Working as a nurse can be a rewarding experience. By the time you’re ready to start your career, though, you could end up between $40,000 and $55,000 in student debt, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
If you’re struggling to pay back your nursing school debt, here’s a complete list of nurse loan repayment programs that can help you become debt-free.
National nurse loan repayment programs
There are a lot of ways you can get assistance with your student loan debt, but there are two programs on the federal level that are specifically designed to help nurses. Here’s what you need to know about both.
Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program
The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program offers to pay off up to 85% of your nursing education loans over the course of three years — 60% during the first two years and 25% in the third year.
To qualify, you must be a licensed registered nurse, advanced practice registered nurse (such as a nurse practitioner), or a nurse faculty member. You’ll also need to work full-time (32 hours or more) for at least two years in an eligible critical shortage facility in a high-need area or at an accredited school of nursing.
One thing to keep in mind is that funds provided through this nurse loan repayment program are considered taxable as income. So if you’re thinking of participating, work with a tax professional to get an idea of how to cover your tax bill.
Also, note that applications are accepted just once per year in March. Even if you’re not sure you can meet the requirements over the course of two or three years, it may still make sense to apply instead of waiting and missing out on a year of eligibility.
National Health Service Corps
The NHSC loan repayment program offers up to $50,000 in assistance to several types of health professionals, including nurse practitioners and certified nurse-midwives. Other requirements include:
- You are a U.S. citizen or national
- You’re a provider or eligible to be a provider in the Medicare, Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program
- You’re fully trained and licensed to practice in the NHSC-eligible primary care medical, dental or mental/behavioral health discipline and state in which you are applying
- You are a health professional in an eligible discipline with qualified student loan debt for education that led to your degree.
To receive the funds, you must work half- or full-time for two years at an NHSC-approved service site, which will be found in health professional shortage areas. You’ll receive $50,000 in loan repayment assistance for full-time service and $25,000 for part-time service.
Unlike with the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program, funds provided through this program are exempt from income taxes.
Applications are due once per year in April, so prepare in advance to avoid missing the deadline for this nurse loan repayment program.
Which program should you choose?
If you qualify for both programs, the right one for you depends on how much debt you have and your financial situation.
The Nurse Corps program may be better if you have above-average debt because it provides a percentage of your loan balance instead of a flat amount.
That said, assistance through that program is taxable, so you may end up with a massive tax bill that can be difficult to repay. So if your needs will be met with the NHSC’s program, you could save more money because you won’t owe any taxes.
As you consider both options, consider working with a financial advisor or tax professional to help make the right decision for you.
Other nurse loan repayment programs
In addition to these two federal programs, you may have other opportunities to get help paying off your student loan debt. Here are some potential options to consider.
The state you live and work in may also provide nurse loan repayment assistance. Check your state’s website for information about a nurse loan repayment program and what you would need to do to qualify for assistance.
If you have federal student loans, you may qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF). With this program, you must work for a government agency (can be federal, state, local, or tribal) or an eligible not-for-profit organization while you make 120 qualifying payments on your debt.
Once you complete all the requirements, your remaining balance will be forgiven with no tax implications. The only drawback is that it takes at least five times longer than the nurse-specific programs.
Military loan forgiveness programs
Several branches of the Armed Forces offer loan repayment assistance programs to service members who meet certain eligibility requirements. If you’re a nurse in the military, you may be able to get tens of thousands of dollars in assistance with your student loan debt.
Other nurse loan repayment options
If you don’t qualify for a loan repayment or forgiveness program — or you want more options while you’re working on qualifying — here are some other ways you can repay your debt.
If you’re struggling to keep up with your monthly payments on federal loans, there are four income-driven repayment plans that can reduce your payments to 10% to 20% of your discretionary income.
These plans can also be helpful if you’re on track for loan repayment or forgiveness because it saves you money on debt that’s going to be paid off by another party.
Student loan consolidation
If you have multiple federal loans with different servicers, consolidating them with one new servicer can save you some stress while you pay back what you owe. Instead of multiple payments every month, you’ll just have one.
That said, your new interest rate will be the weighted average of your original loans rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percent. So you may end up paying slightly more in interest this way.
Student loan refinancing
If you’re not part of a loan repayment or forgiveness program that only works with federal loans, refinancing them may help you save money and even eliminate your debt faster.
Depending on your credit situation, you may be able to get a lower interest rate than what you’re currently paying through refinancing. What’s more, you may have the option to choose a shorter repayment term, if you can afford it, to pay off your loans much more quickly.
Not everyone qualifies for student loan refinancing, though, and you typically need great credit and a solid income to get approved for the best rates. You can compare loan offers through Purefy’s Compare Rates tool with one fast form and no credit check required.
The bottom line
If you’re a nurse with a massive student loan debt burden, there are ways to get help paying off your loans. As you consider your options, look at the eligibility requirements to determine whether you can qualify for assistance. If not, consider other options to get the help you need with your debt.