Is Student Loan Forgiveness Worth It? A High Salary vs. PSLF, Others

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While student loan forgiveness programs can wipe away your debt, they might require years of service in a low-paying profession. If you’re sacrificing your earning potential to meet a program’s requirements, is student loan forgiveness worth it?

The answer all depends on your professional and financial goals. And to get that answer, let’s ask the following questions:

Is student loan forgiveness worth it?

Student loan forgiveness program requirements often revolve around working in underserved communities. And although these jobs help those who need it most, they often offer a much lower salary than workers could find elsewhere.

For example, instead of earning $150,000 to $300,000 a year as a doctor or lawyer, you might only earn $50,000 to $60,000 in a job that qualifies for loan forgiveness. That’s a lot of salary to give up.

“In general, you’ll make more money if you take a higher-paying private sector job, even with loan forgiveness,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and VP of research at SavingforCollege.com.

And when you consider the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, the sacrifice becomes even greater.

“It’s a 10-year commitment, and it’s all or nothing,” Kantrowitz pointed out. “If you stop pursuing forgiveness at year nine, you’re not getting anything.”

It’s one thing to give up all those earnings for three or four years, but it’s another thing altogether to give up a much higher salary for a full decade. Whether or not this commitment is worth it, Kantrowitz noted, could depend on your field.

“It might not make sense for a lawyer, but some doctors can gain a benefit, depending on their situations,” Kantrowitz said.

One of the realities of medical school is that once you’ve graduated, you must still complete a residency.

“You’re earning a salary, but it’s $50,000 or $60,000 a year,” Kantrowitz said. “You might qualify for income-based repayment and work toward forgiveness. If you’ve been doing your residency and fellowship at a public hospital for several years, it can make sense to keep working at that public hospital for another four or five years to preserve the forgiveness you’ve earned so far.”

In the case of medical students, then, the PSLF program might be worth a few additional years of working at a lower-than-average salary.

Are there forgiveness programs with shorter time commitments?

While PSLF requires 10 years of service before it pays out, there are other student loan forgiveness programs with shorter service commitments. While they don’t necessarily offer full forgiveness, you can still get partial assistance paying down your student debt.

“Earn education awards through AmeriCorps, VISTA or PeaceCorps to pay down loans,” suggested Kantrowitz. “It’s money that goes toward your student loans … after a smaller time commitment.”

If you’re a medical professional, you can also consider these alternative programs to PSLF:

  • National Service Health Corps (NHSC): If you’re willing to practice at an NHSC-approved site for two years, you can receive between $30,000 and $50,000 toward your student loans.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH): If you spend two years involved in certain health research funded by a domestic nonprofit or a government entity, you can get up to $50,000 of student loan forgiveness per year.
  • Faculty Loan Repayment Program (FLRP): For teaching full- or part-time at an accredited health school for at least two years, you can get up to $40,000 toward your student loans.

Kantrowitz also suggested checking into state programs. Many states offer their own student loan forgiveness grants and programs, and these programs are more likely to have shorter service terms. Start your search with this full list of forgiveness and assistance programs.

Which is more important, PSLF or passion?

Trading a big salary for student loan forgiveness is a decision that should be made based on your long-term goals and lifestyle preferences, not just your desire to get rid of student debt.

“You don’t take a public service job because you want to get loans forgiven, especially if you choose a high-paying profession,” Kantrowitz said. “You take these jobs because you want to do good for society and you’re willing to sacrifice.”

But while PSLF can make a public service job more affordable, it might not be a good enough reason alone to pursue this career.

“Public Service Loan Forgiveness removes debt as a disincentive to stick with these jobs, but it doesn’t offer an incentive,” Kantrowitz said.

But if you’re already inclined to work in public service, the promise of loan forgiveness could be an enticing perk. If you’re not, you might be better off pursuing a career with higher earning potential.

Then with that higher salary, you could make extra payments on your loans and get out of debt ahead of schedule.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.99% – 5.64%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.89% – 5.90%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.25% – 6.09%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.89% – 6.77%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

2.39% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

1.99% – 5.41%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.79% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.64% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of July 31, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

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The information provided on this page is updated as of 7/31/2020. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

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2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

All credit products are subject to credit approval.

Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.

As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
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  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.

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This information is current as of September 9, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
 


3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.09% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.09% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.25% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.18% plus 2.32% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. 

4 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of September 10, 2020.


5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. ‍All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.16% effective August 10, 2020.

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.