How Student Loan Forgiveness Programs Can Help You Afford to Become a Special Education Teacher

No one enters the field of teaching to make a fortune — most teachers choose the field because they love children and are passionate about education, and that goes double for special education teachers. But teachers don’t make much money, and starting salaries for teachers are so low that repaying student loans on a teacher’s salary can make many new teachers wonder if they shouldn’t have chosen a more lucrative field.

Fortunately, teachers don’t have to bear the burden of student loan repayment alone. Whether you’re a special education teacher or specialize in another subject, state and federal programs exist that can relieve your student loan debt through loan forgiveness. Best of all, most special education teachers can qualify for more than one loan forgiveness program. Depending on where you live, you may be able to substantially reduce or even completely eliminate your student loan debt.

State and Local Programs for Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness

As a newly minted special education teacher, you can benefit from many state and local loan forgiveness and grant programs that can help you cut down your student loan debt. Some of the best state loan forgiveness programs for teachers include:

  • $1,000 per year for up to three years for eligible teachers in North Dakota
  • A matching state loan forgiveness award of up to $5,000 for Illinois teachers who receive federal Stafford loan forgiveness
  • In Iowa, an annual award of up to 20 percent of an eligible teacher’s student loan balance
  • Qualifying New Mexico teachers could have most of their loans forgiven through that state’s teacher loan repayment program

Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
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Each state has its own programs, and many cities have them as well. The American Federation of Teachers maintains a database of such programs, so state and local funding opportunities are just a few clicks away.

Federal Student Loan Forgiveness for Teachers

When you become a teacher of special education or any other subject, one of the primary benefits of student loan forgiveness programs is that you’ll be able to take advantage of multiple programs at the same time.

Many state and local teacher loan forgiveness programs allow qualified applicants to also receive federal loan forgiveness funds; in fact, many state and local programs require eligible applicants to have received these funds. Eligible teachers can qualify to have as much as $17,500 of their Direct, Stafford, or Federal Family Education Loans forgiven. Eligibility requirements for federal teacher student loan forgiveness include:

  • You must have obtained the loans after Oct. 1, 1998
  • You must not be in default on your loans
  • You must teach for five consecutive academic years in a qualifying school
  • At least one of your qualifying teaching years must have occurred after the 1997-98 school year

Teacher student loan forgiveness is awarded for teachers who work in low-income elementary and secondary schools. You qualify for loan forgiveness if your school qualifies for Title I funds, if your school is listed in the Annual Directory of Low-Income Schools for Teacher Cancellation Benefits, and has been determined by the U.S. Department of Education to serve a student population of whom more than 30 percent must qualify for Title I services. If you worked for a school district under the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), your school automatically qualifies as a low-income school for the purposes of teacher student loan forgiveness, even if it’s not found on the Annual Directory of Designated Low-Income Schools for Teacher Cancellation Benefits.

Related: Improving Career Education In High School

You may be eligible for forgiveness of up to 100 percent of a Federal Perkins Loan if you are a special education teacher, teach low-income students, or teach a subject of which there is a local shortage of qualified instructors, such as a foreign language, mathematics, or science. As a teacher, you may also qualify for the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. In order to qualify, you must make 120 on-time payments on your Federal Direct loans. You can only count payments made after Oct. 1, 2007. If you have been making student loan payments on time since that date, you can qualify for forgiveness of your remaining balance starting in Oct. 2017. However, most teachers find that it’s quicker and easier to seek loan forgiveness through programs specifically designed to help teachers.

Student loan repayment can make budgeting difficult if you’re a new teacher just starting out in your career. But if you take advantage of student loan forgiveness programs for teachers, you can ease your student loan burden – or eliminate it entirely. It’s one way to make your dreams of a career in special education come true, in spite of the cost of higher education.

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