly payments based on your income
- Ability to pause payments if you lose your job or have an economic hardship
- Ability to cancel your student loans if you die or become disabled
There are pros and cons of refinancing student loans, so understand if it’s the right option for you. Compare lenders to see who is right for you. Credible also allows you to instantly get rates from several lenders. Splash Financial is a student loan refinance marketplace that allows you to check rates and get matched with a lender.
Find an employer who offers student loan repayment. Many companies are offering student loan repayment assistance as a perk for employees. SoFi, Abbott and Fidelity are just a few that offer student loan repayment assistance.
Make big moves. There are big money moves you could make to make it easier to pay off student loan debt. Move to an area that will help repay student loans. Downsize your home (maybe a tiny home would work for you?). Move to an area with a lower cost of living. Find a better paying job. Start a side hustle.
Make small moves. Sign up for automatic payments to save a small percentage on your student loans. The ChangEd app helps student loan borrowers pay down their debt faster by linking to credit cards and bank accounts, rounding up purchases, and using that “spare change” to make extra payments.
Use a cash-back credit card for everyday purchases, pay off your balance in full and use the cash rewards to pay down your debt. Sallie Mae’s Accelerate credit card gives 1.25% cash back on every purchase, plus, you get a 25% bonus on cash back when you use rewards to pay down any student loan debt. Sell unwanted stuff to make extra money, find ways to earn extra cash and get creative with ways to save money.
At Savingforcollege.com, our goal is to help you make smart decisions about saving and paying for education. Some of the products featured in this article are from our partners, but this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.