Or maybe you did know what you were getting into, but thought loans were the only way to pay for school. And now, as a college graduate staring at a mountain of debt, you probably wish you would’ve explored other options.
Hopefully, it helps that the government seems to understand the amount of financial stress graduates face as they struggle to pay back those loans. That’s why they created student loan forgiveness programs. Sounds promising, right?
Don’t get your hopes up.
WHAT IS STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS (AND HOW DOES IT WORK)?
If you haven’t heard, outstanding student loan debt in America has risen to over $1.6 trillion. But don’t worry: If your student loan debt makes up a piece of that trillion-dollar pie, the government has a plan to help you take care of those loans: student loan forgiveness.
Remember back to when you filled out FAFSA in high school? Depending on what kind of financial aid you were offered, that might’ve been the day you unknowingly signed away your financial future for a college education. The money (minus any scholarships or grants) probably came in the form of federal student loans.
The U.S. Department of Education came to the “rescue” through their student loan forgiveness programs. The only problem is that their requirements are kind of up in the air depending on where you work, how many payments you’ve made, and whether or not the government changes the eligibility requirements.
A lot of times, those requirements are different depending on what type of forgiveness program you’ve applied for.
STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS PROGRAMS
1. TEACHER LOAN FORGIVENESS
If you’re a teacher, you might be able to say “Bye, Felicia” to up to $17,500 of those federal student loans. But, before you imagine life without that student loan payment, you need to check out their requirements:
Teach full-time for five academic years in a row.
Teach low-income students at an educational service agency or at the elementary or high school levels.
You must have taken out the loan before the end of your five teaching years.
Make sure you’ve never had an outstanding balance on your loan.
2. PUBLIC SERVICE LOAN FORGIVENESS
If you’re one of the lucky few who is eligible, you’ll have to make on-time payments for 10 years while working full-time for a qualifying employer.
As of March 2019, 73,554 people submitted 86,006 applications for their loans to be forgiven through public service. Out of those 86,006 applications, only 864 were actually approved and just 518 lucky people were granted student loan forgiveness.
If you’re one of the #blessed ones who received an approval letter, you might want to be cautious. In 2017, some borrowers who qualified for the program received letters of denial years later. Nice, right? This means they spent 10 years in low-paying jobs only to find out they wasted their time and effort.
3. DISABILITY DISCHARGE FORGIVENESS
If you have a disability, you might qualify for this program. With this type of forgiveness, your federal student loans or your Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grants could be discharged.
In order to qualify, you have to prove your disability status through Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration or your physician. If your loans do get discharged, you’ll be monitored for the next three years to make sure you’re actually disabled. If you’re no longer disabled within those three years, you’ll have to start making those payments.
SHOULD I APPLY FOR STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS?
Student loan forgiveness isn’t really your ticket to freedom. Most of these programs have a ton of eligibility requirements that can change.
Instead of counting on the government to save you, take control of your own financial future. Destroy that debt—and fast!
1. DECIDE TO CHANGE.
I’m talking no more credit cards and no more debt. If you really want to get out of debt fast, you need to stop getting into more of it.
2. GET ON A BUDGET.
You might think you don’t need a budget. But when you create a zero-based budget and start telling every dollar where to go, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten a raise.
3. USE THE DEBT SNOWBALL.
Start with the smallest balance and do everything you can to get rid of it. Yup—sell everything, work more hours and get a side hustle. Put all of that extra money toward the loan until it’s gone. Then take the minimum payment you were paying on the first and put it toward the second.
Listen—you don’t have to be in debt forever. And no student loan forgiveness plan is a sure thing.
Honestly, my heart behind all this is that future generations will never even consider student loans as an option. With that mindset, it’s possible that one day no one will need student loan forgiveness programs!
But if you already have student loans: Get on your own forgiveness plan and get out of debt as quickly as you can.
If you want to make sure that no student in your life ever takes out loans for school, Debt-Free Degree is the book all college-bound students—and their parents—need to prepare for their next step. Grab a copy today or start reading for free to get plenty of tips on going to college debt-free—and staying debt-free for life!
A long-form version of this article originally appeared on AnthonyONeal.com
Anthony ONeal, since 2003, has helped hundreds of thousands of students make smart decisions with their money, relationships, and education. He’s a national best-selling author and travels the country spreading his encouraging message to help teens and young adults start their lives off right. His latest book, Debt Free Degree, launches October 2019. You can follow Anthony on YouTube and Instagram @AnthonyONeal and online at anthonyoneal.com or facebook.com/aoneal.
Photo: provided by Anthony ONeal