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How does Federal Perkins Loan forgiveness work?

Cancel up to 100% of your debt if you teach or work in public service.

Updated

The federal government has stopped offering Perkins Loans but you can still qualify for forgiveness if you’re paying them back. This program has fewer requirements than some federal forgiveness programs. But it only applies to Perkins Loans — consider other forgiveness options for other student loan debt.

What is Perkins Loan forgiveness?

Perkins Loan forgiveness is a loan forgiveness program for public servants who are paying off Federal Perkins Loans. You can get up to 100% of your loans canceled, depending on your job and how long you work. It’s also known as Perkins Loan cancellation.

The federal government has two main Perkins loan cancellation programs: One for teachers and another for other public service and volunteer positions. How long you’re required to work and the amount that’s forgiven depends on your job.

If you qualify for cancellation, you can typically qualify for deferment, which means you won’t have to make any repayments.

Am I eligible for Perkins Loan forgiveness?

You must have a Federal Perkins Loan to qualify and work at an eligible public service position.

Teacher requirements

Teachers must either:

  • Teach at a school serving low-income families
  • Teach special education
  • Teach a subject that has a shortage of qualified teachers in your state, such as science, math or foreign languages

Other eligible jobs and volunteer positions

If you’re not a teacher, you must work at or volunteer in one of the following positions:

  • Nurse
  • Medical technician
  • Firefighter
  • Provider of early intervention services for people with disabilities
  • Faculty member of a tribal college or university
  • Speech pathologist
  • Librarian
  • Law enforcement or corrections officer
  • Attorney working for a federal public or community defender organization
  • Public or nonprofit child service agency provider
  • Staff member of the Head Start Program
  • Pre-K staff
  • Military service member
  • AmeriCorps, Peace Corps or VISTA volunteer

Loans made before 1998 might not qualify

If you’re still repaying a loan from before October 7, 1998, look at your contract before you apply for forgiveness — it might indicate you’re not eligible. However, all Perkins Loans issued after this date are eligible for forgiveness regardless of what your contract says.

How much can I qualify for?

You can have up to 100% of your Perkins Loans forgiven, depending on your profession and how long you work.

Teacher forgiveness amounts

You might qualify to have 100% of your Perkins Loans canceled if you teach full time at either a public or nonprofit elementary or secondary school for five consecutive years. However, your debt is canceled bit by bit at higher percentages over five academic years:

  • First and second years. The government cancels 15% of your debt each year.
  • Third and fourth years. The government cancels 20% of your debt each year.
  • Fifth year. The government cancels 30% of your debt the final year.

Other employment or volunteer forgiveness amounts

You could cancel all or part of your Federal Perkins Loan debt if you work in specific professions.

PositionPercentage of loan forgivenHow long it takes
Nurse or medical technicianUp to 100%5 years of full-time employment
FirefighterUp to 100%5 years of full-time employment (after August 14, 2008)
Provider of early intervention services for people with disabilitiesUp to 100%5 years of full-time employment
Faculty member of a tribal college or universityUp to 100%5 years of full-time employment (after August 14, 2008)
Speech pathologistUp to 100%5 years of full-time employment (after August 14, 2008)
LibrarianUp to 100%5 years of full-time employment (after August 14, 2008)
Law enforcement or corrections officerUp to 100%5 years of full-time employment
Attorney working for a federal public or community defender organizationUp to 100%5 years of full-time employment (after August 14, 2008)
Public or nonprofit child service agency providerUp to 100%5 years of full-time employment
Staff member of the Head Start Program Up to 100%

  • Years 1–6: 15% per year
  • Year 7: 10%
7 years of full-time employment
Pre-K staffUp to 100%

  • Years 1–6: 15% per year
  • Year 7: 10%
7 years of full-time employment (after August 14, 2008)
Military service memberUp to 100%5 years of eligible service (after August 14, 2008)
AmeriCorps, Peace Corps or VISTA volunteerUp to 70%

  • Years 1 and 2: 15% per year
  • Year 3 and 4: 20% per year
4 years of eligible volunteer work

How do I apply for Perkins Loan forgiveness?

You can apply for Perkins Loan forgiveness through your school or your loan servicer. The best way to get started is to reach out to your school’s financial aid office and request an application. Or, reach out to the company that handles your repayments. You’ll likely need to fill out a form and submit documents verifying your employment.

Unlike other federal loan programs, universities are responsible for disbursing the funds and handling repayments for Perkins Loans. Similarly, the forgiveness application process can vary depending on your school.

Perkins Loan cancellation vs. discharge

If you don’t qualify for forgiveness, you can get your balance discharged in the following situations:

  • If you file for bankruptcy
  • If your school closes
  • If you die
  • If you’re diagnosed with a total and permanent disability
  • If you have a disability related to military service
  • If your spouse was a victim of the 9/11 attacks

Contact your school or servicer to find out how to apply.

Bottom line

Perkins Loan forgiveness comes with some of the most relaxed requirements of all federal loan programs. But you’ll still have to work at a low-paying job or take on volunteer work for several years before you can qualify. And you can’t cancel all of your federal student debt — just Perkins Loans.

Got other loans? Check out our guide to student loan forgiveness programs to find out what your options are.

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