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Student loan forgiveness for doctors

Lower your student debt load by taking a job in public service.

Forgiveness and repayment assistance programs can be a necessity if you want to get out of six-figure medical school debt as fast as possible. But you’ll likely need to commit to a few years of low-paying work in public service — and some of these programs have a very low acceptance rate. Make sure you understand the requirements and service commitments before you sign up to avoid rejection after switching jobs.

8 forgiveness and repayment assistance programs for doctors

Not all of these programs offer full forgiveness, so you might want to apply for more than one. However, it might require a longer-term commitment, since service typically can’t count toward two separate programs.

1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness

    Doctors working in public service can qualify for the federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. This popular program works by forgiving your full federal loan balance after making 120 repayments while working a public service job on an income-driven repayment plan.

    You might qualify if you decide to teach, work in public health or safety, or join the Peace Corps, AmericaCorps or military. If your residency program meets the criteria for employment, it might count as well. But don’t change your career for it. Nearly all of the first few rounds of applicants were rejected after receiving misinformation about requirements from their servicers and the Department of Education.

    Take a deeper dive into the PSLF Program

    2. National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program

    The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program offers student loan forgiveness in exchange for two years of service in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). After your initial term, you might be eligible for even more forgiveness if you extend your contract. Forgiveness through this program is not counted as taxable income.

    You can find out if your community qualifies as a Health Professional Shortage Area by visiting the Health Resources and Services Administration website.

    3. National Institute of Health Loan Repayment Programs

    The National Institute of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Programs are geared toward medical researchers who work at the NIH as well as other nonprofits or government agencies. Qualified applicants can receive up to $70,000 for a two-year award as long as you have at least $140,000 in eligible debt — including federal and private student loans. You can renew the award in one- or two-year increments as many times as you’d like.

    4. National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program

    The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Students to Service Loan Repayment Program is designed to encourage soon-to-graduate medical students to work in an HPSA — meaning you might have to move.

    In exchange for partial student loan forgiveness, students are asked to commit to three years working full time at an NHSC-approved site in an HPSA. After the initial term, you can sign up for additional one-year service contracts in exchange for more forgiveness.

    5. Health Professions Loan Repayment Program

    The Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP) is meant to encourage new doctors to enter the Navy and current Navy members to reaffirm their active-duty commitment. You can’t apply online, but instead have to go directly through a Navy Medical Programs recruiter.

    Repayment assistance through this program counts as taxable income, so you might receive approximately 25% less funds than you qualified for.

    6. Faculty Loan Repayment Program

    The Faculty Loan Repayment Program (FLRP) is designed to diversify the faculty in healthcare programs by providing loan repayment assistance to instructors from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    Unlike some other loan repayment programs, you need to already have a contract to teach for at least two years in order to qualify. Your school also has to pledge to match the FLRP’s award or provide a waiver. FLRP awards are taxable, so the program withholds 39% of the funds to pay the IRS.

    7. State loan repayment assistance programs

    Most states offer loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs to doctors that work in the area. Like other programs on this list, they tend to have a work commitment and might require you to move to an underserved area. How much forgiveness you receive, eligibility criteria and if your award is taxable depend on the program.

    You can find a state program near you by searching the forgiveness program database on the Association of American Medical College’s website.

    8. Cross-military loan repayment programs

    Most branches of the military offer repayment assistance to doctors who have served their country for a certain amount of time. These include, but aren’t limited to:

    • Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (ADHPLRP). Available to active-duty service members of the Air Force, Army and Navy.
    • College Loan Repayment Program. Active-duty, Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers are eligible for this program.

    You can learn more about the programs available to you by visiting your local military recruiting office or talking to your commanding officer. Military service also often qualifies for many other programs on this list.

    How to pay off student loans while serving in the military

    What’s the difference between forgiveness and repayment assistance?

    The terms loan forgiveness and repayment assistance are often used interchangeably. The main difference is that your full balance might be forgiven with forgiveness, but repayment assistance is always capped at a certain amount or percentage of your remaining balance. Repayment assistance may also require less of a work commitment than forgiveness, though that’s not always the case.

    4 tips for paying off medical school debt

    While forgiveness can help reduce your student debt load, there are other strategies you might want to consider while you’re waiting to qualify:

    • Change your federal repayment plan. Contact your servicer to find out if you can change your term or sign up for income-driven repayments if you’re working a low-paying job. And make sure you’re on a plan that’s eligible for your forgiveness program.
    • Refinance private loans for a better deal. Refinancing companies particularly love working with doctors since you’re in such a high-paying field. You might be able to get a more favorable rate and term.
    • Triple-check the requirements of your forgiveness program. The top reason borrowers are rejected from forgiveness programs is that they didn’t fully understand the terms and conditions.
    • Don’t change your career just for PSLF. If you have career goals that don’t include public service, you might not want to change paths just for PSLF — 99% of first-round applicants got rejected, and you might derail your career for no reason.

    9 more tips for paying off medical school debt

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    Bottom line

    Forgiveness might be a good option if you were already planning on working in public service, since it can make a significant dent in your loan balance. But it requires a serious commitment and might not be worth it if you want to start earning a high salary fast. If that’s the case, you might want to considering refinancing your student loans for a lower rate instead.

    Frequently asked questions

    Our answers to more questions about student loan forgiveness for doctors.
    Do I have to pay taxes on the forgiven amount?

    Thanks to the third stimulus bill passed in March 2021, student loan forgiveness is no longer considered part of your gross income — which means it won’t be taxed. This is in place for most student loans forgiven between December 31, 2020 to January 1, 2026.
    Can I settle my student loan debt for less?

    It’s possible with private loans, but you can’t settle federal loan debt. You can do it yourself by negotiating with your servicer or hiring a student loan debt relief company. If you decide to hire help, thoroughly vet your debt relief company to make sure it’s legitimate — the government has been cracking on student loan debt relief scams in the past year.

    Does residency count toward loan forgiveness?

    It might, depending on the program and the terms of your residency. Reach out to both your forgiveness program and your hospital to find out if your work there can qualify.

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