loan-debtNational student loan debt continues to grow, making the notion of seeking a high education a scary one today. The average graduate now faces almost $24,000 in debt upon completion of their education. As a whole, the student loan debt is greater than $1 trillion. The rising cost of education can have quite the effect on prospective college students.

One area of education that has been hit particularly hard is the education field itself. While nearly all people find an education degree exceptionally admirable, the cold reality is that teaching opportunities are not extremely well paying affairs. Many students allow this to deter them from entering the field for fear of journeying into a world where their degree will make them an annual salary not much greater than their debt. It goes without saying, though, that education is an imperative field for our future, and as such, the trickle down effects are costly: as we lose education majors, we lose teachers—and as we lose teachers, education falters at the most crucial stages.

Thankfully, the U.S. government understands this, and is working to incentivize teachers to continue working in education. Today, there are a number of different ways for teachers to receive help and forgiveness with their exorbitant student loans. This is designed to both reward those who enter the teaching world for their service, and also to encourage more students to study the ever important field of education.

So if your passion is teaching, but you’re scared about studying education because of the low-paying job opportunities that contrast the high price of loans—don’t be. Teachers today can capitalize on a number of opportunities to have student loans lessened.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

The teacher loan forgiveness program is the most popular choice among teachers seeking to avoid paying off their hefty loans. The program is relatively straight forward, and was designed specifically to encourage more people to enter the field of education. It is designed for those who teach full-time for five consecutive years. After those five years, if you qualify, you will be eligible for up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness. There are, of course, some qualifying factors to consider; but unless you teach at a private institution that pays quite well, chances are you’ll have no problem meeting the qualifications.

First off, the teacher loan forgiveness program is not offered to those who only have PLUS loans. The school that you teach at must fall into a certain criteria, for at least one of your five consecutive years: it must be in a school district that qualifies for funds under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; it must have been selected by the Department of Education for having at least 30% enrollment made up by children who qualify for services provided under Title I; and, it must be listed in the Annual Directory of Designated Low-Income Schools for Teacher Cancellation Benefits.

As a teacher, you must either provide either direct classroom teaching, classroom style teaching in a non-classroom setting, or special education teaching. If you and your school match those criteria, you likely qualify for the teacher loan forgiveness program.

Teacher Cancellation

If your loans come by way of the Federal Perkins Loans program, your path to loan forgiveness is even easier. You will qualify for cancellation of up to 100% of your Perkins Loans if you are a full-time teacher at a public or non-profit elementary or secondary school, and you fall into one of the following categories: a teacher who serves students from low income families; a teacher of special education; or a teacher who is teaching a subject deemed by the state education agency to have a shortage of qualified teachers (subjects such as math, hard sciences, and foreign languages usually fall into this category).

Unlike the teacher loan forgiveness program, you must only be a teacher for one year to qualify for teacher cancellation (but, again, it only applies to your Federal Perkins Loans). In addition, during the first year you can apply for deferment of your loans; doing so absolves you of having to pay the loans for the first year where you gain eligibility to have your loans canceled. In other words, if you qualify for teacher cancellation, you need never pay any of your Federal Perkins Loans once you’ve been employed. However, you still must teach for five years to have your loans completely canceled: your loans will be cut by 15% in each of your first two years, by 20% in each of the subsequent two years, and the final 30% in your fifth year. This includes interest that accrues during that five year period.

Income-Based Repayment

If you don’t qualify for teacher loan forgiveness, or for teacher cancellation, there are still options for you. In the last few years, the government decided to enact income-based repayment, which calculates your income each year, and gives you a per-month loan payment option that works with your budget. This means that, instead of struggling to make the exorbitant monthly payments that you couldn’t afford if you were a teacher, you will now have payments relative to the salary you make.

Not only does income-based repayment make your loans payable as a teacher, but there is also a cancellation opportunity for public service workers (such as teachers), who have successfully made their payments for 10 years. So rather than make lower payments for a longer amount of time, you merely make lower payments for 10 years and then are absolved of your debt.

With these options, you should feel more comfortable getting a degree in education, and a job in the field. There are many options designed specifically to make sure that people like you are able to help our education system without handicapping their own livelihood.