What Are My Options in 2015?
Student loan debt relief has never been more important than in 2015, especially since Americans’ collective student loan debt recently passed the $1 trillion dollar mark, eclipsing all other forms of outstanding debt.
Fortunately, whether you have a Federal student loan or a privately-funded one, you almost certainly do have access to a variety of incredibly effective debt relief opportunities.
To get help paying off your student loans, first you’ll need to determine whether your loan is Federal or Private, then you should scroll to the appropriate section of the page below and review your options.
For questions, please feel free to ask away in the comments section at the bottom of this page. I’ll do my best to respond to all comments within 24 hours.
Federal Student Loan Debt Relief in 2015
If you’re reading this, then I’ve got great news! You are one of the lucky ones, the people who borrowed their college money from the Federal Government, and you have access to the greatest, most helpful debt relief programs ever offered.
The Federal Government is taking the student loan debt epidemic seriously, and currently offers a wide variety of effective financial assistance programs, including Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Programs, Consolidation Programs, Deferment Programs, Forbearance Programs, and a variety of Repayment Plans.
Because the student loan debt crisis has escalated so quickly, and because virtually everyone agrees that it poses a serious threat to our economy and national security, you won’t have to search far and wide to find some financial assistance. It’s all readily available, and easily accessible.
Here’s a list of the available Federal Student Loan Debt Relief Programs offered on offer as of January, 2015:
- Federal Loan Forgiveness Programs
- Federal Loan Deferment Programs
- Federal Loan Forbearance Programs
- The Pay As You Earn Student Loan Repayment Plan
- The Income-Based Student Loan Repayment Plan
- The Income-Contingent Student Loan Repayment Plan
- Other Repayment Plans (Graduated Repayment, Extended Repayment, Income-Sensitive Repayment, etc.)
Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
Virtually everyone with a Federally-funded student loan will be able to enroll in at least one the Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Programs listed above, though becoming eligible for some of them does require making significant sacrifices.
These forgiveness programs are your absolute best bets at getting effective student loan debt relief, since loan forgiveness literally wipes out your debt, rather than just reducing it or extending the time you have to pay it back.
If you’ve got a federal student loan, here are the forgiveness programs that you should look into using:
- Public Service Forgiveness Programs
- President Obama’s Forgiveness Program
- Teacher Forgiveness Programs
- Military Forgiveness Programs
Keep reading for details about each of these programs, and for more information about each specific program, be sure to click the links found within the text below.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Programs
The Federal Government provides Public Service Loan Forgiveness to people who volunteer in Government-funded community service organizations like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or Vista, providing a great debt relief option for those interested in serving the community.
But those aren’t the only people eligible to enroll in the PSLF program, because it’s also accessible available to Non-Profit Workers, Nurses, Teachers, Government Employees, Military Personnel, and people working in a variety of other “Public Service” positions.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program offers total student loan forgiveness after making just ten years of qualifying payments on your debt, no matter how much is left, making it one of the best debt relief programs currently available.
This program was designed to benefit people with high debt to income ratios, meaning people who don’t make much compared to what they owe, but it’s also available to many people who really don’t need the assistance.
The good news is that if you do qualify for PSLF benefits, you can start taking advantage of them now! Visit my page about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program for additional details.
President Obama’s Loan Forgiveness Program
One of the most recent Federal debt relief opportunities made available is the Obama Student Loan Forgiveness Program, which provides some protections to college graduates who leave school with enormous amounts of debt.
The most important tenet of the program includes setting the maximum monthly loan payment to just 10% discretionary income, allowing those who qualify to find their financial footing by defer portions of their student loan debt payments to a later date.
The Obama student loan forgiveness program also offers total deft forgiveness for all Federally-funded student loans at the 20 year mark, which is a 5 year reduction from the previous forgiveness date, and a welcome relief to those individuals who are being crushed by overwhelming levels of student loan debt.
This program, however, has created a great deal of controversy, with some conservatives vowing to pass legislation to overturn the law, revoking access to these valuable benefits.
UPDATE: In August, 2013, the Administration announced President Obama’s Higher Education “Shake Up” Plan to offer additional student loan debt relief to a wider audience, so be sure to check out the details of his new plan to find out if you’re eligible to take advantage of some of the new offerings.
UPDATE: As of January, 2015, even though there’s been a great deal of talk to reduce President Obama’s new benefits, nothing has yet been cut. Stay tuned and be sure to check back regularly though, because this year will see the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, as well as the run-up to the 2016 Presidential Election, each of which are likely to place student loan reforms front and center.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs
Recent years have seen an explosion in the availability of Loan Forgiveness Programs for Teachers, which are extremely popular.
These programs have helped tens of thousands of American educators dig their way out of crushing student loan debt and achieve a sense of financial security, and the good news is that they remain fully-funded for 2015.
It’s well known that teachers’ salaries tend to lag behind private sector workers, and even though some districts may offer great benefits, teachers generally have to spend at least as much (if not more) on their higher education credentials than do workers in other sectors who end up making far more money!
Accordingly, the Federal Government offers a variety of programs to help reduce your out-of-pocket costs for getting a degree in teaching, or to help you recover the money you’ve already spent on teaching credentials.
Here are a few of the most popular debt relief programs available to teachers:
a. TEACH Grants
Federally-funded TEACH Grants are relatively difficult to qualify for, as they’re only made available to teachers who serve in high-need areas at low-income schools.
That qualification alone makes them relatively unpopular, especially with teachers who are able to find great jobs outside of impoverished areas.
However, it also means that if you’re willing to sacrifice the perks of working in a nicer neighborhood, you’ll be able to receive up to $4,000 per year in debt relief while working to earn your undergraduate degree, teaching credentials, or subject-related masters degree.
And that’s not bad!
b. Perkins Loan Forgiveness
If you’ve ever heard of Teacher Loan Cancellation (not “forgiveness”), then you should know that it was in ference to the Federal Perkins Loan Forgiveness Program.
Perkins loan forgiveness benefits qualify you to receive up to 100% forgiveness on any Federal Perkins loans that you’ve taken out on your way toward becoming a teacher, but they’ll also offer you another incredible perk (pardon our pun) in the way of loan deferment benefits.
Loan deferments and teacher loan cancellation benefits are made available to teachers who serve in low-income schools, and to teachers who special needs students, math, science, foreign language or any other subject that has a shortage of qualified teachers in their area.
c. Stafford Loan Forgiveness
If you’re interested in receiving up to $17,500 in student loan forgiveness benefits, then you should look into qualifying for the Stafford Loan Forgiveness Program.
These loan forgiveness benefits are quite valuable, but they’re also relatively tough to qualify for, since earning them requires teaching at a qualifying low-income school for five complete and consecutive years.
While that may not sound all that difficult (and for some teachers it really isn’t), this is one of those debt relief programs that does require a great deal of dedication, sacrifice and tenacity.
If you think you’ve got what it takes though, then make sure you check the program’s eligibility requirements because you could stand to save yourself a lot of money in the process.
Military Loan Forgiveness Programs
Some of the most important federally-funded student loan forgiveness programs available are those offered to members of the United States Armed Forces.
Most of these are only available to enlisted personnel (though there are some programs for Officers as well), and the majority of them are also only made available to those who are either joining the service for the first time, or while they’re joining the Reserves.
Military Student Loan Forgiveness benefits were created to incentivize more highly qualified individuals to enlist in the Armed Forces, and they may not be available for much longer since our need for Active Duty and Reserves personnel is dropping due to our withdrawals from both Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, the available debt relief is extremely valuable, with qualifying participants able to receive up to $65,000 in student loan debt forgiveness.
a. Military College Loan Repayment Programs
The Military College Loan Repayment Program is available to pretty much everyone joining one of the major service branches (yes, even Coast Guard enlistees have access to these benefits!), though each branch provides a different level of loan forgiveness relief, basically depending on how badly they need fresh recruits.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the CLRP benefits for each branch of the United States Armed Forces:
The Army College Loan Repayment Program
The Army Student Loan Forgiveness Program is one of the most powerful offered by any branch of the military, with up to $65,000 of total debt relief available to those eligible to participate in the program.
The Navy College Loan Repayment Program
The Navy Student Loan Forgiveness Program offers benefits on par with the Army’s program, providing up to $65,000 in student loan debt relief for those enlistees who qualify for the program.
The Air Force College Loan Repayment Program
The Air Force Student Loan Forgiveness Program is nowhere near as valuable as the Army’s or Navy’s programs are, and offers just $10,000 in total loan debt relief for qualified enlistees.
The National Guard College Loan Repayment Program
The National Guard Student Loan Forgiveness Program provides up to $50,000 in total debt relief assistance, but it also requires an extremely long service commitment (compared to other branches), with benefits only offered to those enlistees who agree to serve for at least six years.
The Marines College Loan Repayment Program
The Marines are certainly the outlier here, and although it seems like a Marine Student Loan Forgiveness Program would be a no-brainer, this service branch does not currently offer college loan repayment benefits to enlistees.
The Coast Guard College Loan Repayment Program
The Coast Guard student loan forgiveness program is actually one of the best available in terms of bang for your buck, offering up to $30,000 of loan relief for just 3 years of service.
That’s $10,000 in college loan repayment benefits per year, and it makes this a pretty dang attractive offer.
b. National Defense Student Loan Discharges
The National Defense Student Loan Discharge Program provides student loan forgiveness benefits to anyone who completed a full year of service in the Armed Forces that included at least one year of deployment to a hostile fire or imminent danger area.
This is a little-known, but extremely useful program, and one that you will definitely want to research further if you meet those initial qualifications.
Debt Relief for Private Student Loans
Many people have private student loans – in fact, they’ve recently been estimated to comprise about 15% of total outstanding student loan debt, and unfortunately it seems that those with private loans tend to have a harder time when it comes to paying them back.
Unfortunately, the past few years have not seen much growth in the opportunities for Relief Programs for Private Student Loans, and there remains little on the table as of the time of this writing.
Worse yet, because private loans tend to offer far more money than federal loans, they’re often relied upon by those who need it the most (i.e. poorer students, students attending expensive private universities, etc.), making those borrowers even more likely to require financial assistance later.
Private loans also tend to come with higher interest rates, making it even more important to get debt relief from them if you’re having trouble keep up with your monthly payments, because interest tends to accumulate on them far more quickly than it would with Federal loans.
Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, there still aren’t any widely accessible Private Student Loan Forgiveness Programs, but there are other options to help you get some debt relief in other ways.
If you’ve got a private student loan and need help reducing your monthly payments, you do have some great debt relief opportunities, including:
- Loan Consolidation Programs
- Loan Modification Programs
- Loan Discharge via Bankruptcy
- Voluntary Loan Default
Loan Consolidation Programs
The easiest way to get relief for excessive debt is to apply for a Private Student Loan Consolidation Program.
Loan consolidation combines multiple existing loans into a single new loan, reducing the complexity of your debt, allowing you to make a single monthly payment, and often providing other significant financial benefits as well.
Loan consolidation programs typically include interest rate reductions, loan repayment schedule extensions and other adjustments that make your debt more affordable in the short-run by decreasing monthly payments.
The downside to loan consolidation is that it often ends up costing you more money in the long run, due to increasing the amount of money you’ll end up paying in interest charges and other fees.
Loan Modification Programs
Another great way to get relief for private student loans is to qualify for a loan modification program.
These typically offer the same outcomes as loan consolidation programs, except they relate to a single loan, meaning that you’ll have to get a loan modification on each of your eligible private student loans to get effective debt relief.
And that isn’t easy…
But for the lucky few who can work it out with their lenders, potential benefits to receive loan modifications include reduced interest rates, longer repayment schedules and sometimes even a bit of loan forgiveness.
The downside to private student loan modification is that it’s available on a case by case basis, determined by whether or not your lender wants to offer it to you, and entirely up to their whims.
Your chances of getting a loan modification depend entirely on your ability to convince your lender that it’s in their best interest to reduce your debt, lower your monthly payments, or allow you to somehow modify your contract.
For that reason, loan modification aren’t all that accessible, and you’ll likely have to do quite a bit of work to get something put into place.
However, the benefits can be tremendous, so if you’re having trouble making monthly payments, the first thing you should do is call your lender and request a loan modification.
You might be surprised on finding out what they’ll agree to do.
Loan Discharge Via Bankruptcy
If you’re really in a bad way and simply can’t afford to make your private student loan payments, then you might need to consider pursuing a Student Loan Bankruptcy Discharge.
The good news is that these are becoming more accessible each year, but the bad news is that it remains a very difficult, stressful, and potentially very costly process.
Whether or not the Judge agrees to allow you to discharge your debt, you’ll still have to pay for court fees, legal fees, filing fees, and attorney fees.
But if all goes to plan and you’re able to discharge your debt, then this can end up saving your financial skin by wiping out your debt and allowing you to stop making monthly payments immediately.
The hard part to receiving a bankruptcy discharge for private student loan debt is that it requires convincing a court of law that your student loans are placing an “undue financial burden” on your life, essentially forcing you into crushing poverty, and making it difficult to provide basic needs for yourself and your dependents.
Here’s one simple piece of advice – walk into court holding an iPhone, and you can kiss that discharge good-bye.
Defaulting On Your Loan
The worst option of the bunch, but one that is absolutely guaranteed to work, is voluntarily Defaulting on Your Private Student Loan.
Default occurs as soon as you’ve missed a single monthly payments, no matter what reason you have for the delay, and it comes with serious repercussions.
Want to buy a house? Want to buy a car? Want a job dealing with finances? Good luck getting any of that accomplished after a default, because your credit score is likely to be utterly destroyed for at least the next few years.
Not only will your credit be hurting, but you’ll also have opened yourself up to all sorts of scary legal consequences, including having the lender garnish your wages, place a lien on your property, or simply sue you for breach of contract.
Don’t want to deal with a financial and legal nightmare for the next few years? Don’t let your loans go into default!
There might be other options for finding effective relief from your student loan debt, but these are the most popular, most publicized opportunities that I’ve been able to find in my few years of researching the subject.
If you have other ideas for getting access to significant financial assistance, then please feel free to share them in the comments section below.
Do you have experience with any of these programs? Please let me and the community know how things went! I love hearing success stories, and would appreciate the dialogue.
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