Options for Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness

Loan forgiveness is a trade-off. It’s about incentivizing graduates to work in low paying or otherwise undesirable positions in exchange for erasing or significantly reducing their student loan balance. Without these programs, important community institutions would be severely understaffed.

If you’re a teacher or education student reading this, those criteria probably sound familiar.

Many school districts struggle to fully staff their schools, especially when it comes to certain positions. Loan forgiveness programs are one of the best ways for them to attract job candidates and retain them for long enough to make an impact.

Teachers have several options when it comes to loan forgiveness. Here’s what you should know about each one.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is the only federal loan forgiveness program specifically designed for teachers. Math or science teachers who teach in secondary schools or special education teachers can have up to $17,500 worth of loans forgiven. Any other kind of teacher can only receive up to $5,000 worth of loan forgiveness.

The program has strict requirements. Teachers must hold a license or certification in their state and teach for five consecutive years in a school that primarily serves low-income students. A list of eligible schools is available here.

Teachers qualify even if they work at different schools for each of the five years, but each of those schools must be eligible.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness is only available for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, as well as Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans. Perkins loans are not eligible.

If you have a Direct Consolidation Loan or a Federal Consolidation Loan that includes a Perkins loan, that portion won’t be eligible for Teacher Loan Forgiveness. PLUS or graduate school loans are also not eligible for Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) is arguably the best forgiveness option for teachers. Unlike the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, borrowers don’t have to work consecutive years to qualify. This is especially helpful for teachers who take a year or two off.

Teachers can work for an elementary or secondary school, in either a public or private school setting. They must work at least 30 hours a week to qualify. After 120 qualifying payments, they can apply to have their remaining loan balance forgiven. There is no limit on how much will be discharged, and teachers won’t owe taxes on the forgiven amount.

Only Direct Loans are eligible for PSLF. If you have FFEL or Perkins Loans, you’ll have to consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan to qualify.

Teachers should submit the PSLF employer certification form every year, which will verify the employer and calculate how many qualifying payments have been made.

PSLF can be used with Teacher Loan Forgiveness, but borrowers will only receive credit for one program at a time. If $5,000 of your loans is forgiven after five years through Teacher Loan Forgiveness, those five years’ worth of payments will not count toward PSLF.

While working toward PSLF, teachers will have to choose from one of the income-driven repayment plans. These options will lower your monthly payment.

Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation

Teachers with Perkins loans can have their loan balance entirely discharged. To be eligible, they must work full-time in a school with low-income children or as a special education teacher. Teachers can also become eligible by teaching a subject that has a shortage of teachers in their state.

Private school teachers and those who have two part-time teaching jobs also qualify. Preschool and kindergarten teachers may only be eligible if their state considers those grades to be part of elementary education.

Unlike PSLF or the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, teachers can earn partial loan forgiveness. They’ll get 100% forgiveness after five years of service.

Here’s how much will be forgiven each year:

  • 15% forgiven after one year of work
  • 15% forgiven after two years of work
  • 20% forgiven after three years of work
  • 20% forgiven after four years of work
  • 30% forgiven after five years of work

State Forgiveness Programs

Your state may have its own teacher forgiveness program. Go here to see what options are available. You can also try Googling your state and “teacher forgiveness program” and see what comes up. You may have to teach in an underserved area or teach a specific subject to qualify.

Options for Private Student Loans

Teachers with private loans rarely have access to loan forgiveness. Here are some options available to them:

Refinance private loans

If you want to save money on private loans, your best option is to refinance to a lower interest rate.

Private lenders often require a credit score of 650 or higher to qualify for a refinance. Some lenders may also have an income requirement, but this depends on the specific lender. For example, LendKey accepts borrowers with low salaries.

When you refinance private loans, make sure you understand the term you’re signing up for. For example, if you have five years left on your private loans and refinance to a 10-year term, you may end up paying more interest over the life of the loan because the term is doubled.

If you can afford it, keep making the same payments as you were before. Assuming you haven’t significantly changed your budget or lost your source of income, this should be doable. Keeping the same payment rate will let you repay the loan faster and save on interest.

Take out a home equity loan

If you’re a homeowner, you can withdraw extra equity from your house and use it to repay your student loans. Generally, you’ll need to have 80% or more equity in the home to qualify.

Home equity loans may have lower interest rates and longer terms than private student loans. It may also be easier to qualify for a home equity loan because the bank has collateral behind it.

The downside to this strategy is that if you default on a home equity loan, the bank may repossess your house. Comparatively, refinancing your private student loans has much lower stakes.

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I Dropped Out of College: My Student Loan Repayment Options

No one intends to drop out of college. If you show up to campus for your freshman year, chances are you plan to graduate in four years and use your degree to land a job. Maybe you even have the whole thing mapped out, step-by-step.

But then life happens. Whether it’s a family emergency, deteriorating health, stress burnout, or just the realization that college isn’t the right choice, plenty of people choose to drop out of their university every year. The problem is, your student loans don’t go away just because you never ended up with a degree.

So how should someone in this position approach student loan repayment? Are there any unique considerations to take into account? Here’s what you need to know.

Choose an Income-Based Repayment Plan

If you have federal student loans, you’re eligible for the same repayment options available to borrowers with a degree.

You may currently be on the standard 10-year repayment plan, which will have the highest monthly payments and the lowest total interest. You have the option of switching to a less expensive option if you’re struggling with those payments. Use the official repayment calculator to see which plan lets you pay the least.

When you choose an extended, income-based, or graduated repayment plan, you’ll pay more interest overall than if you stuck with the standard plan. If you’re not working toward a specific forgiveness program, then it’s best to switch back to the standard plan as soon as you can afford it to minimize the interest.

Refinance Private Loans

Private student loans have fewer income-based repayment options than federal loans, and they rarely offer deferment or forbearance options. But you can refinance private loans for a lower interest rate, even if you dropped out.

There are a few lenders that service borrowers with uncompleted degrees.

These may include:

  • MEF
  • RISLA Student Loan Refinance
  • EDvestinU
  • PNC
  • Wells Fargo
  • Purefy
  • Discover Bank
  • Advance Education Loan
  • Citizens Bank

To be a good candidate for a student loan refinance, you must have a high credit score and no recent bankruptcies or defaults on your credit report. You also need a low debt-to-income ratio, and some lenders may have income requirements.

Financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz of SavingforCollege.com said borrowers are unlikely to be good refinance candidates immediately after college because lenders usually require a minimum amount of full-time employment.

If you dropped out recently, you may want to wait a year before trying to refinance private loans. During that time, check your credit score through Mint, pay all your bills on time, avoid opening new loans or lines of credit, and pay your credit card bill in full every month.

Explore Deferment and Forbearance

Once you leave school, you’re eligible for a six-month grace period where federal student loan payments are put on hold. You won’t accrue interest during this time if you have subsidized loans, but you will if you have unsubsidized loans.

If you still need more time after the grace period has expired, you can apply for deferment or forbearance. Borrowers have to apply for deferment and forbearance manually and wait to be approved.

Deferment and forbearance are both federal programs that let borrowers avoid paying their student loans while still remaining current. The main difference between the two options is that interest will not accrue on your loan balance during deferment, but it will accrue during forbearance. For that reason, it’s harder to qualify for deferment.

Be careful about putting your loans in deferment or forbearance for a long time. The interest that accrues will capitalize, meaning it will be added to your loan’s principal. This will increase your total monthly payments and could delay your debt payoff timeline.

Apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a program that encourages borrowers to choose a non-profit or government job. In exchange, your remaining loan balance will be forgiven after 10 year’s worth of payments, which do not have to be consecutive. It’s even available to borrowers who dropped out and never finished a degree.

“PSLF is always an option because it’s employer-dependent,” said student loan lawyer Joshua R. I. Cohen.

PSLF is only available for federal loans, and only those loans that are part of the Direct Loan Program. If you have FFEL or Perkins loans, you’ll have to consolidate them as part of the Direct Consolidation Program. This process will render them eligible for PSLF.

Be sure not to consolidate loans that are already part of the Direct Loan Program. If you’ve already been making payments, consolidating loans will restart the clock on PSLF, and you could lose credit for eligible payments you’ve already made.

The employer you work for must also be an eligible non-profit or government entity. Only full-time employees qualify for PSLF, which excludes part-time workers and independent contractors.

To be eligible for PSLF, you should fill out the employment certification form every year. This form asks for your employer’s contact information, your employment status, and more.

Once you submit the form, you should receive a notice verifying your employer and how many eligible payments you’ve made. Doing this every year will make it easier when you apply for forgiveness after your 120 payments have been made.

“It also gives borrowers an opportunity to dispute any errors or undercounts well before they reach eligibility for loan forgiveness, giving them plenty of time to address disputes,” said student loan lawyer Adam S. Minsky.

Borrowers can save money while working toward PSLF by choosing an income-based repayment plan instead of the standard 10-year plan. They also won’t owe taxes on the forgiven amount, so it’s best to choose the least expensive monthly option.

Try to Discharge Your Loans

If you couldn’t complete college because the department you were studying in closed, or your school committed fraud, you may be a good candidate for discharging your student loans completely. If this happened to you, contact a student loan lawyer who can help you file a case.

 

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Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Plan and Save on Holiday Travel

Some of my fondest college memories aren’t from going to homecoming games, attending my first college party or walking around campus when no one else was going to class. Some of my favorite memories are going home for winter break and seeing all my high school friends. Seeing old friends was always so fun, especially since we had all matured during the previous semester.  

But getting home was another story. I went to college in Bloomington, Ind., a small college town where the university was the main attraction. That meant getting a flight back to my hometown of Memphis, Tenn. was always a struggle. I hated having to coordinate buses and flights while in the middle of finals. 

Here’s what I learned about booking flights home, so you don’t have to struggle like I did.  

Plan Ahead 

The first step to saving on holiday travel is planning ahead. If you wait until the last minute to buy plane tickets, you’ll probably pay more. You may even be completely out of luck and not find any flights that work for you. 

You can sign up for travel alerts through Hipmunk.com, which aggregates flights from most major airlines. You can also look at Google flight alerts or sign up for emails for your favorite airline.  

Learn about what airlines fly out of your hometown’s airport and what alternative routes there are. For example, if you’re struggling to find cheap flights coming out of Louisville, look at Cincinnati’s airport. You might have to get creative and look at airports you never consider. 

According to the travel website Skyscanner, the best month to buy plane tickets for Christmas is in October. Yes, it might seem crazy to book tickets for winter break when the leaves are barely falling off the trees, but you could save lots of money. 

Carpool with Other Students 

If you’re at a big university, you might find someone who’s also traveling to your destination for the holidays. If you carpool with them, you’ll save money on transportation while also dividing the driving time. 

I did this a lot in college because I didn’t have a car, but I only needed to travel a couple hours for Thanksgiving break. It was easy finding someone who was also going that way.  

If you’re not traveling to a popular city, you should put out feelers ASAP. Make a shareable post on Facebook, put a physical notice in your dorm’s common area or ask your college advisor if there are any official student carshare groups. 

Look at Buses 

Even though the US isn’t known for its public transportation system, buses can be a decent way to save money on travel if you’re going somewhere close. For example, you can find MegaBus tickets as little as $5 if you book way in advance. Some of these buses include WiFi and let you pick your seat beforehand. 

Buses almost always take longer than driving, but are a good option if you’re on a budget and have time to kill. If you’re lucky, you can find a fellow student who’s also traveling by bus and book your tickets together.  

Compare Alternative Dates 

If you’re flying home for winter break, you probably have some leeway on when you arrive and when you need to leave. Being flexible on travel dates can save you a lot of money, especially during the holidays. 

When you look at flights, you can often look at dates with one to three days of flexibility. Flights that leave or arrive on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often less expensive than weekends. You should also use an incognito browser when you book tickets. 

If you find an especially good deal that coincides with class, ask your professor if you can get an excused absence. Some may be ok with you taking a final early or if you miss the first day of classes for the new semester. 

Again, ask your professors about this ahead of time. They may be more lenient if you’re asking in early November instead of the week before finals. 

Use Credit Card Points 

If you or your parents have a travel rewards credit card, see if they have enough points to book a flight. This works best if you book early, because flights often increase in price as the dates get closer. 

Travel rewards programs all work differently so it’s good to compare offers before you book a flight. Your parents can book your flights using their account, or they can transfer points to your personal account. This doesn’t work for every credit card, so call and ask if there’s a way to do it for free. It may be easier to do if you’re an authorized user on the account. 

Read the Fine Print 

Nowadays airlines are trying to cut corners everywhere, by trimming seats and charging more for basic amenities. When you buy your flight, read through the ticket agreement to understand what’s included and what’s extra. In some cases, a carry-on bag costs extra just like a checked bag. But a checked bag may be cheaper than a carry-on. 

If snacks aren’t provided, bring your own beforehand. Also, try not to pack your bags completely full. If you’re like me, you’ll have Christmas presents and new clothes to take back with you. And who wants to pay a $30 carry-on fee?  

Understand What Your University Provides 

If you’re lucky, your college may have some free transportation options. For example, my university was in Bloomington, Ind., an hour away from Indianapolis. There was a free shuttle to the Indianapolis airport that left every two hours. 

There’s also a student-only bus that goes from Indy to Chicago and Chicago-area suburbs. This is only available during the holidays and is very affordable.  

The key to saving on holiday travel is to plan ahead, ask other people and do lots of research. You may discover someone in your dorm who’s driving through your city on their home or someone who also takes the bus home.  

 

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Source: mint.intuit.com

Why UGMA/UTMA Accounts Are the Perfect Holiday Gift

If you have a special child in your life, you may be wondering what to put under the tree this year. One long-lasting and truly meaningful way to show the child in your life that you care is by taking a few minutes to set up a UGMA/UTMA account and give them a leg up in life.

The earlier you open a UGMA or UTMA account for a child, the longer your initial gift has to grow, thanks to the magic of compound interest. For example, investing just $5 a day from birth at an 8% return could make that child a millionaire by the age of 50. By setting up a UGMA/UTMA account, you’re really giving your beneficiary a present that grows all year round. Now, that’s a gift they’re sure to remember!

What is a UGMA/UTMA account?

UGMA is an abbreviation for the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act. And UTMA stands for Uniform Transfers to Minors Act. Both UGMA and UTMA accounts are custodial accounts created for the benefit of a minor (or beneficiary).

The money in a UGMA/UTMA account can be used for educational expenses (like college tuition), along with anything that benefits the child – including housing, transportation, technology, and more. On the other hand, 529 plans can only be used for qualified educational expenses, like summer camps, school uniforms, or private school tuition and fees.

 

It’s important to keep in mind that you cannot use UGMA/UTMA funds to provide the child with items that parents or guardians would be reasonably expected to provide, such as food, shelter, and clothing. Another important point is that when you set up a UGMA/UTMA account, the money is irrevocably transferred to the child, meaning it cannot be returned to the donor.

 

Tax advantages of a UGMA/UTMA account

The contributions you make to a UGMA/UTMA account are not tax-deductible in the year that you make the contribution, and they are subject to gift tax limits. The income that you receive each year from the UGMA/UTMA account does have special tax advantages when compared to income that you would get in a traditional investment account, making it a great tax-advantaged option for you to invest in the child you love.

 

Here’s how that works. In 2020, the first $1,100 of investment income earned in a UGMA/UTMA account may be claimed on the custodian’s’ tax return, tax free. The next $1,100 is then taxed at the child’s (usually much lower) tax rate. Any income in excess of those amounts must be claimed at the custodian’s regular tax rate.

A few things to be aware of with UGMA/UTMA accounts

While there’s no doubt that UGMA/UTMA accounts have several advantages and a place in your overall financial portfolio, there are a few things to consider before you open up a UGMA/UTMA account:

 

  • When the child reaches the age of majority (usually 18 or 21, depending on the specifics of the plan), the money is theirs, without restriction.
  • When the UGMA/UTMA funds are released, they are factored into the minor’s assets.
  • The value of these assets will factor into the minor’s financial aid calculations, and may play a big role in determining if they qualify for certain programs, such as SSDI and Medicaid.

Where you can open a UGMA/UTMA account

Many financial services companies and brokerages offer UGMA or UTMA accounts. One option is the Acorns Early program from Acorns. Acorns Early is a UGMA/UTMA account that is included with the Acorns Family plan, which costs $5 / month. Acorns Early takes 5 minutes to set up, and you can add multiple kids at no extra charge. The Acorns Family plan also includes  Acorns Invest, Later, and Spend so you can manage all of the family’s finances, from one easy app.

 

During a time where many of us are laying low this holiday season due to COVID-19, remember that presents don’t just need to be a material possession your loved one unwraps, and then often forgets about. Give the gift of lasting impact through a UGMA/UTMA account.

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