Stafford Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program

In 2016, Teacher Loan Forgiveness remains available to thousands of teachers across the country via the Stafford Loan Forgiveness Program.

Teachers love Stafford Loans because the Stafford Loans Program allows you to borrow money at a low interest rate, then qualify for complete loan forgiveness once you’ve completed enough years as a fully-qualified teacher.

If you’ve taken out a Stafford Loan, or if you’re planning on becoming a teacher and looking for the best opportunity to qualify for Teacher Loan Forgiveness, then this page will help you figure out how to take advantage of this excellent opportunity.

If you’re just looking for a link to the 2016 Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application Form, then you can find that here.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness for Federal Stafford Loans

Stafford Loan Forgiveness remains one of the best student loan forgiveness programs available to teachers in 2016.

The Stafford Loan Forgiveness Program was created to encourage highly qualified college graduates to become teachers, or to continue teaching.

This program provides up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness for teachers who have taken out Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, or Subsisized and Unsubsizied Federal Stafford Loans.

To be eligible for Stafford Loan Forgiveness, you must agree to teach full-time for five complete and consecutive academic years at a qualifying elementary school, secondary school or an educational service agency that primarily serves low-income families.

Please note that those individuals with PLUS loans are not eligible to participate in the Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program.

Eligibility Requirements for Stafford Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Not everyone with qualifying loans will be able to receive Stafford Loan Forgiveness.

In fact, many teachers with Federal student loans won’t be able to take advantage of this program, because the eligibility conditions are quite strict.

To receive Stafford Loan Forgiveness benefits, you must:

  • Not have had an outstanding balance on Direct Loans or Federal Family Education Loan (FEEL) Program loans as of October 1st, 1998, or on the date that you obtained a Direct Loan or FEEL Program loan after October 1st, 1998.
  • Not be in default on a subsidized or unsubsidized loan, unless you have already made repayment arrangements with the lender of your defaulted loan. Get information on how to made approved loan repayment arrangements here.
  • Have loans that you want to receive forgiveness on which were not made before the end of your five years of qualifying teaching service. This means that you can’t get forgiveness for loans you take out after you’ve already satisfied the requirements of the program.
  • Not count time you spent teaching through AmeriCorps to satisfy your required five years of teaching for Teacher Loan Forgiveness. You cannot double-dip with AmeriCorps teaching experience. Your five years must come from outside of time spent working with AmeriCorps.
  • Be employed full-time for five complete and consecutive academic years, with at least one of those years having been after the 1997-1998 academic year. For those of you either in school, or planning to attend school now, this will not be an issue.
  • Be employed at an elementary or secondary school that satisfies at least one of the following conditions:

  1. The school must be in a school district that qualifies for Title 1 funds, under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965
  2. The school must have been selected by the Department of Education based on a determination that at least 30% of the school’s total enrollment is comprised of children who qualify for services offered under Title 1
  3. The school must be listed in the Government’s Annual Directory of Designated Low-Income Schools for Teacher Cancellation Benefits (find that list here). Any school operated by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) or on an Indian reservation by a tribal group under contract with the BIE will also qualify for this requirement.
  • If your school meets the requirements of one of the preceeding conditions for at least one year of your service there, but fails to meet those requirements in following years, then you may still be able to count following years toward your five years of required service.

Are All Teachers Eligible?

In a word, no.

To qualify for Stafford Loan Forgiveness benefits, you’ve got to meet some particular eligibility conditions, including meeting the Government’s approved definition of a “Highly Qualified Teacher”.

According to the rules of the program, you will only count as a “Highly Qualified Teacher” if you provide direct classroom teaching, or classroom-like teaching in a non-classroom setting (like a library, gymnasium, etc.).

If you do not satisfy these requirements, then you will not be able to receive Stafford Loan Forgiveness benefits.

The Federal Government has developed a strict definition of who counts as “Highly Qualified Teacher”, and only those individuals who satisfy this description will be available for receiving benefits under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program.

What is a “Highly Qualified Teacher”?

To count as a Highly Qualified Teacher you must:

  • Have earned full state certification as a teacher or passed your state’s teacher licensing examination and hold a license to teach in your state, unless you’re teaching at a public charter school, in which case you must meet the requirements as established by your state’s public charter school laws, and
  • Not have had certification or licensure requirements waived on an any basis, be that due to emergencies, temporary or provisional reasons.

In addition to the requirements outlined above, there are additional requirements that are different for new and experienced teachers at the elementary and secondary school levels.:

New Elementary School Teachers must also:

  • Hold at least a bachelor’s level degree, and
  • Demonstrate, by passing a state test, that they have achieved adequate subject knowledge and teaching skills in mathematics, reading, writing, and other areas of basic elementary school cirriculum

New Middle or Secondary School Teachers must also:

  • Hold at least a bachelor’s level degree, and
  • Demonstrate a high level of knowledge and competency to teach in every academic subject which they are responsible for teaching by either passing a state certified test in each academic subject or receiving a passing level of performance on state-required certification or licensing tests, or
  • Successfully complete a graduate degree program, course work equivalent to an undergraduate academic major, or accredited advanced certification or credential programs in the academic subjects that they teach

Experienced Elementary, Middle or Secondary School Teachers must also:

  • Hold at least a bachelor’s level degree, and
  • Meet the standards required for teachers who are new to the profession, or
  • Demonstrate competence in all academic subjects that he or she teaches by passing a high objective uniform state standard of evaluation that:
  1. Was created by the state to test knowledge of grade-appropriate subject matter and teaching skills
  2. Challenges state academic content and student academic achievement standards, and was developed by core content specialists, teachers, principals and school administrators
  3. Provides objective, clear information to prove the teacher has attained core content knowledge in each of the academic areas that they are responsible for teaching
  4. Is applied uniformly to all teachers in the state who teach the same academic subject and at the same grade level
  5. Takes into consideration the time that teachers have been teaching in their specific academic subjects
  6. Is made available to the public on a by-request basis

One thing to note is that all Special Education teachers (whether or not they meet the “Highly Qualified Teacher” considerations above) do qualify for Stafford Loan Forgiveness.

What Are The Time Requirements?

To qualify for Stafford Loan Forgiveness benefits, you must teach for five complete and consecutive academic years at a school who primarily serves low-income students.

If you fail to satisfy this condition (by taking a year off, or teaching for less than five years), then you will compromise your eligibility.

This is one of the most important considerations to keep in mind, because any violation from this rule will ruin your chance at receiving loan forgiveness benefits.

For Teaching Service Completed Before October 30th, 2004:

If you began your five complete and consecutive years of qualified teaching before October 30th, 2004:

You will be eligible for up to $5,000 in student loan forgiveness benefits if you can prove (this must be certified by the chief administrative officer from the school where you taught) that you were:

  • Serving as a full-time elementary school teacher who taught mathematics, reading, writing or other elementary school curriculum, or
  • Serving as a full-time secondary school teacher who taught in a subject area related to your college degree

You will be eligible for up to $17,500 in student loan forgiveness benefits if you can prove (again, it must be certified) that you were:

  • Serving as a ‘highly-qualified’ teacher working full-time in mathematics or science at an eligible secondary school, or
  • Serving as a ‘highly-qualified’ teacher working full-time in special education, with your primary responsibilities being to provide special education to children with disabilities

For Teaching Service Beginning After October 30th, 2004

If you began your five complete and consecutive years of qualified teaching after October 30th, 2004:

You will be eligible for up to $5,000 in student loan forgiveness benefits if you can prove (as certified) that you were serving as a highly-qualified teacher working full-time in an eligible elementary or secondary school

You will be eligible for up to $17,500 in student loan forgiveness benefits if you can prove (as certified) that you were:

  • Serving as a ‘highly-qualified’ teacher working full-time in mathematics or science at an eligible secondary school, or
  • Serving as a ‘highly-qualified’ teacher working full-time in special education, with your primary responsibilities being to provide special education to children with disabilities

What Happens if I Miss an Academic Year?

If, for any reason, you were or are unable to complete one of your full academic years of teaching within the five consecutive years period, then you may only count that year toward your requirements if:

  • You were able to complete at least half of the incomplete academic year
  • Your employer states (certified in writing) that they considered you to have fulfilled your contract requirements for that academic year in regards to your salary increases, tenure and retirement plan, and
  • You were unable to finish the academic year because:
  1. You returned to postsecondary education on at least a half-time basis to learn about an area of study related to qualified teaching service as outlined above, or
  2. You experienced a medical condition covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (find that here), or
  3. You were called or ordered to active duty status as a member the Armed Forces reserves for at least 30 days

What is a Low-Income School?

The Federal Government determines which schools count as “Low-Income Schools”, so even if you think that your’e serving at a qualifying institution, you’ll have to make sure that they agree.

To find out if your school qualifies for the Low-Income School requirement, you’ll need to view the annual U.S. Department of Education’s official list of Low-Income Elementary and Secondary Schools.

You can find the current 2016 list online here, but you will need to search for the year or years that you have been employed as a teacher to make sure that the school qualifies during the time period that you were teaching.

If you think your school should qualify, but don’t see it on the list, the Federal Government requests that you contact the State Education Agency Contact for your state to find out why they haven’t been included in the list.

To do that, use the list of State Education Agency Contacts, here.

What if I Teach at an Educational Service Agency?

It is possible to qualify for Stafford Loan Forgiveness even if you don’t teach at an actual school, but if you are employed by a qualified Educational Service Agency that primarily serves low-income students.

You will need to be able to prove, in writing, that your employer satisfies the same eligibility requirements, however, and it is a much more involved process than simply picking a school from the list of Federally sanctioned list of low-income schools.

How do I Apply for Stafford Loan Forgiveness?

To officially apply for the program, you will have to have already completed your five-year teaching requirement, so make sure that you are doing this in the proper order.

Once you’ve satisfied the eligibility conditions, you should download and fill out the official 2016 Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application (which you can find here).

Please keep in mind that you will need to speak with the chief administrative officer from the school at which you taught, since only they can fill out the certification section required to receive benefits.

Also note that if your qualified teaching experience took place at multiple schools, then you will need to have the chief administrative officers from each of those schools certify your eligibility to receive Stafford Loan Forgiveness benefits.

Should you need to receive certification from multiple chief administrative officers, please provide the additional certifications on a separate piece of paper, and submit that along with your completed application.

To submit your application, you will need to provide all the completed materials to your loan servicer (that’s whoever holds or services your qualifying student loan – typically the same people that you send your monthly checks to).

If your loans are held by multiple lenders, then you will need to submit separate applications to each of those lenders.

Stafford Loan Forgiveness Fact Sheet

Since Stafford Loan Forgiveness is quite complicated, there are bound to be confusions regarding some of the details for how this program works.

Fortunately, the Federal Government has created a simple fact sheet (which you can find here) that summarizes the eligibility requirements, benefits, and applications process.

Have Additional Questions?

If you have any other questions about the Stafford Loan Forgiveness Program, please feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

I will do my best to answer any questions received within 24 hours.

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Tim's experience battling crushing student loan debt led him to create the website Forget Student Loan Debt, where he offers advice on dealing with excessive student loans and advocates a cautious approach to funding education costs via borrowed money.