If you’ve taken out any student loans to help cover the costs of school, chances are good you’ve had the thought How am I ever going to repay this? at least once. What many people don’t realize is that there are programs to help. In fact, sometimes student loans are forgiven by the federal government (and some states) when they meet certain criteria. Here’s what you need to know:

What is student loan forgiveness?

Student loan forgiveness” means just what it sounds like: Certain government programs may “forgive,” or eliminate, some or all of your debt if you are affected by specific circumstances. This may also be described as student loan “cancellation” or “discharge,” but all three terms mean the same thing — that you may not have to repay the full amount of the federal student loans you’ve taken out.

Do I Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?

There are a broad range of student loan forgiveness options; whether or not you qualify depends upon your specific situation. We’ve compiled this brief list of programs to give you an idea of the type of programs available. (Note: This list is not comprehensive. You may find programs more suited to your individual needs by conducting an internet search or reaching out to your lender.)

  • Income-driven Repayment Forgiveness: If you have a large amount of student loan debt relative to your income, the federal government offers several plans that allow you to cap your loan payments at a percentage of your monthly income. After 20 to 25 years of making these adjusted payments, your remaining balance may be eligible for forgiveness. You can find more information at the Federal Student Aid website: studentaid.gov.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness: If you are employed full-time by the government or a qualifying nonprofit organization, you may be eligible to have the remainder of your federal student loans forgiven after you’ve made regular monthly loan payments for several years.
  • Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge: If you have taken out a federal Perkins loan — a need-based student loan awarded by the U.S. Department of Education through its Federal Direct Student Loan Program — and meet certain employment or volunteer criteria, you may be eligible to have some or all of your remaining balance canceled.
  • State-Sponsored Repayment Assistance Programs: If you are a licensed teacher, doctor, nurse or lawyer, you may be eligible for a state-sponsored program forgiving some or all of your student loans. Contact your state’s department of higher education to see whether this type of program is available.
  • Military Student Loan Forgiveness. If you are a member of the military, you may qualify for a loan forgiveness program offered by your specific branch of the armed services.
  • Total and Permanent Disability Discharge: If you are a veteran or an individual receiving disability benefits due to a permanent disability, your federal student loans may be discharged.
  • Borrower Defense to Repayment: In the event you took out student loans to attend school, and that institution failed to deliver an educational service or guarantee relating to that loan, you may be eligible to have that loan discharged. The requirements for this form of discharge vary depending on when your loan was taken out, so contact your lender for more specific information.

What if I’ve been affected by COVID-19?

In the wake of the global pandemic, the government has placed federal student loans into a state of administrative forbearance. This means that from March 13, 2020 until September 30, 2020, borrowers are not required to make monthly payments on their federal student loan(s). In addition, during this time period, the interest rate on federal student loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education is 0%. If you have questions about whether your loans qualify for these changes, you should contact your lender or loan servicer.

If the school you’ve been enrolled in has shut down due to COVID-19, you may also qualify for a Closed School Discharge of your federal student loans. Contact your school’s financial aid office to determine whether they are offering any additional financial relief or guidance to students who have been affected by the outbreak.